A few years ago we were hired to handle the marketing and advertising for a doctor with several office locations. We quickly learned that his URL was a combination of his location and medical specialty. Seems the previous marketing agency had sold him on the idea that a geocentric and specialty domain name would be a great way to score high in search results. Yes, the tactic goosed his SEO – but at what cost to his brand?
Here are three critical issues we identified plus another we hadn’t even considered:
- The name implies another type of business. Every time I typed his URL, which included the word “Plastics,” my mind went straight to that famous scene from The Graduate. That’s a very different picture from my client – a caring, brilliant, and talented cosmetic surgeon.
- Why would you want to call attention to a term with a built-in negative connotation? Just like your headhunter prefers you call her an “Executive Recruiter,” most doctors prefer “Cosmetic Surgeon” to “Plastic Surgeon.”
- Questionable credibility. Perhaps this sounds a bit far-fetched, but I wondered: Would patients entrust their health to a doctor with a tacky URL?
- Unintended downstream consequences. Eventually, we secured another domain name that was appropriate and memorable. But recently, LinkedIn congratulated the doctor on his ten-year anniversary at the former domain name/company. (Oops! Looks like he needs to update his LinkedIn profile.)
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times when a keyword-based domain name supports the brand, drives Web traffic, and contributes to the bottom line. So I dug a little deeper, and asked a couple technology colleagues for their take on the subject.
Stephan Roussan, President of ICVM Group, had this to say, “The line being fed by Bing and Google is that ‘Keyword-laden domain names no longer provide an advantage.’ Don’t listen. It still works, and can make a big difference. Keyword-laden domains move up through the ranks faster and reach Page One sooner with far fewer content pages, far fewer inbound links, and lower overall domain authority. It might not work quite as dramatically as it used to, but it still works.”
He went on to add, “Web users will associate an organization’s domain name with its actual name. When they align, like we see in TripAdvisor and KarsForKids – that’s great! But for organizations whose relevant keywords don’t make a good brand name, it can be problematic. It’s hard enough to make one thing about your company sticky — but two? Good luck with that. Just because a tactic boosts SEO doesn’t make it the right move for every situation. You have to evaluate how important SEO is to your organization in relationship to other factors, such as brand recognition, recall, reputation, and marketplace familiarity.”
Ira Ruderman, from CJR Media had a different view: “… Keywords in domain names have greater benefits for the user when navigating a website, but the overall benefit of real words in the URL to SEO is negligible. Good search positioning is a direct result of the content on your Web pages. And well-written, optimized content beats a keyword-based URL any day of the week.”
Ira also recommends naming PDFs with hyphens and underscores between words — but warns, “Once we start doing this sitewide and force the URLS to display a certain way, Google may interpret the effort as spammy SEO attempts.”
A few final thoughts… Determine how important SEO is to the growth of your business. For some organizations – like online retail, SEO naturally accounts for a large chunk of the marketing budget and effort. But as my original example revealed, there may be situations where satisfying bots just may alienate your prospects.