Both are really good questions, and there are lots of opinions about all the issues they touch on. So, I’m going to preface the rest of this article with a little warning: This article is based on our experience and opinion. Other experts may disagree, and, heck, they may be right. Search engines change every day, so what’s right today may not be right tomorrow.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s start answering questions. Let’s start with question #1 — what to focus on when choosing a domain name. Well, we say: Why not have your cake and eat it, too? For most home inspection businesses, we recommend buying at least two domains. The first should be a short, easy-to-remember domain that jives with your branding. It can be as simple as your company name, or it can be more playful or unique, if that’s part of your marketing. What’s most important is that it’s straightforward and not too hard to communicate over the phone. For example, if your company name were “Superior Inspection Professionals,” you might opt for ChooseSIP.com as your domain name. If your company name were “Luau Inspections,” you might choose something fun, such as DancingInspector.com. Both names are easy to communicate, memorable, and match the company’s branding.
Once you’ve picked your branded domain name, you should pick an SEO-oriented domain name. The best bet here is to use some variation of the city that you perform the most inspections in, and then “home inspector” or “home inspection,” or whatever term is used most in your area. Selecting the right keywords is a whole topic on its own, but a quick tip is to use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to do some keyword research. Once you’ve decided on the keywords, search for a domain that matches best. You probably will have to get a little creative here because a lot of the best domains are taken. Ideally, you’d pick something like philadelphiahomeinspector.com, but you have to work with what’s available.
That brings us to question #2 — formatting the domain name. As a rule of thumb, shorter is better, but that’s less important for the SEO-oriented domain (I’ll explain why later). Hyphenating the domain doesn’t help or hurt. As an example, Google knows that pennsylvaniahomeinspector.org is “Pennsylvania home inspector." But it’s generally a bad idea to buy a hyphenated name when the un-hyphenated name is taken. So, using the same example, you probably wouldn’t want to buy pennsylvania-home-inspector.org when pennsylvaniahomeinspector.org is already taken. Usually, you want to keep hyphens out of your branded domain because it’s harder to explain them over the phone, but they’re fine for your SEO domain.
As for .COM vs .INFO — again, it depends on the context. ".COM" is generally the best top-level domain (TLD) for business. You should try to get the .COM domain for your branded domain. Again, it’s easier to communicate over the phone, and it’s generally more trusted (unless you’re outside of the U.S., in which case .CA or .CO.UK, etc., might be more appropriate). When you’re choosing your SEO domain, the TLD is less important.
OK, got both your domain names picked? Before we continue, go buy them (you can use our discount at GoDaddy, if you’d like).
Now, here’s what you want to do. In all printed material, and when talking about your website in person or on the phone, use your branded domain. Print it on your business cards and brochures, and anywhere else that’s NOT electronic. You want to set this domain up as a secondary domain that redirects to your primary domain (which we’ll discuss next) using a 301 redirect (302 is OK, but 301 is better). Don’t understand that? That’s OK — if you’re an InspectorPages client, you don’t have to worry about it. Just set up the domain using the “Domain Mapping” option under “Tools,” and you’re all set.
Now, add your SEO-optimized domain and set it as your primary domain name. This is what should show up in the URL bar when someone comes to your site. You want to use this domain everywhere online: in your email signature, in link exchanges, on message boards, etc.
By setting your domains up like this, you get the best of both worlds. You get a great, easy-to-communicate domain name to use when promoting yourself offline, and an optimized domain to use when promoting yourself online. Offline, people have to re-type URLs (and ChooseSIP.com is easier to remember and to type than philadelphia-home-inspections.net), but online, people only click on links, so it doesn’t matter how long or complicated the domain is. And because search engines only see your SEO-optimized domain (because it’s the only one you use online), you get all the benefits of having keywords in your URL (which, at the end of 2010, at least, is an important factor in search ranking).