While domain name registration is a relatively simple process, choosing the actual domain name is one of the tougher decisions that need to be made when starting a new business.

It is a given in today’s market that your domain name will match your business name, but the real question is, should it contain keywords about your business or should you simply start from zero and build up a brand around your site? Each choice carries benefits and disadvantages, which we’ll cover below. There’s also Google’s technical point of view to consider since either option certainly affects page rank.

Keyword-Rich Domains

Domains which include a keyword or two about your business are referred to as keyword-rich domains. These domain names are very focused, so your business should definitely reflect the fact that what you do is represented by those keywords. The choice of which keywords to use is a separate conversation, but be sure they rank very well in searches and that they are extremely relevant to your website.

Keyword-Rich domain names are desirable for several reasons, including:

  1. They have historically ranked well (and quickly) in search engines for the keywords used in the domain name.
  2. Visitors tend to click on domain names which exactly describe the product they are searching for.
  3. Perfect for tightly focused sites with only one type of product or service.

You’ve probably seen dozens of keyword-rich domain names, they are composed as follows:

  • Keyword.com (widget.com)
  • Keyword-word.com (widget-pro.com)
  • Word-keyword.com (best-widget.com)
  • Keyword1keyword2.com (tonercartridge.com)
  • Keyword1-keyword2.com (toner-cartridge.com)

There are also various downsides to keyword-rich domains:

  1. Most good non-hyphen domain names are already registered. You may have to purchase the domain you want, sometimes at a substantial cost.
  2. A domain name with one hyphen is acceptable, but multiple hyphens make it look spammy.
  3. Multiple hyphen domain names are not easy to remember.
  4. Forgetting the hyphens or placing them in the wrong places, might send your customer to a competitor’s site.

As an example, if you sell only fire doors, it’s easy to decide on a domain with both of those keywords (firedoors.com). However, if you sell fire doors, and also firemen’s gear, then firedoors.com would probably not be your best choice. You may want to consider domain branding instead.

Branded domains

Branded domains do not contain keywords and are ideally short, aesthetically pleasing and easy to remember. This could be a word you’ve invented, a word with an obscure reference to your business or it may simply be a set of initials. It could also be a word or words in English or in a foreign language. What’s important to remember is that this domain name will represent everything your company does or sells and that you must build up your brand around it.

The vast majority of the top 100 websites started with branded domains (Google, BBC, Yahoo, Ebay, Amazon).

Advantages of branded domains include:

  1. Covers all the products or services that your company offers, it is not specific to only one
  2. Easier to find available .com names
  3. No hyphens necessary
  4. Memorable
  5. Unique

Just like keyword-rich domains, branded domains have disadvantages as well:

  1. The domain name is not indicative of the website content
  2. Marketing and advertising costs are initially higher as you develop brand awareness
  3. It may take longer to rank well on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP)