Web site optimization is all about creating a site that is discoverable by search engines and
search directories. It sounds simple enough, but there are many aspects of site optimization to
consider, and not all of them are about the keywords, links, or HTML tagging of your site.
Does hosting matter?
This question comes up frequently when a company or individual is designing a web site. Does
it matter who hosts your site? The answer is no, but that’s not to say that domain hosting is
unimportant. Elements of the hosting have a major impact on how your site ranks in search
One of the biggest issues that you’ll face with domain hosting is the location of your hosting
company. If you’re in the United States and you purchase a domain that is hosted on a server
in England, your search engine rankings will suffer. Geographically, search engine crawlers will
read your site as being contradictory to your location. Because many search engines serve up
results with some element of geographical location included, this contradiction could be enough
to affect your ranking.
The length of time for which you register your domain name could also affect your search
engine ranking. Many hackers use throw-away domains, domain names that are registered for no
more than a year, because they usually don’t even get to use the domain for a full year before
they are shut down. In fact, the typical malicious web site is online for less than four months,
and usually for no more than a couple of weeks to a month. For this reason, some search
engines have implemented ranking criteria that give priority to domains registered for longer
periods. A longer registration also shows a commitment to maintaining the web site.
The question of what to name a web site is always a big one. When selecting a name, most people
think in terms of their business name, personal name, or a word or phrase that has meaning
for them. What they often don’t consider is how that name will work for the site’s SEO. Does
the name have anything at all to do with the site, or is it completely unrelated?
Have you ever wondered why a company might be willing to pay millions of dollars for a
domain name? The domain name business.com was purchased for $7.5 million in 1999
and was recently thought to be valued at more than $300 million. Casino.com went for $5.5
million and worldwideweb.com sold for $3.5 million. What’s so important about a name?
Choosing the right site name
Where SEO is concerned, the name of your web site is as important as many of the other SEO
elements that you need to consider. Try this test. Use your favorite search engine to search for
a topic, perhaps ‘‘asphalt-paving business.’’ When your search results are returned, look at the
top five results. Most of the time, a web site containing those words will be returned in those
top five results, and it will often be in the number one slot.
In other words, if your company name is ABC Company but your business is selling nutmeg
graters, consider purchasing the domain name NutmegGraters.com, instead of ABC Company.
com. ABC Company may not get you in the top of search rankings, but the very specific
nature of your product probably will; and both the content of your site and your domain name
will attract crawlers in the way you want. Using a domain name containing a keyword from
your content usually improves your site ranking.
A few more things that you should keep in mind when you’re determining your domain name
include the following:
■ Keep the name as short as possible. Too many characters in a name mean increased potential
for misspellings. It also means that your site address will be much harder for users to
remember unless it’s something really startling.
■ Avoid dashes, underscores, and other meaningless characters. If the domain name that
you want is taken, don’t just add a random number or piece of punctuation to the name in
order to ‘‘get close.’’ Close doesn’t count here. Instead, try to find another word that’s relevant
and possibly included in the list of keywords you’ll be using. For example, instead of
purchasing www.yourwebsite2.com, try something like www.yoursitesubject.com.
■ Opt for a .com name whenever possible. There are a lot of domain extensions to choose
from, such as info, biz, us, tv, names, and jobs, but if the .com version of your chosen
domain name is available, that’s always the best choice. Users tend to think in terms of
.com, and any other extension will be harder for them to remember. Com names also tend
to receive higher rankings in search engines than web sites using other extensions, so if
your competition has www.yoursite.com and you choose to use www.yoursite.biz,
chances are good that the competition will rank higher in search results than you.
Try this: Choose a random term and then use your favorite search engines to search for
that term. Looking only at the top one or two pages of search results, how many of those
sites have an extension other than .com? If you do see extensions other than .com, they’re
likely to be .org, .net, .gov, or .edu—and you probably won’t see many of those. That’s
how prevalent .com is, and it illustrates why you should try to use it whenever possible.
Considering URL structures
One more thing to think about as you’re choosing your domain name is how URLs will be
structured as you begin to put your site together. Some URLs are very long and seem completely
random. For example, take a look at any given product page URL for Amazon.com. If you copy
and paste that URL into a document, it could be two or three lines long, and it won’t mean a
thing to you after the Amazon.com part.
Ever notice how Amazon.com product pages rarely (if ever) seem to turn up in search rankings?
That’s because the pages are dynamic, and a URL that exists on Amazon today may not exist
there tomorrow. Dynamic URLs change. Often. And for a variety of reasons. Sometimes dynamic
URLs are used on product pages, but they can also be used when content is drawn from
a database on a visitor-by-visitor basis or when visitor tracking information is included in
Typically, search crawlers can’t effectively crawl sites that have dynamic URLs because the
crawler can’t trigger the dynamic URL the way a user does. One way to deal with dynamic URLs
is to use a program that rewrites them.
URL rewriting is a common practice in SEO, especially since Google stated that it can’t effectively
crawl dynamic URLs. Unfortunately, even URL rewriting comes with a set of drawbacks. For
example, because even a rewritten dynamic URL tends to be very long, they often wrap — or
become two lines — in error messages or when used in blog posts or forums. The result is
sometimes an incomplete URL that can’t be followed.
URL rewriting also introduces the possibility for errors, especially if the rewriting is done manually
in the coding for a web page.
A better option is to use static URLs. Static URLs remain the same all the time. You can see static
URLs all over the Web. Even blog posts have a temporary dynamic URL, but then once the post
goes into archives, the URL becomes static and doesn’t change again. It helps to more effectively
rank web pages that change temporarily and then become permanent.
Another advantage of static URLs is that, when used, these URLs can contain keywords that are
meaningful not only to search crawlers, but also to the people who visit your web site. Static
URLs are easier to read. They usually contain mostly words, with few numbers, and they never
include randomly generated identifiers.
As you’re putting your site together, consider how it’s going to grow and how you’ll be naming
the pages that you add to it. Part of that consideration is entirely site design and will be determined
by the programming language that you use to create your site; but much of it involves
forethought about how such matters will be handled. Discuss with your web site designer how
you would like to have the URL structure handled. The designer will know how to ensure that
your URLs are as usable as the rest of your site.
Again, it’s important to realize that domain naming is only one facet of SEO strategy. It won’t
make or break your SEO, but it can have some effect. Therefore, take the time to think about
the name you plan to register for your site and then how you plan to structure your URLs as
your site grows.
If you can use a name that not only reaches your audience, but also lands you a little higher in
search results and makes it easier to create useful URL structures, then by all means purchase
it; but if no name really seems to work in the SEO strategy for your site, don’t get discouraged.
You can make up for any domain-naming issues by implementing solid keyword strategies, tagging
strategies, and other elements of SEO. Do try to keep your URL structure simple, though,
even when your domain name might not be your first choice.