chrislynch.link

Christopher’s Big SEO Experiment

Niche vs. Brand Marketing (Goodbye chrislynchwriter.com)

My ruthless cull of domains continues! Now that all of my books, short stories, and movies are listed on this site I’m dropping more of my niche-specific domains and redirecting all of the traffic here. In some instances, the timeline for this is short, the expiry for the domains coming around sooner than it might have done if I was working with a strictly timed plan.

Allowing chrislynchwriter.com to expire this month is quite a milestone; it was one of my better-developed domains in terms of content and a “nice” domain in terms of fitting comfortably into my niche of writing and being matched pretty well to a search term that I can imagine people entering if they were trying to track me down. However, the numbers don’t lie and since I combined my domains the traffic to this single site has exceeded the combined traffic of the individual domains quite significantly.

What gives? Surely, you need a niche site? That’s what every SEO guru says… don’t they?

The more I look into it, the more SEO and marketing experts I find who are stepping away from the concept of “niches” and more towards developing brands that can operate across many spaces. Amazon do it – their brand is recognisable across everything they do and, well, they do just about everything.

Your niche, if you really feel you need one, is you – not what you do but the unique way in which you do it and talk about it.

Despite this, if I check Google for “niche SEO”, and filter my results to content just from the last week, I still see page after page of results all saying the same thing – find a niche, work exclusively in that niche, link that niche not outside, etc. etc.

Playing the Long Game

I normally like to finish off any SEO blog with a “here’s what you should do”, some hard-and-fast rules and actions that you can apply to improve your site. That’s not going to happen here. Instead, I’m going to give you a choice.

If you want fast and predictable results from SEO, go niche. That’s the safe play. Just remember, your growth will be linked to the size of your niche. If being the number one result for “Vegan Plumbers in Sacramento” is your goal, just make sure you’re never going to move (or accidentally start eating bacon).

If you want to build for a longer-term strategy around a brand that allows you to pivot into different markets without have to start from scratch each and every time, forget the niche and build out broad.

It’s working for me right now– check back in a few weeks and I’ll be here to let you know if it still is!

Goodbye, The Black Room. Hello, The Black Room.

Yesterday the domain I bought for The Black Room, theblackroom.co.uk, expired. It wasn’t asn admin error and I’m certainly not turning my back on The Black Room or any of its projects. So, why did I let it go? Well, read on dear reader…

The Folly of Domains

I have a lot of different interests and different projects, as you might be able to tell from this website, and I used to run a domain for each and every one of them. It was time-consuming, expensive, and ultimately pointless. Every domain needed content, carefully curated to avoid duplication between my sites but also written and built to take advantage of the overlap and link between my various endeavors. Domains would go through flurries of activity when I was busy in that particular area, then lay dormant for weeks or months whilst I was doing something else. Worst of all, when I would actually speak to someone who had been on one of my sites they would say things like…

“I went on your website but I couldn’t find your books.”

“Oh,” I would reply meekly, “Which one were you on?”

“It had a film on it?”

“Oh,” I would reply meekly… “Which one?

This is the great folly of buying domains for small projects and side hustles before they are fully formed and ready to exist as entities in their own right. We’ve all been duped by the Go Daddys and the 123Regs of this world that every idea needs a domain. The moment you conceive your side-hustle, whether it be cake baking or naked DJing, you need to rush out and buy the right domain for it before it’s too late. Because that’s how you stake your claim, right? There’s gold in them thar hills and if you don’t mark out your territory, someone else is going to buy www.nakedcakebakingdj.com, right?

Wrong.

Since I started my Big SEO Experiment I’ve pulled more traffic into this one, completely niche-less domain. I’ve had offers to work on projects, requests for interviews with podcasts and online magazines, and I’ve sold more books. So, here’s what I’ve discovered… you don’t need a domain for every little thing you do.

So, The Black Room’s carrying on?

Absolutely. You can still see the original pilot for The Black Room on YouTube and I’m still, when I’m not working on other things, working on more ideas for The Black Room universe. The biggest Black Room project of them all, OffWorld, remains in post-production and is inching towards completion day by day, week by week, and month by month.

As for any new Black Room projects, after my failed attempt at a Batman fan-fic-flick, I’m licking my wounds a little bit on the topic of projects where I’m reliant on so many other people and where things can fall apart completely out of your control. There is a purity to prose that I really enjoy; although it still takes other people to bring the books to market the actual creative process is entirely under my control and the only person who I’m relying on to make sure the story gets finished is me. Life has a real habit of getting in the way of projects and I don’t hold it against anyone when things don’t work out but it does leave you a little jaded when something you’ve poured your heart into doesn’t come to fruition through no fault of your own.

Having said that, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel for The Exorcism of Bruce Wayne. I recently discovered that there’s a very large community of people making Batman fan-fic audio dramas. Audio would certainly keep the SFX bill down…

Picking a Domain Name When There’s No SEO Bonus For Keyword-Based Domains

In a boost for digital agencies with names like “Tangarine Kangaroo” or “Excessive Aubergine”, brands that took the name of a thing and just shoved “ly” or “ify” on the end, and former digital marketing CTOs who have decided to dump nearly all their domain names and put all their content on one site… Google has confirmed that there is no specific SEO bonus for keyword-based domains.

