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The fashion for keyword-rich domains - it will all end in tears

The fashion for keyword-rich domains - it will all end in tears

February 21, 2011 by Bruce Townsend

One or two clients have reported to me recently that some of their competitors are achieving good rankings on Google using sites with keyword-rich domains, like “motoring-widgets.com”. URLs like this have been favoured for some time by Bing, and by its predecessor MSN. But more recently they also seem to be delivering good results on Google for some keywords, though by no means for all.

As a result, there seems to be a bit of a rush to buy up and populate such domains. Which is perfectly understandable given the pressure to achieve high rankings on Google, and the benefits of doing so. However, I predict that this latest Google gold rush will end in tears, and much time and effort will be wasted for a little short-term gain.

In the past, site owners have used all sorts of tricks to get sites to the top of Google without actually providing the quality content that Google craves. And Google has been equally proactive in blocking them. The meta keywords tag used to be very popular, until spammers started using it to cheat the search results. Today, Google completely ignores it. The search engine also acted to reduce the effect of so-called Google bombing – driving sites to the top of a search with numerous keyword-rich links. Domain spam is a trick of the same order, and it can be only a matter of time before the big G acts against it.

My daughter and son-in-law recently spent a few days in Naples. They were amazed by the sheer number of illegal street traders operating in the city. They all seemed to have spotters watching out for passing police, and as soon as the police appeared, the traders melted into the side streets.

Spammers are online traders of the same order — always having to move on when the search police turn up and change the game. These people invest huge efforts in a quick sell which works for a few months, after which all their investment goes down the pan, and they have to start again. No doubt some people enjoy this kind of life, living by their wits and constantly trying something new. But if you want to build an online business that delivers a dependable living, then invest in developing a site that has bona fide, worthwhile content, and relationships that lead to good quality links from good quality and reliable sites.

Bruce Townsend is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and online marketing specialist at SellerDeck.

Comments

I'd argue that keyword rich domains can actually be very helpful, for the user as well as the domain owner. In our fast paced, online world, any indicator which guides us toward a better understanding of what the website is about can only be a good thing.I will, however, echo the comments above by saying that Google will, as we know, penalise those sites which attempt to 'cheat' the system through spamming.I believe the key to a successful URL choice is in understanding what's important for your brand. If you have a marketing plan which facilitates sustainable business through product alone, a URL stating what you're selling (i.e. motoring-widgets.com) is great. On the flip side, if you're marketing plan is about developing your brand, a 'branded' URL may well be the best thing for you (and I'd suggest that, more often than not, this is the most sustainable option).I'm currently working on a website which represents a sub-section of a brand, and the URL is quite horrid (it's a domain extension of the main site). But I have a reason for its horrid-ness, and that reason comes down to the user experience. At this time, this website will be promoted primarily through word-of-mouth recommendations (because that's how the business already operates) and therefore I expect customers to be telling their friends about X brand offering Y. The URL is therefore Y.X.com, because the potential customers will be searching for X and Y and the existing customers will be referring to the product in these terms.Essentially, whatever we do online, it simply HAS to be right for the end user - Google comes second.

To me the end result is pretty obvious. As some of the good comments above rightly say, google won't punish for a keyword-rich domain name, because it's relevent to the content. However, sites using multiple keyword-rich domain names, in a spamming fashion, will I think, be punished. It wouldn't take google much effort to adjust their algorithim to detect over kill on keyword-rich domina names. Looks like its feast and then famine for domain name registers! Geoff. twitter - @Safe_Card

There's nothing wrong with having a keyword-rich domain per se, it's a good thing. But there's a growing fashion for buying up loads of related domains like green-widgets.com, red-widgets.com, big-widgets.com, small-widgets.com etc, for no other purpose than trying to boost search engine rankings. That's just spamming. Sooner or later Google will jump on it, just as it jumped on other forms of spamming, eg meta keyword tags, links, and very recently, content farms.

Bruce, while I agree the domain name isn't the be all and end all, it has to help?

I agree with Rosie, I can't see Google penalising a company for a keyword rich domain, especially has they encourage using keywords in URL Structure:

http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=76329

Matt Cuts has re-iterated this a post on his blog too.

Now I know their examples show the keyword rich page name, but surely a site like ours that sells Army Surplus, should have Army Surplus in the URL, becasue it tells visitors and search engines what they should expect to find.

Surely it's the sites that have a URL that doesn't match it's content that should/will be penalised?

Is using a keyword-rich domain the same thing as spamming? If your domain has keywords that are relevant to your site content, then I'm unsure as to why companies should be penalised for this. I agree that you shouldn't rely on the domain name - the content should always be full of relevant keywords - but it seems unfair to see a keyword-rich domain as a problem in itself.

Rosie Heptonstall, 2nd Head

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