mememax - 10:46 pm on Dec 22, 2011 (gmt 0)
Here my two cents:
1) In google's current (and foreseeable) algorithm, do keyword domains still really work? (Our competition doesn't use keyword domains, but are well-branded for their company names. Of course, they have advertising / marketing budgets that dwarf ours.)
I still see many keyword rich domain in SERPs, especially in longtail queries. I think not only Google is moving to brand rich domains but the whole online marketing is requiring it. If you want to "attack" social media you need to create a great brand identity and invest on it. A keyword rich domain is not the best option in this way, imagine your name is womanclothes.com your competitors may buy woman-clothes.com and things like this.
2) After ten years, how much of a "loss" will it be to us if we move everything to a new domain (ensuring that we do proper 301 redirects)? We only have less than 200 inbound links to the site, and a PR4, and to be honest, some of them are so old that I bet many of the sites that did link to us have fallen to abandon.
I read of people making huge 301, lose their rankings and recover them in a 3 to 6 months period. I've got no experience on it, maybe Google is faster than before right now.
3) Since we would like to be significantly more aggressive in terms of link building and branding, would we be more likely to incur a penalty if we move to a new domain as opposed to doing the link building on the old domain (which has all the history to it)?
The only risk you got is of innatural link building. Since you start with no links, if you build links aggressively you may build them too fast (more than a monthly 10-20%), which Google considers as artificial links.
4) Would it be a bad idea to start setting up a new domain with the new name and just make it a 301 page that redirects to the OLD site. Then on the old site, we would still keep our clunky URL but change the graphics and logos to the NEW NAME (hence the graphics and logos would NOT match the URL).
I think that the best option is 301 the old to new domain, with same URIs (or different ones but be careful to not make any mistake). Creating a new domain just for a doorway will not help since users will see it as a doorway and the double redirect in my opinion is not a good idea.
In the end. I think you should create a new brand with the new domain and redirect there the old site. Tou can always buy keyword rich domains and build thematic and niche microportals, like sportwear.com - womanclothes.com - etc etc