Yep, call your domain anything you want… it won’t make a difference. Or will it?

What if you domain name matches the search?

The obvious problem with saying that keyword-based domains don’t offer any SEO bonus is when it comes to Exact Match Domains (or “EMD”s). If I’m looking for a business called “Tangerine Kangaroo”, I really want to find that business. I don’t want pictures of orange marsupials.

The trick appears to be not to be too “spammy” with your EMD. tangerinekangaroo.com is OK. bestplumberscardiff.co.uk is not. The difference? User intent – matching what the user is searching for in a way that isn’t trying to cram keywords into a domain (unless your business is actually called Best Plumbers and you happen to be in Cardiff, I suppose).

Search Engine Journal has a good article about this very topic, charting the success of Hotels.com and noting how this extremely popular site suffered after a Google update the impacted exact match domains and how this was eventually reversed.

Overall, it seems pretty clear that you can still benefit from including a keyword in your domain name as long as this matches your brand name and content. Like most things in SEO, consistency matters and doing anything “for the search engine” is generally a bad idea. Generally speaking, including the name of a town in your domain is now considered a particular spammy move, probably because of the huge numbers of these domains that were sold back in the late 90s/early 00s.

What if you’re buying a domain today?

As a web-veteran, here’s how a lot of businesses got their names if they were incepted after the advent of the Internet:

  1. “I’ve got a great idea”
  2. “What are you going to call it”
  3. “I’m going to call it Best Invention Ever”
  4. “… the .com of that is gone. And the .co.uk”
  5. “Oh right. OK, well… how about Most Amazing Invention Ever?”
  6. “… that’s gone as well. Oh, there is a .biz domain for £50”
  7. “Hmm. OK, well, how about Tangarine Kangaroo?”
  8. “Yeah, that’s available.”
  9. “Buy it!”

I’ve been through this process myself quite a few times and had many clients fail to go through this and then be thunderstruck when they discover that the domain name for their Next Big Idea isn’t available. I’ve also seen clients tie themselves in knots trying to squeeze a keyword into a brand that also has a domain name available.

The best advice I can give is to build a brand you believe in and then go hunting for the domain name. If you’ve stayed away from keywords then chances are good that you will still be able to find a domain name to match your brand (unless you went and called your next big idea “Amazon” or something).

“Amazon” is a great example of a brand name that everybody now knows and that, on first inspection, has nothing to do with where the company started – selling books.

Chris Lynch

Actually, when Amazon was founded, Jeff Bezos allegedly chose the name in part because it began with A and a lot of web directories were alphabetical at the time. So, maybe he was thinking about SEO a little!

Good news for “Christopher’s Big SEO Experiment”

Why does this matter for me particularly right now? Well, I’m in the middle of a Big SEO Experiment, trashing a whole load of domains I’ve had for some time and redirecting all my traffic and links to one platform (this one). It’s a pretty big risk from an SEO perspective as it means moving out of my various niche websites and into one “brand” that I am going to have to work hard to get Google to understand.

There are no keywords in my domain name – just my name, which is now effectively my brand. It’s a far cry from domains like thetruthaboutseo.co.uk that I used to own.

Christopher’s Big SEO Experiment: Getting Started

Changes are afoot in my online presence.

After some four years or more of managing multiple websites for my various projects I’ve finally broken down and decided that enough is enough.

Going back maybe five years, I combined all my websites into one. It was a mad, eclectic mess where serious articles on technology and digital marketing fought for space on the homepage with stories about vampires and magic, tips of self-hypnosis, and recipes that I liked. I started to build a brand around my position at this, if not unique then at least unusual, intersection of interests and expertise.

Then… my bottle went.

I was writing a book about SEO and every bit of best practice I was reading and reviewing was screaming at me that what I was doing was wrong. What was my niche? What were my homepage keywords? What would my title tags be? Oh, the humanity of it all!

And so I gave up on my wonderful, melting pot of nonsense. I bought domains (a lot of them) and broke my site up into chunks. Then I brought it back together and broke it up again because I wasn’t happy with the technical build. And then I pulled it all a part a third (maybe even a fourth time) and rebuilt it again.

I followed every bit of best practice, every bit of guidance from Google. I behaved. I complied.

And I hated it.

I ended up with a whole bunch of “me too” sites. I was yet another digital marketing guy, yet another food blogger. The quintessentially unique thing about my blog, those intersections of story-telling and technology, film-making and marketing, hypnosis and pie baking (OK, maybe not the last one), had been lost.

So, I made a big decision coming into 2022.

Screw Google

I spent nearly ten years in “Agency Land”, helping people to build websites and build businesses through great search engine optimization, digital marketing, and great e-Commerce technology. (Those guys are still available if you need them). Leaving that behind means I get to write more freely about digital marketing and worry a little less about whether or not I’m setting a perfect example.

It’s also a great opportunity to run an experiment on Google by challenging the accepted wisdom about fitting your site into a niche and see if I can create a site that ranks well across multiple disparate terms.

This is the start of Christopher’s Big SEO Experiment. Only time will tell what we’re about to learn.