Be Careful With Your Domain Name

People tend to obsess over domain names (also called URLs — Uniform Resource Locator).

While it’s nice to have keywords in your URL, it is clearly not a requirement in order to get good search engine rankings.

For those non-believers in that statement (and I know you are out there) I point you to the following URLs:

  • Amazon.com (what does “Amazon” — the river or rainforest — have to do with books?)
  • Google.com (The name is based on the mathematical term “googol,” which is a big number – 1 followed by 100 zeros. But it has nothing to do with “Web search.”)
  • ESPN.com (ESPN? Originally that stood for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. Today, it just means “wow, there is a ton of sports info on this site.)

Those are just three examples of URLs that contain a grand total of zero keywords. And there are tens of thousands more examples out there.

I’m not saying it’s bad to have keywords in your URLs, it is just not a requirement for success. Can it help? Sure. Back in my broker days, my primary blog was PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com. I got a lot of links where the anchor text (the text used in the link verbiage) is “PhoenixRealEstateGuy” — hence Google often sees “Phoenix Real Estate” in links pointing to my site. This is generally a good thing.

So if you can get a URL with keywords in it, go for it. But if you can’t, there is no need to cry (or blame search result troubles on your URL).

There are however, two fundamental mistakes I see many real estate bloggers making when it comes to selecting URLs.

They put their brokerage name in the URL

A domain like “RemaxBob.com” or “SallyAtC21.com” is not going to hurt you in the search engines. In fact, your broker / franchise will probably like it. So why is this bad?

What if Bob leaves RE/MAX? Or Sally decides Century 21 isn’t the place for her?

Sure, they can change their domain name, but then they are basically starting over building up age, links and authority.

It’s also possible that including trademarked names in a URL may violate that company’s policies. Which leads us to another mistake many real estate agents make in choosing a URL…

“Realtor” is a trademark of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). As such, there are strict rules on its usage — including use in domain names.

JoeTheBestRealtor.com sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it?

Maybe so, but it’s probably a trademark violation. You see, contrary to what you, and the vast majority of the public may think, “Realtor” isn’t an occupation. It’s a term that signifies you are a member of the National Association of Realtors.

Using modifiers or descriptive words along with the word “Realtor” in a URL — like “PhoenixRealtor.com”, “Number1Realtor.com”, “YourRealtorForLife.com” — could be a violation of NAR’s trademark on “Realtor”.

When in doubt, consult with your broker before purchasing the URL

Here is the NAR trademark manual on the use of Realtor on the Internet (and elsewhere).

Other things to avoid

Hyphens. While adding hyphens to a URL may help you secure a coveted keyword rich domain name, hyphens can be problematic when it comes to communicating your URL.

PhoenixRealEstateForSale.com was bought nine years ago. Phoenix-Real-Estate-For-Sale.com has a lot better chance of being available.

But I wouldn’t buy it — because it is difficult to communicate, and difficult to remember.

Try saying it out loud, like you would if you were telling someone the URL in person or over the phone.

“Hey, check out my blog! Go to Phoenix hyphen real hyphen estate hyphen for hyphen sale dot com”. I’ve also heard a URL like this spoken as, “It’s PhoenixRealEstateForSale.com with hyphens between all the words”.

Both sound ridiculous, and I assure you whoever you are talking to won’t remember it.

Keep URLs short for the same reason. While “SearchThisSiteForAwesomePhoenixAreaHomesForSale.com” is keyword rich, good luck fitting it on a business card or having anyone remember it.

Ditto for cutesy spelling tricks and substituting numbers for word. “Homes4Sale4U.com” is a great example. Try the “say it out loud” trick — “My website is homes, the number 4, sale, the number 4, U just the letter U not Y-O-U dot com”.

And stick with the .com version for your domain. That is the extension people remember, and will assume. Buy a .info, .biz, .us or some other extension and you will lose traffic, and potentially clients to whoever has the .com version.

Selecting a domain name isn’t easy. It’s going to feel like “all the good ones are gone”. Get creative (but not too cutesy). Look for smaller geographical locations. Try using a “the” in the URL (i.e.,ThePhoenixAgents.com is one I bought not too long ago.) Dig deep, you can find something!

Finally, there is “EMD” or “Exact Match Domains,” a filter that Google released in September 2012 with the idea of reducing the importance of an “exact match domain” in regard to search engine placement to prevent poor quality sites from ranking well simply because they had words that match search terms in their domain names. SearchEngineLand has a nice collection of articles on the EMD filter.

Bottom line is, a URL with location / business-based keywords is one factor (of many) that search engines look at when ranking sites. While it may be the most visible factor, it is clearly not the most important or heavily weighted factor. The age-old “content is king” (and back links too) matter more than keywords in a domain.