Choosing a Domain? You Should Test It.

4 min read

Can the right domain name be a competitive advantage in SEO and social marketing? Can the wrong name be a permanent drag?

Absolutely!

Imagine that you need to buy a tent. You want some advice about features, brands, and prices. So you search “best tents for families.”

Now imagine there are two hypothetical search results pages you could see: in Scenario 1, “best-tents.com” appears in the #1 position and in Scenario 2, “happycamper.com” appears at #1.

All else being equal (same title, same location in the search results, etc.) which site would you be more likely to click?

Me? I’d click happycamper.com. It just sounds legit and modern.  I’d assume that it’s probably nicely designed and offers current content.

Why not best-tents.com? Isn’t that what I’m looking for? Well, yes…. but as a site name goes, it’s a bit on the nose. It all but screams, “SEO affiliate site.”

Disagree? Maybe I’m weird.  But I do know this: one name probably attracts more clicks than the other for no reason other than searchers’ blink reaction to it.

My goal in this article is to explain three things:

  1. why your domain plays a big role in your click-worthiness,
  2. why that affects your SEO,
  3. how to test domains for their click-worthiness

Clicks = Attention = SEO

While some names just stand out and seem to say “click me,” their advantage goes beyond simply a few extra clicks. No, a click-worthy site, will, over time, get more love from Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, et al.

Why?  Because Internet companies are in a war for attention, and clicks are attention votes. The more votes your site gets, the more valuable it is to the Googles and the more love they’ll give you (aka higher rankings).

Clicks Are an SEO Factor

But wait, you ask, “isn’t it better for SEO to have target keywords in your domain name?”

Nope. Not necessarily. Nowadays, because of its war for attention, Google weights your click-worthiness and other “behaviorial signals” very heavily in search rankings. Keywords crammed into a domain name? Not really.

To rise in Google, your site needs to do two things: 1) attract relatively more clicks for a given position in search results, and 2) deliver a useful experience once users click.

So if you have an opportunity to pick a name that’s inherently more click-worthy, why wouldn’t you? The wrong name can do real damage.

How About.com’s Name Became Toxic for SEO

Consider About.com — after years running a successful content business with tons of free, organic, search traffic, the Google love affair ended abruptly.  First they got hit with the Panda Update.  Yet even after Panda’s effects settled down, About.com’s organic search traffic remained in a free-fall.  No brand refresh or site redesign could fix it.

That’s when CEO Neil Vogel realized their name had become a problem. If you saw About.com in a Google search result, would you click it?  Or would you look for a niche publisher?  About.com had come to mean nothing to consumers.

In a recent interview, Vogel says he realized it came down to a simple question: “If you want to find out how to pick paint for a kids bedroom, do you want that from About.com or do you want it from HGTV?”

So About.com got itself some new domain names: VeryWell.com (Health) and TheSpruce (Home) for example. Before splitting its health content into its own site, About.com Health received approximately 12 million unique visitors per month. After the split, VeryWell.com traffic jumped over 40% to over 17 million unique visitors per month. Same content (like literally exactly the same stuff…just redirected), new name, ta-da, better rankings, more traffic.

A Smarter Way to Pick a Domain Name

Now let’s imagine you’re trying to pick a name for your new website where you plan to review tents. Should it be happycamper.com or best-tents.com? You think, “well, I’m not sure everyone thinks like this Jeremy guy… Besides, I kinda like best-tents.com and I think other people would, too.”

Well, don’t guess. For a couple of hundred bucks, you can survey consumers to figure out which name will attract more clicks.

How? Create a survey using a mockup of fake Google search results to test each name. Show 500 people a variation with happycamper.com appearing at #1 position in the search results, then show 500 people a mockup that’s precisely the same except with best-tents.com as the name.

Ask people which site they would choose and compare the results and pick the name that performs statistically significantly better.

Testing Domains Names, Step-by-Step

Step 1. Find the keyword

Figure out how people search for what you offer. You can look up your competitors’ top organic keywords on SEMRush, Searchmetrics, or AHrefs or you can use Google Adwords.

Step 2. Get the Google Search Results

Using Google Chrome (Chrome matters for the next step), head over to Google.com and run a search using that keyword

Step 3: Edit the HTML of the Google Search Result

On the search results page, right-click and use the “Inspect” option to edit the HTML of the page. Doing this will launch a new window with the HTML of the page where you can modify the code and see the effect of your changes back in the browser.Within the HTML code, find the site that currently ranks #1 in the organic results (in this example, wildernesstoday.com). Double-click it to edit the content and replace it with your desired name (ah, if it were only this easy to rank in Google

Step 5. Take a screenshot.

Switch back to the search results page and take a screenshot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the other prospective domain name.

Step 6. Survey people

With your two screenshots, head over to a survey site like Pickfu, Google Surveys, or Mechanical Turk and setup a survey that shows 500 people each variation of your fake search results page. Ask the respondents to imagine they searched for the target keyword and which site they would choose.  Collecting responses will take some time.

Step 7. Verify your result

With your results in hand, head over to a statistical significance calculator to check if the difference is large enough to conclude one name is more click-worthy than another.

Oh no! The difference is too small to declare a winner.
That’s better. Just 10 more votes was enough to declare a winner!

As you can see, the line between statistical significance and, well, not can be a fine one.  So it’s important to verify that your results are telling you something.

Keep repeating steps 1-7 with different names until you can’t find any statistically reliable difference, then pick the name you like best!

Go forth and prosper

Go build your media empire on a domain name that delivers an unfair advantage in SEO and social.  You’ll never regret the decision.

And next time you search “new air jordans,” you won’t wonder why a niche publisher like kicksonfire.com could be #1 while Nike.com — billion dollar brand, owner of the “air jordan” trademark, and oodles and oodles of links and authority — sits #2.  It’s probably because when Google tried Nike at #1, they didn’t attract as many clicks as KicksOnFire did.  As go the clicks go the rankings.

Be like KicksOnFire.

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