My blog was, until not so long ago, called Lifestyle Travel Kit. Based on my experience of posting questions to friends, colleagues, and random people, I reckon 50% of you will think that’s a cool name. The other 50% will think it’s dumb. 99% of you have already forgotten the name by the time you get to here.
The problem was that it’s not a memorable brand or domain name.
I used to believe the only thing I needed to build a powerful blog was keywords. I’ve ranked many sites based on content alone. These sites had no backlinks and almost no social presence. Google loved the content, I had targeted all the right keywords, and everything worked fine.
Then over the years, I noticed a shift. People that work in the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) industry also note this shift (I’m not that clever) but not everyone agrees.
The shift is towards branding. I'm not talking about exact match domain names (EMD) or over-optimized SEO-focused domains that were popular (for good reason) ten years ago. I'm talking about having a brand that people remember and type into Google, Bing, Pinterest, wherever.
Google and Website Branding
According to Search Engine Journal, “Google has always given brands preferential treatment”. SEJ also says that it's easier for brands to rank, with fewer backlinks than competitors with a weaker (or nonexistent) brand. And this trend is increasing.
Here's something that seems to validate my point:
Many people I consulted about the move told me it was a bad idea to change domain names. “Stick with what you have”, they said. “Your domain name doesn’t matter. Look at Uber!” But that proves my point in one way. Uber is a 4-letter domain name that everyone can pronounce, anywhere in the world. It’s easy to remember. It’s a brand, rather than a specific niche. I'd imagine the owners paid a ton of money for that domain name. If Uber had been called SharingEconomyCarRentalService.com do you think they would have grown as fast? I think not.
Domain Name Searches
A good signal to Google in organic search is how many times people put your brand or domain name into the search bar. If we look at all the big travel brands in the world, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, etc. I’ll be that a large percentage of the traffic to these websites is through brand searches.
Many people type lonelyplanet.com into Google’s Search box. Almost 1000 searches a month, in fact. I run a marketing agency while I travel so these geeky SEO statistics fascinate me. And of course, this knowledge is power when you run a blog.
According to Similar Web, around 80% of the traffic to Lonely Planet is organic. But the top keyword for the site is “Lonely Planet”.
People recognise the brand and search for it by name. This signal of trust to Google is something I believe they put a lot of weight on. If we take the case of a random niche site with no personality but one that focuses on long tail keywords and pure SEO, we see a different story.
The Price of a good domain name
The owners of SumoMe, spent 7 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to buy Sumo.com. They eventually agreed on a sale and handed over 1.5 Million. Was it worth it? Wasn’t their company doing well without the domain name? They felt that the domain name and brand they wanted would help them.
Levels, the founder of Nomad List, ran his website for digital nomads on the nomadlist.io domain name for many years. He bought the dot.com version a few years after launch. He obviously found worth in a merged brand for his baby.
For geeky reasons I took the top 500 domain names in the Moz 500 and did some excel wizardry to find the average length of the names. It was even shorter than I expected at 6.7 characters.
Correlation is not causation, and the likelihood is that these domains have been around for a long time and they’ve grown huge. Big companies have invested in the domains too. But it shows that the existence of “long” domain names is rare at the top.
My old domain got a grand total of zero traffic from brand searches. Same for searches like “lifestyle travel”. With 1600 searches a month that’s a great keyword. It’s also a hard one. Most people are looking for this site: http://lifestyleandtravel.com/
There’s also talk about Google demoting exact match domain (EMD) names in the search results. Why would they do that? To stop people from attempting to use domains like best-travel-packs-for-2019.com
Lifestyle Travel Kit wouldn’t be a great name to have in that case. But I’ve seen it work well in other cases: local businesses, for example. That seems to still be a great SEO tactic.
Even back in 2012, Google’s search guy, Matt Cutts announced an algorithm change to penalise low-quality exact match sites.
