Ten years ago, I clearly remember the careful consideration I gave when purchasing the GoBackpacking.com domain name. The decision to buy a unique web address grew out of a desire to share travel advice, in addition to my European travelogue. I was ready to make the leap from an unsightly URL for my free account with (Yahoo!) Geocities to a hosted account with unique branding and a more appealing address. While a lot has changed in the online world since then, the factors I took into account a decade ago still apply today (and are a big part of why new readers and advertisers continue to find me). Regardless of your specific goals, it is best to take your time with this step in the process.
Keywords vs. a Unique Brand Name
The first fork in the road to buying a domain name is whether to load it with popular keywords people use in web searches, or develop your own unique brand name.
Ensuring you have popular, relevant keywords in your domain name will be invaluable for obtaining traffic from search engines. In addition, a whole new industry has developed around the buying and selling of keywords on websites and blogs, so going the keyword route paves the way for potential advertising dollars. These factors apply whether your blog is hosted or self-hosted.
The challenge with buying a keyword-packed domain these days is the lack of availability for popular terms such as “travel” and “backpacking.” Even ten years ago, I had trouble figuring out a catchy, short name which included the valuable “backpacking” keyword. Since my goal was to motivate others to travel as I had done, adding “go” in front made sense. Choosing a domain name with keywords should also gives people a clear and concise indication of what you're writing about. This is an important factor for attracting new readers.
Examples of well-trafficked travel blogs using this approach:
- Vagabonding.com (3rd result on Google for “vagabonding”)
- Japan Visitor Blog (5th result on Google for “Japan blog” and it is hosted on blogspot)
- Overland Tales (1st result on Google for “overland tales”)
- Medellin Living (4th result on Google for “living in medellin”)
As you can see, simply loading your domain with desirable keywords does not ensure you the top ranking on Google. Search Engine Optimization is too BIG a topic for me to sufficiently cover in this series, however I will be sharing the most essential, easy-to-incorporate tips in the future, as well as some links to great posts from authoritative professional bloggers.
Unique Brand Name
If you are making up long lists of keyword-heavy domain names, only to find none of them are available when you go to domain sellers like Go Daddy or Network Solutions, you may want to consider the other fork in the road – building your own unique brand name. This option allows you to be more creative and fun, and if your goal is less about making money and more about sharing your stories and experiences, then there is no reason to shy away from it. The downside is that unless you can get at least one relevant or niche-oriented keyword in the domain, you will be losing out on the superhighway to search engine traffic. It's still possible to rank highly for the keywords you desire, it will just take more effort to overcome competitors. Of course there are plenty of other ways to ensure readers find you, such as referrals from other websites and blogs.
As with keyword-based domains, it pays to keep it short and memorable. As you are gallivanting about the world, meeting hundreds, if not thousands of people along the way, you'll mention your blog often and the easier it is for others to remember the name, the more likely they will be to look it up once in front of a computer. In reviewing traffic reports, I routinely see people finding this blog by searching “dave backpacking blog” or some similar variation.
Examples of catchy and unique travel blog URL's:
- Travel Junkie – Boris achieved the rare combination of being able to benefit from a highly valuable keyword while creating his own brand from it. Well done!
- Everything-Everywhere.com – Gary went over the top with this name, ensuring any visitor to his travel blog will know he is going to see as much of the world as humanely possible!
- The Lost Girls (hosted on blogspot) – Three NYC media professionals quit their job and travel around the world, building a successful brand along the way.
- Definitely Casual – This is a great domain because you immediately get a sense of how these California guys travel.
- Corporate Whore No More – Justin clearly has a sense of humor, and if you couldn't tell, was ready to ditch his office job for world travels.
- Vagabondish – Mike's creative play on a popular keyword, “vagabonding”, allowed him to create a unique brand.
Here are a few more thoughts to consider when choosing a winning domain name:
- .com still rules people's and advertiser's minds so do your best to obtain this top level domain, and if you can't swing it, then consider .net and .org as viable options too.
- Keep your domain as short as possible, minimizing words (whowilleverrememberlongdomainnames.info)
- Try to avoid hyphens and numbers as it is another roadblock to memorability
- Write down your ideas and share them with a few people – both those with a background in blogging (such as the author of a blog you respect) and those without (possibly family or friends)
- The cost of domain names tends to be around $10 per year, though you can often get them for free if signing up for a web hosting package. When I told Network Solutions I could renew my domain name with my web host for 5 years at half the cost they were offering, they lowered there price by $50 to keep my business. Don't be afraid to negotiate!
- Choosing the Domain Name for Your Blog (very authoritative post on this subject)
- How to Buy Domain Names Like a Pro: 10 Tips From the Founder of Phonetag.com (business oriented)
- Building Your Location Independent Online Business: Getting Your Website Online (Part 1)