Choosing the Right Domain Name for SEO

There are 23 comments, join the conversation

Back in the day, way way back, your website domain could have had a major impact on your site’s rankings. That changed a few years ago (2012 to be exact) when Google wanted to weed out websites that may have good domain names but very little “substance”.

Exact Match Domains (EMD) is where the problem started. Businesses would essentially purchase keyword domains to rank for a particular keyword. And the EMD was enough for them to rank: they barely focused on quality content and relevance (two things that matter greatly for SEO nowadays). That strategy no longer works.

That’s not to say that domain names no longer affect SEO. They still do (and studies have proven that), but how?

Let’s find out.

How Domain Names Impact SEO

There have been a lot of changes to SEO, particularly from the largest search engine: Google. But one thing that hasn’t changed, but has been emphasized more, is original quality content, relevance and always aligning with search engine best practices. A component of this is your domain name – it’s unique, only you can have it.

Even though it may not directly impact your rankings anymore, a good domain name will get you more brand recognition, trust and higher click-through-rates (CTR).

However, the definition of a good domain name has changed, at least according to Google. We see this in how the search engine treats certain types of domains.

Exact Match Domains (EMD)

EMDs are domain names that include keyword phrases. For example, let’s say you are selling hair products and want to rank for “quality hair products.” The EMD you would most likely use is qualityhairproducts.com. Just purchasing that domain would have gotten you the first page ranking a while ago.

Yup! You wouldn’t have needed original content or backlinks. You would simply rank for it with your domain name. That all changed after Google released the Exact Match Domain Update.

The update essentially made EMDs obsolete in search engine rankings. In fact, a study by High Position showed that the average EMD ranking went from position 13.4 to 26.6 (yikes!) after Google’s update. The average top 10 EMD also dropped in rankings: from 3.2 down to 11.9. So now we know that choosing an exact match domain in 2017 is quite pointless, a bad idea even.

So how should you decide on a domain name to maximize SEO? You need only do two things: choose a memorable brand name (to make your domain name) and pick a .com extension.

Let’s go into more detail.

Your Brand Name Should Be Your Domain Name

We can all agree that your brand is important. Your brand name is how your customers recognize and find you in search engines and social media platforms. So think of your domain name as the foothold of your online brand.

In fact, the more customers are using your brand name to search for you online, the more your SEO and rankings will improve. This is referred to as brand signalling (any reference of your business online). Matt Cutts, former Head of Web Spam at Google, claimed that Google “actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side.”

That’s right, Google now cares more about brands for SEO than it does about keywords and links. For that reason, using your brand name is more important than keywords. You’re probably scratching your head at this point, wondering how Google would associate your brand with certain keywords…

Well, Google will associate keywords with your brand as your brand becomes more popular; and as you produce more relevant and high quality content. Let’s take a look at Bitly as an example. It’s a URL shortener and link management platform yet their brand name does not match those keywords. It however ranks at the top for those keywords in Google.

That’s because of its popularity. As long as people recognize it and are searching for it, Google will measure that brand signal and rank it accordingly. For this reason, it is important to have a memorable brand name and consequently, a memorable domain name.

Don’t worry if your brand name contains a keyword, or in other words, is a PMD (partial match domain). That’s because Google is only searching for spam sites with EMDs and PMDs – the actual problem isn’t the keywords, but rather the content and quality of the site. A PMD or EMD with bad user experience and low quality content would experience a steep downgrade in rankings. Whereas, a PMD or EMD with great user experience and content would not be greatly affected.

However, if you are just starting out, you should go with a memorable brand name domain and avoid using keywords.

Opt For a .com Extension

You probably already know that .com is the most popular domain extension. That is because most other domain extensions like .biz and .us are viewed as spam. Although choosing it may not directly impact your rankings, you may be viewed as a low-ranking site which could affect your SEO.

.com is simply the most convenient and safest choice to go with. When in doubt, go with it.

Tips for Choosing the Perfect Domain Name

Now let’s recap and go over the tips on picking the best domain name:

  • Use your brand name
  • Don’t use exact match domains. Partial match domains are OK but a brand name is always more effective
  • Choose a .com extension
  • Make it memorable so users can easily remember it
  • Keep it short, 15 characters at most
  • Avoid numbers, hyphens and special characters
  • Avoid misspelling words on purpose. It’s a no-no for branding
  • Make it easy to spell

Wrapping Up

We hope you now have a good understanding of how domain names affect SEO in 2017. If you’re starting a new business or changing to a better domain name, the tips above should help you pick out the best one for your business.

