George Pongas, Director of Product Management at AusRegistry, sat down with Nick Bell, Managing Director of digital marketing agency WME, to discuss the important role domain names play in digital and search engine marketing.
George Pongas: Nick, can you give our readers an overview of WME and how you help your clients?
Nick Bell: WME was founded in 2008 as a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) agency. At the start, SEO was our bread and butter, but over the years it’s expanded into a full-service agency offering web design and development, social media marketing, and of course search engine marketing (SEM) strategy. We boast a team of 440 of employees in Australia and across our overseas offices in Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Thailand and Dubai. As a result of our growth, we’ve been recognised as one of the fastest growing tech companies in Australia. The team here go about every day with a sense of urgency, ensuring we’re always informed of the latest industry developments. Everything is moving at such a rapid pace, so it’s critical to keep up.
George Pongas: What is search engine marketing and why is it important to businesses?
Nick Bell: Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the process of gaining visibility and rankings from search engines through unpaid and paid marketing channels. Traditionally, unpaid methods include SEO through earning free traffic via the search results, and paid methods may include traffic channels such as Google AdWords.
SEM is critical for your business as it allows you to quickly reach your target audience, find new opportunities, dramatically boost your online presence and grow your business.
George Pongas: What role do domain names play in SEM? In the past, exact match domains were very valuable. Is this still the case?
Nick Bell: Domain names still play a large role in SEM but it’s important to test the effectiveness of each domain that is trialled. For example, we tested a number of domains for our business before finding that seoquote.com.au performed by far the best for us. In fact, it generated 50% more conversions for us than WMEgroup.com.au.
We then rolled out “(industry)quote.com.au” domains for our other companies (e.g. for Appscore we used appquotes.com.au) and suggested our clients to do the same.
Furthermore, from an SEO point of view, exact match domains are valuable but it can be very easy to over-optimise these domains, which can quickly lead to a Google penalty or filter. Google is aware that these kinds of domains are typically used by spammers who are targeting specific keywords. In this way, exact match domains have their place, but require a different approach in regards to an optimisation strategy.
George Pongas: Our consumer surveys tell us that Australian Internet users trust .au domain names when navigating online. What does this mean in an overall digital marketing strategy for a business?
Nick Bell: Australian users trust .au domains as many understand that these are registered and trading businesses. Purchasing and acquiring a .au domain requires an ABN and transparency about your identity. A .au extension does help in regards to trust and we find .au domain names can dramatically improve conversions and prospects for our clients.
George Pongas: What advice do you give to your clients about their domain name strategy? For instance, do you tell your clients to register one domain name or many? Should they consider multiple registrations across multiple Top-Level Domains? Is a brand domain name better than a generic keyword domain name?
Nick Bell: Typically, we advise clients to select a domain name that targets their brand name. Branding has become a big component of search algorithms and does play a role in the success of SEO and SEM campaigns. You will often see generic, keyword-rich domains in the search results – these kinds of domains are often heavily scrutinised by Google as they are typically purchased by those who are heavily optimising their sites around specific keywords. This can quickly lead to over-optimisation issues if the right approach is not taken.
George Pongas: Google constantly updates its search algorithm. Where do you think the next major changes will be made and how will this impact Australian businesses? How can businesses best future-proof their websites/domains to ensure they aren’t penalised by Google algorithm changes?
Nick Bell: It’s true that Google is constantly updating its algorithm. One update that we are eagerly anticipating is Google Penguin that looks at the links pointing to a website. Without getting into specifics, Penguin attempts to reduce the rankings of websites that are using spammy techniques and strategies.
We think the biggest change will be the greater importance placed on behaviour components of websites. This includes user engagement such as time spent on the website, bounce rates, social sharing and engagement, and using these validity factors to reward web masters for providing a better user experience. The algorithm will become much more intelligent at understanding user intent and therefore providing higher quality content in the search results.
George Pongas: The term ‘search for us’ is an emerging trend in print and TV advertisements in Australia, with an increasing number of marketers using search instead of domain names as a call to action. What are your thoughts on this practice?
Nick Bell: Advertisers use ‘search for us’ as a call-to-action in their advertising because studies show most people use search to navigate the web. They are simply taking advantage of consumer behaviour, but it is an interesting conundrum because you are also sending your customers to a very competitive environment where your ad campaign can be ambushed by your competitors.
To me it makes more sense to send interested customers directly to your website, but you cannot ignore market forces so it is about a balanced online marketing approach. You need to use all the tools in the toolbox and this is why I founded WME – to help businesses with their online marketing.
George Pongas: Much has been discussed about the impact new Top-Level Domains (new TLDs) will have on search. Now Australian businesses have the chance to secure local domains like .melbourne and .sydney. What are your thoughts?
Nick Bell: We have many clients using these TLDs with great success. We have found this has led to an improvement in traffic as a result of higher click-through rates. Google is on record stating they will be treated like other TLDs, therefore they must be set up correctly – by using, for example, geo-targeting, even if they are already region-specific domains. Once again, it’s about a balanced approach; differentiate yourself from your competitors but don’t over play yourself.
George Pongas: Finally, what are your top search engine and digital marketing tips for Australian businesses?
Nick Bell: SEM in 2016 requires more of a strategic approach than yesteryear. As the search landscape changes and the algorithms improve, it will require dedicated experts who understand industry marketplaces and target audiences. Businesses should avoid the temptation for automated solutions and techniques that once worked – these can quickly result in getting your website penalised.
Online marketing is an indispensable investment – you should use an agency that offers well-defined and measurable KPIs, to help establish performance targets for your budget to deliver improved sales results.
Read more about .au domain names in the marketing mix in edition 7 of Behind the Dot: State of the .au Domain.