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
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.