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Debunking the Dashed Domain Discussion

December 2003

Editor note: a large portion of the article was based on the Google algorithm shortly after the "Florida Update" of 2003. some of it's data in no longer 100% accurate as the Google algorithm has changed.

In general I think you can get a good brandable domain name without dashes if you are creative. That was the basis for this article.


Article Background

For years there have been arguements between branding vs search engine visibility. Recently Google decided to end this arguement for once and for all! In the past it was easy to get good search engine rankings by having a dashed domain. It no longer is.

I bought this domain name (search marketing info) before I had a good concept of what branding is, I wanted search engine visibilitiy. My home page was ranked in Google at # 7 for "search engine marketing," it now rests somewhere in the thousands. I am currently forced to undue the effects of my dashed domain. (article update: I am back in the top 10 where I belong).

What Factors Into Search Algorithms

Many times we only assume to know what a search engine uses in its algorithm. When we use tools such as the Google Toolbar to highlight search terms it does not highlight exactly what the search engine uses. The highlighting is ran through an external program.

Some search engines give slight weighting to domain name, others do not. The domain name itself rarely causes a change in ranking; however, others reactions to the domain name do. However small the improved rankings may be, you are trading a ton of brandability for the dashes.

Why Domain Names Are Important

On the web most people never meet in real life. Few will know what your IP address is, and even fewer care. Without seeing your face, hands, lips, or body, your domain name is all of these.

Your domain name is the handshake you share with visitors and other webmasters alike. There are ways to take advantage of this idea, and there are many who completely miss opportunity.

Dashed Domains

If the dashes are part of the creative element behind the domain then they can aid you. Though I am not sure what I am going to do with the domain names yet, I purchased (email ideas)

  • 000-00-0000.com
  • 000-00-0001.com
  • 999-99-9999.com

I think these could be highly brandable, but are the exception to and not the rule.

To me, a domain with three dashes in it typically feels like a brand new used car. It is like saying "don't remember me."

Letters of the alphabet flow together. We have learned them all our lives. While it is certain the search engines can parse the words of a domain if they are seperated by a dash, you may not want them to.

Why People Used Dashes

Dashed domains usually consist of keywords. Why else would you be using the dashes? It is typically easier to get an optimized inbound link if the link words are the same as those which exist in your domain. Instead of becoming creative many webmasters use the dash as a dual purpose tool.

  • It prevents them from needing to be creative.
  • It allows them to get their keywords in the domain.

How Other Webmasters Respond

Many people link to sites by domain name. If your domain name is nothing but your commercial keywords many of your links will be your key words. Recently the Google algorithm started punishing sites taking advantage of over optimization.

For the first time in the history of the internet unoptimized inbound links may be worth more than optimized inbound links.

Natural Linking

Dashed domains in a sense artificially aided people in the ability to enhance their topical authority. When professors cite another professors work they frequently use their name in the link. Other times they use the title of the work. Making the domain name the exact keyword grouping would encourage most inbound links to use those keywords.

This works against the natural linking process and the organizing the web. This is why Google turned on the over optimizaton filter.

Original Domains

There are not a whole lot of single word top level domains out there today. Sometimes a domain name which is descriptive of what the site is about is very good for branding. It should be unique enough that it is memorable. Though I do not know a ton about branding, I do know what domains stick in my head as I search the web. For other search engine news site I think

Those are all just stuck in my head. I did not have to think, I just remember them. Thier domains are so memorable that I even remember all of their "real" names. Had any of the above chosen

  • search-engine-watch.com
  • search-engine-guide.com
  • search-engine-blog.com
  • high-rankings.com
  • traffic-search-engine-news-increase-search-engine-traffic.com

They would have most likely lost a little credibility to many users, and I would not remember them as easy. It is sometimes a good idea to have your "widgets" in your domain name, but creativity or simplicity are required to make the name stick in the minds of your visitors.

If I were to give away a free book about SEO this Chistmas i would probably host it at something like seobook.com - coming soon

One guy I just got off the phone with just lost his rankings. His business grossed over $3,000,000 in sales last year. He just lost his primary distribution. If he does not act quickly it is likely that his business will tank. He rode the dashed domain to its ugly death.

If your goal is quick marginal short term profits the dashed domain may help. If your goal is to build a long term viable business then I do not recommend a dashed domain. In all reality the branding lost to the dash is rarely worth the short term gains that a dashed domain may provide in some search engines. Allowing the natural linking process to occur will make your website less suceptible to future algorthmic changes.

- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info

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This article may be syndicated in whole are part. Simply provide a link back to the original article or http://www.search-marketing.info. Please note that I do not usually update articles over time and the date last modified on article pages is usually referring to a navigational change.


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