Remember: As long as you have great content and a good SEO strategy, a strong and unique domain name may rank you higher. Choose one wisely, use it correctly and start reaping the value.

Arnaud, a foodie from Bruges, Belgium, is the editor for the Semper Plugins blog. He also manages the translation teams for All in One SEO Pack (over 58 languages!).

23 comments on “Choosing the Right Domain Name for SEO
  1. sally says:

    Thanks for nice topic.

    • Joseph Ghione says:

      I currently compete with another company that is using the exact same domain name as me except they own the “.com” and I own the “.biz” will this affect my SEO? What is the best way to optimize my page to get ahead of them? Thanks!

      • Arnaud Broes says:

        Writing qualitative content so you actually have something to offer your visitors is imperative. Also take a look at the best practices for on-site and off-site SEO.

  2. Kathy Spencer says:

    Thanks Arnaud for providing wonderful insights. Choosing right domain is where most of the website owners fail. Instead of finding a domain name that speaks of their brand, they prefer to settle with anything available that time which is not at all a wise choice and must be avoided.
    Kathy

  3. Tony Zeoli says:

    I’m currently working on a site (that has AIOSEO installed) and while I do think EMD’s are not going to win any points, like you said, having a keyword in the domain is helpful. For this site, I’m changing the domain name from highlandssir.com to highlandsothebysrealty.com. I just can’t believe that having a keyword in your domain and having the content match that keyword doesn’t hold any weight whatsoever. For example, I own digitalstrategyworks.com and I certainly rank for digital strategy. So, while we don’t know exactly what’s in Google’s algorithm, I’m thinking it’s gotta be a factor in some way. I’m betting on that with this real estate site and I’ll let you know what happens.

  4. Beton says:

    Domains like EMD in a domain are important for life. Thanks good topic.

  5. Okeu says:

    For optimal SEO I aggree that brand name should be domain name or similar. But this point is not always get a big priorities. There are so many parameters to get high rank search engine

  6. David says:

    Great Article. I appreciate the confirmation of the changing word requirements for the internet. Thank you. I felt this but did not have time to write it. We use a very powerful word dynamics tool called Analyzer I for business development. Sometimes the website, landing pages, pathways and conversion factor come into play so a little history helps.

  7. Art Flower says:

    Very helpful. Thank you. I started off on the wrong foot because I did not think about how my domain name impates SEO.

  8. Jean says:

    .Com extension is my first choice. According to my private experience every one more trust to website with .com.But don’t forget to use All in seo plugin when install wordpress to maximize our site. Thank you

  9. Garigov says:

    Great article, thank you for sharing

    Regards

  10. Luc says:

    “That is because most other domain extensions like .biz and .us are viewed as spam.”
    Really??

  11. Niki says:

    my .us domain also viewed as spam all social media very tired what i need to do not understand

  12. Jhon says:

    sometimes i am looking for an old domain for my seo needs. btw, thanks for his tips.

  13. hgs yükleme says:

    Very helpful. Thank you. I started off on the wrong foot because I did not think about how my domain name impates SEO.

  14. amelia says:

    i just bought emd domain let see how it goes now…google keeps changing seo algorithm…hope it goes well this time 😀

  15. Kym says:

    Actually not 100% true any more. Recent Google algorithm changes (last 12 months) means that some domain names, or part thereof, do again factor into Google’s SEO authority criteria and, in some niches at least, help with overall ranking. We’ve identified several instances where the domain name has helped place sites on page #1 without any great SEO effort. Whether this will remain to be true is yet to be seen.

  16. Zohaib says:

    What about new domain extensions such as .store or .shop are these also viewed as spam? Are these also more difficult to rank than .com? I have seen some .world domains ranking high in my niche

    • Angela says:

      @Zohaib, if what the article states is true then a ngtld shouldn’t affect negatively your ranking if you have good content.
      What the author forgets to mention is type-in traffic… people type domain
      names in the browser bar using using search engines ALL the time and ALL times !
      If you are the #1 seller of mousepads then you should own mousepads.com for the type-in traffic as well.
      Thanks for sharing.

  17. Angela says:

    PS: I meant “without using search engines…” txs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

[i]
[i]
Skip to toolbar