To Nomad Or Not To Nomad
According to DNSlytics, there are almost 40,000 domain names with the word nomad in them. 25,000 of those are dot.com top-level domains. The “nomad” moniker will not help you stand out any more. It’s been done. And although I found some catchy domain names that included the word, I decided against using them.
Then there are some truly ridiculous domain names
- travel-destinations-travelpackages.com. If that’s not trying to use old-school SEO tactics then I don’t know what is.
- travelfamilytravel.com. Saying something twice makes it at least 100% better.
- travelutionpoweredbybreakawaytravel.com. Speaks for itself.
These examples are all expired domains, but someone paid money to register them one time. And who knows, they might have even tried to make a business out of them.
The name escapes me but I did see a brand called The Engaged Travellers (or something very similar) once. Can anyone spot potential long-term issue with this domain name?
Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) September 28, 2012
New Travel Blog Brand
So I picked Location You (locationyou.com)
Now I guess I'd better justify that choice. Here goes.
It’s short and easy to remember. But I sometimes have to clarify the “you” bit in verbal conversations as some people think it’s spelled with a “u” at the end. The name is broad enough to work as a brand name. If you’d never heard of Nike, would you know it’s a shoe and apparel brand?
It's worth pointing out that there are very few good dot.com domain names left. Everyone wants one and cyber squatters have eaten up the last remaining good ones. Domain names can go for a lot of money. $20,000 for anything with “travel” is not unreasonable (or maybe it is, depending on which side you're on).
My hope is that, in time, people will type Location You into Google when looking for my site and that will help squeeze out extra SEO juice (right now, the results have nothing to do with my website). If anyone is interested, drop me a line and I’ll keep you informed of any updates to this little experiment.
The Business Of Blogging
If you’ve read any other blog posts on this site, especially the travelogues, you’ll see I don’t like to be in front of the camera.
So my only concern with this domain name was that it might appear narcissistic and self-congratulating. And that's not what I want. I designed the blog for everyone. It’s not a travel diary. I’m writing posts to help people, and to some extent, to document journeys. But most of all, it's an outlet for writing. I like to write. It’s a pleasure to create and I hope I can always do it.
“Location You” is broad. If I was to one day settle down and write travel stories, I can still use the blog name. The owners of blogs that select the “perpetual travel with short stays” niche, can’t really do that. Under Thirties Travel is also a blog with an expiration date, for obvious reasons. The “Solo Travel blogs” have ‘niched' themselves into a corner. I love solo travel and I could write about that. But what happens if you marry and have kids.
How to change a brand
First of all, you need to do due diligence on a domain name. Domain name registration has been around for 30 years. There’s a high possibility that your chosen domain has been registered before. And if someone used it to spam or perform black hat SEO tactics, especially in the recent past, you’ll take on the negative impact of this unsavoury history. If Google believes that your domain is untrustworthy, you’re already at a disadvantage.
1. Check with Majestic. Ask an SEO or marketing professional for their advice about the results.
2. Check on the Wayback Machine at archive.org to see what the site was used for in the past.
3. Use Google search to check the domain name. Don’t put the domain in the address bar. Type “yourdomainname.com” (including the quotes) to see what comes up.
Once you've found the domain name you'll have a bit of work ahead of you. See this guide to changing domain names.
4. Most importantly, let Google know that you’re changing domain. This is a very important step. Do not skip it unless you want to see your rankings and traffic drop to zero.
5. Add 301 redirects to the old site
6. Change social media profiles. Hopefully, you checked to see if the social profiles are available. Twitter.com/yourdomainname, facebook.com/yourdomainname, etc
There are too many steps to list here but if you need help changing your brand or domain name, reach out to me. I've done it at least 10 times with my own websites and client businesses.
Blogger, lifelong learner, entrepreneur & musician from Ireland. I've been travelling and living overseas for over 20 years. My mission is to build businesses that allow me to have a simple and independent lifestyle. In the process, I hope to help myself and others with my writing.