I was recently contacted by Smiley, a regular Community Spark reader, who asked me the following question:
I’ve bought www.friendlychatrooms.co.uk since I can’t get my hands on friendlychat.co.uk without the hyphen. Would it be more beneficial (search engine wise) to simply forward friendlychatrooms.co.uk to friendly-chat.co.uk or would it be more beneficial to change the site’s domain name to friendlychatrooms.co.uk and forward friendly-chat.co.uk to the new domain?
This raises a number of important issues which I will address in this article.
Your domain name is often your biggest asset
Your domain name is extremely important to the success of your website, and should be chosen carefully. If your domain name is hard to remember or irrelevant to your site, you will struggle to attract and retain visitors. Similarly, if a domain name is hard to spell or too long, you raise the risk of potential visitors not being able to find your site thanks to typos.
Once your website is established and seeing good numbers of repeat visitors, you can be confident that the name of your site has stuck in the minds of your users. When your traffic logs show people typing your site’s name into the search engines to reach you, you can be sure that your site is developing a strong brand.
Once you have reached this stage, is it wise to change things and risk losing your brand awareness and visibility in the search engines?
Issues to consider before changing your domain name
Why do you want to change your domain name?
This should always be the first question you ask yourself. If you just fancy a change of domain name then it is probably not a good idea to proceed. If you are losing traffic due to typos and other symptoms of a poorly chosen domain name, you may want to act sooner rather than later. Changing your domain name is a huge step and it is important you think it through very carefully indeed.
Determine your domain’s brand value
How many people refer to your site by name? Is your domain name part of your site’s name? For example – do people refer to your site as ‘red scarf hippies dot com’ or just as ‘red scarf hippies’? Do people refer to your site by a different nickname, such as ‘RSH’ (if sticking with this example)?
If people refer to your site by its full domain name, you are running the risk of losing visitors and your hard earned brand awareness by changing things now. If people refer to your site by its name, you may consider changing the domain name as long as it remains true to your site name. For example, you may choose to change Red-Scarf-Hippies.net to RedScarfHippies.com – however, you still need to weigh up the pros and cons of such a change.
On another note, could you imagine Coca-Cola changing their name? OK, so it is doubtful your website’s brand is as valuable as theirs, but you get the general idea – brands are valuable and changing your domain name could mean you restarting the process of brand building from scratch.
How much search engine traffic are you receiving?
Are you currently getting good search engine traffic? You need to consider the fact that your existing rankings are based on your existing domain name. If you change that, you risk losing any existing positions your site enjoys in the search engines. Is changing your domain name worth this risk? Type-in traffic shouldn’t be as much of a problem as you can simply redirect your old domain name to the new one.
Making the decision
Matt Cutts from Google gives the following advice in his blog:
All other things being equal, I would recommend to stay with the original domain if possible. But if you need to move, the recommended way to do it is to put a 301 (permanent) redirect on every page of your old domain to point to the corresponding page on the new domain.
I would follow the advice of Matt Cutts and always recommend sticking with the original domain. In Smiley’s case, it is clear he simply wants to get rid of the hyphen in his current domain name. I always recommend avoiding hyphenated domain names, but since he has already chosen and developed his site around the hyphenated URL he should stick with it.
If he really isn’t happy with having a hyphenated domain name though, he should make the change now before the current domain name builds up more brand equity. Should he choose to make the change, he should also ensure he does it the right way – and based on my own research, 301 redirects of every page seem to be the way to go.
What is your advice in this situation? Have you changed your domain name? How old was your site when you made the change? How did it go? Do you regret making the change, or was it a success? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.