10 domain name secrets to repair your online reputation

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1. First, start with the grand-daddy standard domain of them all: .COM — The dot-com TLD is highly effective and preferable to register first as your primary website if it’s available. There are multiple reasons it’s effective: It’s one of the longest-established TLDs; it is the most-recognized top-level domain of all by both humans and machines; and it functions great from a marketing/branding standpoint, as well as from a technical standpoint.

If “YourName.com” is already taken, though, don’t despair. In some instances, slight name variations may work just as well.

For instance, dashes are allowed characters in domain names, and they can be used to delimit between first and last names, as in “Your-Name.com.” Many optimization experts avoid this out of fear that search engines may evaluate it to be a suspect domain and lower in quality and trustworthiness. But these fears may be largely unjustified, since dashed domains can function well. Admittedly, dashed domains are undesirable if you’d like to print your URL on your business cards and in other offline media.

Adding just a few letters near the end of the name can function well, too, in certain circumstances. Example: ChrisSmithCEO.com or JamesSmithBanker.com. Mostly, avoid tacking on additional words or letters, though, or you start eroding your exact-match domain advantage. Longer domains/URLs function correspondingly worse in search engines, so only adding very few letters should be considered if your options are limited.

2. .NET, .BIZ, .US, .ORG — If you search for your name with most registrars, they are likely to list these TLDs as options for you. In general, each one of these can function fairly well, closely similar to .COM.

I would say that in general, none of these confer any specialized advantages, but they can work quite well as simple, solid TLD extensions on a proper name domain. (One of my close friends has operated “John.org” since 1998, but I think he mainly maintains it just for his email address. It does indeed rank very well for a few queries, which is mildly surprising, since there’s no optimization put into it, and it’s not at all focused on his full name.)

3. Treat yourself to a .ME domain — While this is technically the TLD for the country of Montenegro, the government there decided to operate it as a Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD), because they recognized that it held a wide commercial appeal worldwide, since “Me” is the English self-referencing pronoun. Domains with the .ME extension can function very well in search results, and the extension has a decent degree of recognizability. It’s short; it makes sense; it seems to convey that it’s operated by the person bearing the name used in the domain — it’s simply elegant!

A related alternative with differing advantages is to use the About.me service to set up a profile page for yourself at About.me/Your.Name; this service has inbuilt website design/publishing capabilities and likely has some degree of ranking capabilities, fresh out of the box. I probably wouldn’t recommend having both YourName.me and About.me/Your.Name simultaneously, though — use one or the other.

4. Geographic TLDs — Examples of Geographic TLDs: YourName.NYC, YourName.Miami, YourName.Paris. In a lot of reputation management cases, an individual’s name is closely associated with their local geographic areas in search results, rather than being prominent nationwide. A common case for this is when well-known proprietors of local businesses may be searched for with higher frequency in their cities than elsewhere, and Google will present different search result rankings according to geography for this reason.

For instance, in most places in the US, if you search for “Chris Silver Smith,” my site is likely to come up at the top of search results (since I speak nationwide at conferences and work professionally nationwide). However, if you search in the Miami area, Google is more likely to present web pages about an attorney, Chris Silversmith, who lives and works there.

If you are best-known in your local area, one great option for you would be to set up a personal website using a GeoTLD that is in sync with your geography. So Chris Silversmith could leverage his location associatively by setting up a personal web page on “ChrisSilversmith.miami,” and it would likely rank quite favorably in search results. My research indicates that these GeoTLDs perform quite advantageously in local search results, and SEO strategist Bill Hartzer has had similar findings.

5. Combine a subdomain with a domain — If you can’t obtain “FirstnameLastname.com,” which is likely if it’s at all common, then there’s a possibility you could obtain “Lastname.com.” And if you do that, you can set up a customized subdomain using your First Name: http://Firstname.lastname.com — wonderfully, this can accomplish very good optimization.

To obtain full benefit, be sure to 301 redirect the .www and non-.www versions of the site domain URLs over to the first/last name subdomain combination.

