Using Descriptive Domain Names & Page Descriptions

This is our first post based on a question from one of our subscribers. The question was emailed in and the writer kindly gave us permission to post both his question and our answer here in the blog.

The Question:

“Nick’s point was that a descriptive domain name pre-qualifies interest, and can actually outperform higher engine results in click-through volume–his example was something like freelance-writer.com in the #5 position getting more clicks from particular key phrase-groups, in generic searches I believe, than a less specific name of an older site in the #1 position.

And of course this makes sense. People see the words they’re looking for, and they click on that position.

But this insight made me wonder: What about the site descriptions that appear along with the site name?

Each major engine provides a different blurb along with the name of the site and its link, and extracts or generates this brief chunk of content according to a different formula.

Has MEC done any work on this subject?

Not only does the blurb differ between Google, MSN and Yahoo, but there is also variation among the headlines, or link text that the engines generate.”

Our Answer:

There are two questions here…one about descriptive domain names and the other about page descriptions. I’ll answer each separately.

First, does the use of a descriptive domain name give you an advantage?

From our research on domain and product name testing, it is clear that the domain name used does have an impact on people’s perceptions of the site, and the likelihood of their clicking through.

The freelance writing site referred to in the question is FreelanceWritingSuccess.com. It has a certain amount of content in common with ExcessVoice.com. The latter domain name is older and better ranked, and will often be listed higher up when a relevant search lists the “same” page from both sites on Google. However, while the page on ExcessVoice.com may be listed a little higher, the page for FreelanceWritingSuccess.com will often get a higher click-through rate.

Why? Because the longer domain name is not only descriptive, but also contains the promise of success. A value proposition is implied within the domain name itself.

The same is true of a domain name like BestBuy.com. Or, indeed, MarketingExperiments.com.

In the case of MarketingExperiments.com, the word “Experiments” simply and clearly differentiates the site from the many marketing “content” sites which simply host articles and opinions. “Experiments” implies science, and discovery.

Of course, if you can find a domain like BestBuy.com, you’re in luck. Not only does the name contain a promise, but it also very short and easy to remember and type.

Here’s the second question:

“But this insight made me wonder: What about the site descriptions that appear along with the site name?”

Some engines, like Google, favor using your own page description. But the search term typed in by the user will also influence Google’s choice.

For instance, if the search term being used has an exact match within your description, Google will likely use that description. But if the term is not found in your page description, Google may use text from elsewhere on the page that does contain the exact search phrase.

So there is no guarantee that Google or any of the other search engines will use your own page description – although they often do. I know, it’s confusing.

This raises some related issues.

First, pay very careful attention to the key phrases you DO use in your descriptions. In other words, place your most important key phrase for the page in the description…so that Google does use it when that search phrase is entered.

Also, make sure that you pay a lot of attention to how you write that description. It should be optimized for both the search engines AND the users. Make sure that the description is specific to that page, useful to the reader and that it also contains a strong promise.

Now for the page title itself.

Google and the other search engines will use the page title from your meta tags. So again, pay a lot of attention to how you write them. And keep in mind that Google will cut off the title at somewhere between 63 and 67 characters. So you can’t be too wordy.

Page titles and descriptions are two areas where a lot of people don’t pay nearly enough attention. Not only can they influence how high the page is listed in the search results, along with how well optimized the page itself is, but together they can do an important job of pre-selling the content on your site.

All comments welcome…

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