Because the big search engine operators such as Google and Bing are not in the business of letting the world know the inner workings of the ranking algorithms, it is up to us SEO consultants to work out the most effective ways to get our client’s websites to the top of search results pages.
One factor that is often debated is that of keywords in domain names. Not the URL paths, but the domain names themselves.
I’ll give you my personal opinion on this right from the start – the words that make up your domain name are not worth worrying about (for SEO ranking purposes anyway).
Just to be clear, I’m talking about domain names here (coloured green below), not the path that follows to other pages on your website:
I’m going to go on and explain why I don’t worry about the words used in domain names. But first, let’s look at the position that many other SEO consultants take.
The commonly held view on domain names
For a long time many people offering SEO consulting services have believed that having keywords in your domain name is an important factor when trying to improve your search result rankings.
Even today, forums, blog posts, social media content and infographics proclaim this to be true.
This belief resulted in some long and unwieldy domain names being used by some website owners. You may even still find some websites using long domain names with a hyphen between each word.
So before we go any further, let’s take a quick look at this 3 minute video by Google insider Matt Cutts on this very topic. Keep in mind that his video was posted on March 7th 2011.
Matt makes four important points:
- Keyword domains had a very slight advantage (for searches that included the keywords in the domain name).
- That slight advantage looked like being turned down.
- The benefit to a keyword domain is that links to your site may contain keywords in the anchor text.
- The disadvantage to keyword domains is that you don’t stand out and you will need to compete for attention with an unmemorable name.
Matt also stated that he would go for a brandable domain over a keyword laden one.
Again, this video was posted back in 2011.
I believe, given what I have seen, that keyword laden domains now have very little to no advantage at all.
Let’s think like a Google search engineer
Put yourself into the shoes of a Google search algorithm engineer for a minute.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why would you place any weight on the domain name?
- Should domain names using the company name be punished for not having keywords?
- Will paying attention to the domain name improve Google’s search rankings accuracy?
- Would placing weight on the domain name keywords open the door to search engine spamming?
- Ultimately, are domain names a factor that will help or hurt in the pursuit of highly accurate search rankings?
Keep this in mind:
- Domain names often reflect the company name of the website owner. This makes sense.
- Domain names are often kept short and memorable. Again, this is a good idea.
- Any type of content may appear on a given domain name’s website.
Given this information, how would you weight domain names with keywords in your rankings equation?
Take a closer look at search results
If you start paying attention to the domain names in search results, you will notice that the domain name does not need to contain keywords (related to your search) to rank well.
As Matt Cutts mentioned in the video we watched earlier, there are plenty of domain names ranking well that have no keywords at all.
Google have mentioned on numerous occasions over the years that over 200 signals help rank search results. As an SEO professional I can tell you that there is a lot of work and effort needed to boost client search rankings, but domain name choice is not one most experts worry about.
Don’t make these mistakes in the name of SEO
In my role as an Search Engine Optimisation consultant I am occasionally asked what to do about domain names with regard to SEO.
Here is what I suggest you don’t do:
- Spend time and effort trying to hunt down an available domain name just because it contains keywords.
- Make any attempt to switch your website from a well established domain to a new, keyword loaded domain.
- Pay a penny more than standard registration costs to acquire a domain name just because it contains your favourite keywords.
- Pin any hopes or fears on the fact that your domain doesn’t contain keywords.
You should also be aware that it is almost impossible to Trademark generic or popular terms that are commonplace in your industry. This is another reason why brandable names are a better choice.
If you really must change domain name
If you STILL want to go ahead and move your website over to a new domain name then there are a few pro tips that you should follow.
Again, let’s hear it from Matt Cutts and see how a Google insider would go about it.
Matt’s approach in the video is super cautious however it will ensure that you carry your SEO rankings over as much as possible.
I hope that I have given you a bit to think about when you choose your next domain name.
My personal approach, and the position I take when asked by a client, is to buy a domain name that makes sense to your business.
There is plenty you can do when deciding the URL paths to your pages, but that has nothing to do with the domain itself.