To exclaim that entrepreneurs need a good web domain is to trade in marketing cliche.
It's almost 2011. Fledgling business owners know this one by heart—but here's a different way to think about domains: as a crucial first step that can make future online marketing efforts infinitely easier and more effective.
Or, perhaps, as the genesis of a business you've never even considered.
Exact matches made in heaven
There's no formula for choosing a successful domain. A litany of companies built brands and booming websites from the thin Internet air (think Zappos, Yahoo! and every other quirky site consumers relish). For the rest of the entrepreneurial world, the more common approach is rooted in transference. You hunt for a domain that brings your business name to the Web.
It's worth considering another option, though: Forget choice altogether. Let due diligence and data be your guide. Pour your time, effort and money into chasing down an exact match domain.
In short, an exact match domain is a website comprised solely of critical keywords for your industry or business type (think Cars.com, WeddingDresses.com or Wine.com). They're also highly sought-after commodities. Exact match domains are inherently imbued with credibility, authority and search marketing potency.
Users and search engines alike revere exact match domains. Google gives these types of domains a boost in the search engine results, a nod to the authority behind the exact match. An exact match domain also takes much of the work out of traditional online marketing efforts. Site owners, bloggers and consumers who link to your site will likely use your domain name, creating a stream of high-quality, keyword-rich links.
That's the kind of stuff that sends sites rocketing up the search results.
At the same time, scores of consumers still open a browser and type "Tickets.com" into the URL bar to find a pair of concert tickets. Owning an exact match domain allows you to grab that one-off traffic and sink your teeth into maximizing conversions.
So why doesn't everyone go the exact match route?
Because the good ones are long gone and often expensive to acquire.
Finding a Home
Exact match domains make everything easier. Obtaining them is typically anything but. Odds are those bold, umbrella domains within your industry are out of reach, unless you're sitting on a sprawling pile of seed capital. Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Start by doing some keyword research in your space—not just for your ideal phrases, but for secondary and tangential terms that the average consumer might wind up searching.
A great resource is Google's External Keyword tool. Filter the results through the "Exact" field and look at one tally in particular: keyword search volume. This is a simple, no-expertise-needed way to see what other exact match domains might be worth pursuing.
The right opportunity is worth busting your marketing budget wide open. Spending heavy for a great domain at the outset will eliminate much of the cost and hassle of building an online marketing campaign down the road.
An exact match domain doesn't tie you to decades of boring business cards. You don't have to ditch the business name you've spent years developing. Instead of "Natalie's Knitting" consider "Natalie's Knitting at KnittingNeedles.com" or "Natalie's Knitting brought to you by KnittingNeedles.com."
Perhaps it isn't the T-shirt friendly moniker you always wanted, but the last thing you want to do is purchase an exact match domain and use it to redirect visitors to your homey, niche website. Diverting traffic and links from the big-dog domain will dilute the search marketing boost big time.
An exact match domain isn't an excuse for complacency. Building a brand and establishing authority still require dedication and a clearly developed marketing strategy. But there's no better foundation out there.
The Chicken, the Egg and the Exact Match Domain
Exact match domains can also spur business creation. Nathaniel Broughton knew little about the surety industry when he purchased SuretyBonds.com in 2009, but the online entrepreneur behind three Inc. 500 companies can spot a great opportunity miles away.
His research uncovered an exact match domain with loads of potential. Instead of squatting on the site as an investment, Broughton ran some projections and decided to build a surety bond business from the ground up.
SuretyBonds.com now has four full-time employees and the No. 1 spot in Google's search results for the phrase "surety bonds." The startup is licensed to issue bonds in 25 states and counting. (Full disclosure: I was an unpaid writer for the company's blog).
Many entrepreneurs enter the market with that cradle-to-grave concept, the business idea they've incubated for years, but it doesn't have to be that way. The power of an exact match domain, in the right vertical, can serve as the springboard to building a thriving business outside of that life-long calling.
Chris Birk is director of content and communications for VA Mortgage Center.com, the nation's No. 1 dedicated VA lender. A recovering journalist, he also teaches at a private Midwestern university. Follow him @cjbirk.