Your domain name is your address on the Internet. And it matters. Even if it is NOT an important ranking factor for Google or other search engines
‘How?’ and ‘How much?’ are questions that need detailed explanations and elaboration.
So, let’s get straight to understanding the specifics about how, how much, and when a domain name affects SEO.
Plus, helpful tips for choosing the right domain name and using it in the right way.
Table of Contents
What are domain names?
The Internet is a giant and complicated network of servers, computers, and other devices connected to each other. And each node in this network has an address that helps other nodes identify it.
However, these addresses are in numerical form which is tough for human users to read and remember. Domain names are the solution for that.
They are readable and rememberable addresses that people enter in the search bars of their browsers to visit your website.
A domain name consists of the following elements
- The HTTPS:// part is called the protocol.
- Subdomains are optional parts added to the front of a root domain. Once you have a domain you are free to create child sites with subdomains for that particular domain.
- The domain name is the primary part of your website address can be any word(s) related to your business/brand.
- The top-level domain is the extension added at the end of your domain name. TLDs can be generic (.com, .org, .info, .net, etc) or country-specific (.uk for the UK, .in for India, .dk for Denmark, etc.).
Domain names and SEO before Google got smarter
A couple of years ago, domain names were included in the algorithm used to rank websites.
Back then, if you had a pet supplies store, www.petsupplies.com was the most suitable domain name. That’s because Google believed that if your website has “pet supplies” in its domain, it was the most relevant result for that query.
That also explains why generic domains like hotel.com sold for $11 million back in 2003.
Anyone searching for hotels (pretty much anywhere across the globe) would probably find hotel.com as the first result on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).
Such domains are called exact-match domains or EMDs. Now while EMDs looked logical, spammers were using such domains to rank their websites without having any relevant content.
Then around 2012, Google got smarter and sharper. And that’s when it stopped giving EMDs, or any domain names for that matter, much weightage in their ranking algorithm.
Google’s Matt Cutts broke the news on Twitter with the following tweet:
That rendered EMDs useless.
Another strong disadvantage of a keyword-infused domain name is that it stops you from ranking for other keywords.
For example, suppose you have a piano shop and you use the domain name ‘pianoshop.com’ for your website. If in the future, you decide to also sell drums, ranking for drums would be tough with your domain. Also, even if somehow ranked, people seeing ‘pianoshop.com’ in the search result are unlikely, for obvious reasons. to click on your site to find drums.
Later on, another Google insider, John Muller tweeted that keywords in top-level domains also didn’t matter.
That means if you have a job listing site, using .jobs at the end won’t make any difference.
That’s why one of the most popular and high-ranking job search portals is Indeed.com and not indeed.jobs.
All this made people believe that domain names don’t matter for SEO.
That, however, is only partially true.
How do domain names matter for SEO today?
As evident from Matt’s tweet, “low quality” exact-match domains will be reduced. So if you have a keyword in your domain name along with relevant and good quality content on your site, that’s good for your ranking.
Also, while different types of TLDs don’t matter, as Muller mentioned, location- or country-specific TLDs do help you perform better for searches from that particular country.
Another situation where domain names in the ranking are paid ads. When you have very little real estate to stuff keywords, having a keyword in your domain name itself would definitely make things simpler.
Now let’s come to the practical question.
Should you invest in domain names with keywords?
Not necessarily. Let’s check it out with a few situations.
- If you have an IT business called Blue Star IT Solutions, it makes sense to get a domain name with the keyword ‘IT solutions’ in it.
- If your bakery is called Eat Good, you don’t have to find a domain that includes ‘bakery’ in it. eatgood.com would be perfectly fine.
- If you offer designer shoes only in the UK, selecting a .co.uk domain would be high-ranking as Google will rank your website higher for relevant search queries from the UK and not all the other countries.
- If you have an online book store, you don’t need to use the .book domain extension for SEO or ranking. .com, .org, or any other country-specific extension would work fine too.
That’s some basic advice. However, if you want case-specific guidance for selecting the right domain name for your business, consulting with an SEO services company would be worth it.
Qualities of a good domain name
Our discussion so far has made it clear that while domain names are important, using exact-match domains or domains with keywords is not necessary for ranking.
However, domains can be worth more than just the rank benefit they may/may not offer. A good name can help you build your brand and get found online.
People are more likely to click on links from domains that they trust. And here are 6 qualities of a good domain name.
- Unlikely to be misspelled
1. Subdomain vs. Subfolder – what to choose?
www.yoursite.com/blog is a subdirectory of your root domain. It is a level in the hierarchy of your root domain and branches off from it.
blog.yoursite.com is a subdomain of the root domain. It compartmentalizes your website so that you can share content types different from your basic domain.
According to Google, they crawl both subdirectories and subdomains in the same way. However, subdomains are known to get no benefit from the link juice that your root domain has already built and vice versa. That’s not the case with subdirectories.
Thus, from an SEO perspective, if you want to bank on already built domain authority, use subdirectories. In case, you don’t mind having and ranking for different keywords with your main and child site, subdomains work fine.
For example, www.yoursite.com/blog is a better alternative than blog.yoursite.com because you want to avoid keyword and backlink dilution.
On the contrary, if you have your website in different languages, en.yoursite.com for the English version and fr.yoursite.com for the French version would make sense. It also works for branches of your company that are not interrelated. For example, if you have a consulting firm, accounting.aceconsultants.com and technical.aceconsultants.com are perfectly fine.
2. How to choose a domain extension?
.com which stands for ‘commercial’ is one of the most popular top-level domain extensions. Other popular choices include .net, .org, .info, etc. which stand for network, organization, and information respectively. Then you also have country/location-specific TLDs.
There is no perfect TLD. It depends on your website’s purpose and target audience.
- In general .com domains are ideal.
- If you have an NPO, .org might make more sense. Similarly for informational sites, .info can be used and government websites can use .gov.
- If you are targeting an audience from a specific country, a country-specific TLD like .uk for a British audience would be ideal.
- The most important thing to remember is that your TLD should be relevant and not look spammy.
3. Can I change my domain name?
While you can, of course, change your domain name, you should remember that it will have an SEO impact. However, if you have to absolutely do it, following domain migration best practices can help retain your original domain’s SEO.
The best way is to use 301 redirects. These redirects tell people that the content on the older page has moved to a new destination. This ensures that there is no issue related to duplication and canonicalization.
If you are selling the domain, and want to get the backlink juice on your new domain, you might have to work a tad bit harder for that. You can also reach out to the webmasters who have linked to your original domain requesting them to link to the new domain.
Read Also: Benefits of Audience Segmentation
Over to you…
With the basics cleared, you should now be all set to get a domain name for your website. Get started today!