6. Use keyworded gTLDs — Honestly, this is a great tactic to use for many professionals online as their overall commercial optimization. Attorneys could use .LAWYER, .ATTORNEY or .LEGAL domain names. For doctors, .CARE, .HEALTHCARE, .SURGERY may be great options. Indeed, quite a few professions are covered, such as: .ACCOUNTANT, .ACTOR, .CONTRACTORS, .DENTIST, .BANK, .REALTOR and many others.

Considering that the reputations of many small businesses are as associated with the names of their founders/owners as they are with the company brand names, this is an overall good search marketing tactic. (It’s not as hot when performing offline marketing, such as in print or radio ads, because people still don’t recognize these newer top-level domains as much as the .COM/.NET standbys. But you could still use a more recognizable domain name variation in your offline marketing which just redirects to the keyworded gTLD.) I find that the shorter gTLDs function best for optimization, in part simply because shorter URLs function better in search.

7. Add a misspelling domain — If your ideal, exact-match domain name isn’t available, you may be able to use a misspelling to obtain virtually the same level of advantage. If “JohnSmith.com” isn’t available, “JohnSmiths.com” may work just as well. Google and other search engines have worked very hard to handle plurals/singulars and stemming variations of words, often treating them nearly identically.

In addition, using slight, common variations in the spelling of names may also work. Of course, the rest of the SEO of the site needs to focus still on the proper, exact-match spelling of the name in most cases. But a closely similar domain name will be an advantage when you cannot obtain exact matches. (In fact, even performing a complete optimization campaign more fully around a misspelling may provide additional assets to rank for the target name, since Google tries to incorporate a lot of variation in search results.)

8. Add a .TEL domain — Many marketers are seemingly unaware of this unique domain; it was set up as an internet directory service, with all types of contact information stored directly within the domain name system (DNS) information about each domain. So, the information you put on your .TEL domain will be republished on many of the sites that publish domain WHOIS information.

Naturally, you could include all sorts of things — your street address, city, state, ZIP and phone number — but, you could also include a biographic description of yourself, links to Facebook, Twitter and other social media, photos and more! .TEL automatically displays your domain’s information on the domain URL, marked up in HTML and Card Microformat. (Can you say, “citations for local SEO?”)

Telnic, the organization that administers the .TEL domain names, has also set up a directory of links to help ensure that all of the many .TELs become indexed in Google and Bing. I have found that by also adding some independent links pointing into a .TEL domain, one may further help it achieve good rankings.

9. Try a top-level domain hack — If your ideal domain names were already bought up by other people, you might try registering a top-level “domain hack.” This is where you register a portion of your exact-match name sequence, leaving off a few letters at the end which will be supplied by the top-level domain.

For example, if your name was “Michael Lewis” or “John Lewis,” but someone had already nabbed the ideal URLs for those two, such as “MichaelLewis.com” or “JohnLewis.com,” then you might instead register “michaellew.is” or “johnlew.is” — using .IS, which is the TLD for the country of Iceland.

While I’ve seen domain hacks of this sort rank effectively, it should be noted that this places a delimiter in an unusual place in the name, rendering it less of an exact match than other possible options that there might be. This is probably an option of last resort.

10. .CEO is excellent, albeit often pricey — Similar to the other gTLDs, the .CEO domain can function quite well, and it lends an element of prestige to a domain name, particularly for company founders and chief executive officers. It doesn’t lend any ranking assist, unless people may frequently be searching for your name while also including “CEO” at the end.

If you have a very unusual name, and you’re not well-known as an executive, you may be able to obtain YourName.CEO for the relatively low price of $99, but I’ve seen ranges going upward from there to a few thousand dollars due to domain name speculation. For instance, I checked just now, and they offered me “ChrisSilverSmith.CEO” for $99, “ChrisSmith.CEO” for $499, and “JohnSmith.CEO” for $999.

I’d urge proceeding with a very careful cost-benefit analysis of your desired .CEO domain name at the costlier end of the range, because my other tips here establish that you can often obtain effective alternatives for much cheaper.


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