Choosing a domain name often requires you to make a choice between two competing options, branding vs. keywords. This can be a difficult decision with far reaching consequences and unfortunately you are forced to make it right off the bat. A bad domain name can be overcome but it takes a lot of effort in the form of both time and cash so it is best to get it right the first time. This means you must carefully and honestly consider your long-term goals and decide whether you should give your site an easily brandable domain name like FatCow or just name it your target keyword like Hotels.com.
The pros of the keyword route are fairly obvious. As search engines have become more sophisticated, having your target keyword in the domain name has become less important, but it still provides a great boost. The search engine rankings are still dominated by sites with the target keyword in their domain. Some of the most difficult searches to rank for still have the targetkeyword.com as the first result. Even some very large companies have had success including Hotels.com and Cars.com. If you are just going after a single target keyword, you will want to use it in the domain if at all possible.
Having said that, almost all of the largest sites on the web have branded domains. A good brandable domain is much easier to remember than a keyword domain and therefore helps you get more repeat visitors if you have a good site. In a lot of cases, the customer will actually type the brand name itself into the search engines. If you are trying to create the next Google, Facebook, or even FatCow, you will almost certainly want to use a brandable domain name.
But what if you, like most people, are somewhere in the middle? You need to carefully consider the trade off. A good keyword filled domain will help you somewhat in the search engines for that keyword alone. If you are primarily going after a lot of key phrases that include a base keyword with one or two additional words added on before or after, you should probably try to get that keyword in the domain. For example, Hotels.com probably wants to rank highly for thousands of key phrases that include the term “Hotels”, plus a major city. (“Hotels London”, “Hotels Los Angeles”, etc.)
The odds are, however, that the primary keyword you are going after is either taken or very expensive so you may just be best off going with a purely branded domain. Some brands don’t even tell you anything about the site. An example of this is FatCow. FatCow is a discount hosting company but if you had no idea what they did, the name FatCow would tell you absolutely nothing. If you decide to go this route, you will need to spend a lot of time and money promoting the brand name. Not only did FatCow spend huge amounts of advertising dollars getting their name all over the web but they also have worked it into nearly everything about their site. They use little puns and word play that help reinforce the FatCow brand all over the site.
There are a lot of things to consider when deciding on a domain name and one of the biggest is whether to use a brandable domain or a keyword domain. However, in the end, there are many successful sites that have gone each route because what truly makes a site successful is not the brand name but rather content and promotion.