I was recently asked by a law firm client if they should buy domain names (URL’s) with their targeted legal specific keywords in them in order to obtain SEO advantages. While I do recommend a domain name that will not be obsoleted if a partner leaves, my advice to them was to focus on relevant, frequently updated legal content and forget about keyword heavy domain names and similar techniques that have no bearing on the quality of the website.
In the past, if two websites were equal, one with keywords in the domain name would achieve the higher ranking. That is no longer the case.
Domain names, often referred to as Top Level Domains (TLDs), with keywords in them are certainly available. At one point, .com, .net and .org domains were the only extension options a law firm could purchase. Now, approximately 280 domain extensions such as .us, ca, etc., are available, with more than 500 additional Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) being planned, to be followed up with additional batches of 400. This and changes Google has instituted have destroyed the value of domain names as an investment. If someone wants to buy a domain name with certain keywords in it, the individual simply needs to find an extension that is available for those specific keywords and pay approximately $10 for the legal domain name plus approximately $10 per year to retain the domain name.
Google further lessened the rankings and advertising value of keyword specific domain names by purposely moving to deemphasize their search value — see Google’s Matt Cutts’ 2011 video on Google’s probable direction. Matt Cutts stressed branding over keywords stuffing and stated that Google is looking at ways to turn down the value of keywords in domains.
If you search for “(your city name) personal injury lawyer”, you will see few domain names in the top 10 that have keywords in them. If domain names with keywords in them do rank well in your search, they have been search engine optimized well and would typically have obtained good rankings regardless.
Another consideration is that Google often considers keywords in domain names as “Vanity domain names.” We were recently told by a Google representative that “vanity URLs” (Drug name URL’s, etc) are sometimes penalized in Google’s AdWords advertising. A recent communication we had with Google regarding why they refused to run one of our client’s pay-per-click ads resulted in the following e-mail (portions of which are removed to keep the client’s name confidential), “I am able to let you know that the reason we could not fully approve the site to run on those keywords is because we do not allow vanity URLs for this particular category of ads.”
I am not saying that keywords are never helpful in a domain name. When advising clients who are developing practice area specialty sites, we sometimes recommend keywords in a domain name in order to improve the conversions of visitors to inquirers. We consider many factors, including branding and conversions. With several hundred domain name suffixes available, a ready supply of domain names is available if needed.
In summary, focus on high quality, relevant, well developed legal content that is fresh, has good usability (design, load speed, etc.), and has been search engine optimized well and you will achieve your rankings’ goals.
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