Continuing my Q&A series on Website Architecture, these questions were presented to me before and during my webinar of the same topic. We have some more good questions and answers today that I'm sure you'll find valuable.

This session is largely about keywords in domain and filenames with an interesting question on nameservers. Let's get right to it...

Do keywords in a nameserver have an effect on the sites associated with that nameserver?

I don't think there has ever been any evidence that this is the case, nor does it really make sense that it would. Search engines are looking for information that give them evidence of the content of any given web page. Using keywords in the nameserver really doesn't help them achieve that goal.

Let's look at this from another perspective. If I name my site The Mighty Keyword Store and get the URL, this gives the search engines a hint that my site is about "keyword". And then if I create file names like "keyword-products.html," "keyword-info.php," "about-keywords.htm" the search engines are able to look at that and gain some additional perspective that each of these pages is about "keyword".

On the other hand, if my site really wasn't about "keyword" but it was about something else entirely, why would I name my domain and pages "keyword?" Domain names and file names are consumable by the public. They can see these in the address bar of their browser. What sense would it make to them to land on a page about "keywords" only to find that it's really about something else entirely?

The audience doesn't see a nameserver. They don't know what you name it and they don't know how many sites are on the server that may or may not be related to that name.

This is a problem with SEO, much of the time. We keep looking for places to manipulate instead of just doing what makes sense. My suggestion is not to look for places to add keywords for a possible, minute benefit, but look for things that make sense to your site audience. If it makes sense to label a picture "keyword" via ALT text, then do so. But if the picture isn't about "keyword" then no, don't do it. Think about your audience first, the rest can largely be forgotten.

Are hyphens better for search engine friendly domain names than no space domain names?

-- Steffi

No. I've seen many SEOs act as a proponent for hyphens in the domain name in order to provide a keyword separation for the search engines, but I don't believe it is necessary. The search engines are able to parse words in domain name pretty well. Here is an example. I performed a search for "e marketing performance" and Google shows my site, Pole Position Marketing in the results:

Example of search engines finding words in domains without the hyphen

You can see that Google found the word "Marketing" in the midst of the domain and made it bolder than the rest. This makes it apparent that they are able to read domain names and pull out relevant keywords.

But that's not enough really, because Google can simply be just looking for the correct combination of letters in which to make their boldings. What about if the domain name can actually form different words depending on how it's read?

An example of this would be "Experts Exchange" with a domain name of Would the search engines read this as "Experts Exchange" or "Expert Sex Change?"

The answer to that would lie in the content of the page. The search engines can simply look to the written content and match it up with the words in the domain name in order to give the domain name the proper relevance.

If the words "expert sex change" or "expert," "sex, and "change" were repeated throughout the content, then the engine could deduce that those are the "proper" words in the URL. On the other hand, if at least one of those words is not found in the body content, such as "sex" then there would be no reason to apply that to the domain.

But we could then assume that the words "experts exchange," "expert," and "exchange" will all be found in the body copy and then the search engines would apply these words to the domain name. Taking this into consideration, hyphenating domains to separate keywords is totally unnecessary.

Another reason not to worry about hyphenated domains is that they are not as user-friendly as non-hyphenated versions. It's easier to say "Go to 'My Keyword Site dot com'" than it is to say "Go to 'My hyphen Keyword hyphen Site dot com'."

What is the effect of using keywords in your file a directory naming structure?
-- Kent

I thought I would answer this question next since my answers above might have left you with impression that I put a lot of stock in putting keywords in the filename structure. Let me say that I think the relevance of using keywords in filenames and domain names is secondary to writing good keyword rich content and using keywords properly throughout your site's architecture. I also don't think that you'll suddenly see a significant ranking boost if you change all your filenames to contain keywords.

At best, keywords in filenames is a minor indicator of the content of the page. But I also believe that SEO is largely about minor things, especially once you get all the major things taken care of. If you can build a site to use keywords in your domain names then by all means do it. But if your site is already built, well spidered, and gets good search engine traffic, then it's probably a bad idea to go and change all your file names to contain keywords. That'll just mess you up for a while.

But every site goes through changes as the years pass and if you find your self re-developing your site, and filename changes are inevitable, then that would be the time to make the change to using keywords. Aside from that, work on the more important elements of optimization and leave those filenames alone.

When creating a keyword folder for your directory, should I only use one keyword, or can I use more than one? What's recommended?
-- Jim

It really depends on your architecture. If you are creating a directory for motorcycle batteries then you can name your directory motorcycle-batteries. But if you have a lot of different batteries then you might want to do something like this:


This way you are not using any hyphens at all. But then you might sell battery chargers so your structure might want to do something like 12v-battery-charger. Thats doable but better would be:


or even


I try to avoid using more than two hyphens for any given directory or filename, but you'll note that blogs frequently break this rule. The smartest thing is to do what makes sense. If you feel like you're stuffing keywords into your file names then you probably are. And try to avoid using multiple directories with the same keywords such as:


This can logically be chopped down to:


If you're interested in hearing my full presentation on website architecture then you need to look no further than Small Business Marketing Unleashed in September. I'll be there with ten other fantastic speakers providing information geared for the small business owner.

June 9, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Website Architecture Questions Answered, Part V