In a much simpler time, when SEO was as simpler thing, a website’s domain name could have a huge impact on its rankings.
But nothing lasts forever, and a few years back, Google realized that a domain alone, without any supporting quality elements, needed to be addressed.
The problem came from Exact Match Domains (EMD). Companies would buy a domain name that was little more than a keyword. At the time, that was enough to rank.
Now, things have changed.
So, the question has to be asked: how do domain names affect your SEO efforts.
Some SEO History: 2012
Remember how 2012 was, according to an ancient Mayan calendar, going to be the end of the world?
While the physical world is still here, Google made some changes that definitely shook up the world of domain names.
Google was tired of companies trying to improve their rankings and augmenting their SEO with weak websites that, nevertheless, featured an EMD.
If, for example, a company wanted to rank for “auto insurance price quotes,” it would simply purchase “autoinsurancepricequotes.com” and, boom, start ranking.
Of course, these sites didn’t have much content to actually rank. Just a few web pages with a lot of keywords.
Google, not being a fan of such things, significantly dropped the value of… well, I was about to say that they dropped the value of the domain names for SEO purposes, but that’s not quite right.
Keep reading to find out what I mean.
How Domains Impact Your Online Marketing
The thing is, there are a lot of SEO companies out there providing a lot of the same services – everything from technical SEO and strong content to paid search campaigns and social marketing.
While every SEO company is a little different, and comes at these services from different angles, they’re all based on the same theories.
While the approach to search engine optimization has changed, the theory has not. The goal is to provide quality answers to important questions, follow search engine best practices, and don’t let anything get stale.
These are things that everyone can do.
One unique element in all of this is your domain name. That’s something that no one else can copy.
So while a domain name may not contribute to your rankings like it once did, they can provide:
- Higher clickthrough rates
- More trust
- More attention in the search engine results pages
- More brand potential
Sending the Right Signals
You need to make sure your domain name is sending the right signals in order to get the most value.
If your only signals say: “Hey! I have a long domain that happens to match a long-tail and lucrative keyword!” then you may need to rethink your strategy.
A domain, when used correctly, should incorporate:
- Brand signals – Any mention or occurrence of your business domain name on a website will contribute to your branding efforts.
- Relevancy signals – If your domain includes a keyword, it will be bolded in the search engine results. Then, when people refer to your domain, it will associate your site with that keyword.
Domain Names and PPC
Online ads and paid search also work well together with a good domain name. In fact, some studies have shown that, all things being equal, text ads perform better with a relevant domain name.
At least, there was a time when they did. The case study cited above is a bit old – old enough that it’s safe to assume some things have changed. But it’s still an interesting study, not for the numbers it presents but the behavior it describes.
At the time, it was theorized that the strong ad performance of the generic, keyword heavy domain was because:
- The close match between the domain name and the product encouraged clicks
- The bolding of the keyword in the domain drew the eye
- It’s possible that domain name can impact Quality Score
These domain names could potentially deliver a higher CTR and higher total clicks, with the exception being when the competition is an extremely well known and established brand with a huge trust factor.
The benefit here could be related to the very limited space for ads. If someone is ready to click an ad, it’s because they’re looking for a product, not a company. Highlighting the product with the domain name could potentially help.
However, the developments in the paid search arena might change this. Since all AdWords appear above the organic results, not to the side, the brand, rather than the keyword, could start making a bigger difference.
Domain Names and Reputation Management
Google, it seems, likes to display negative results for certain searches. If one of these searches is your brand, you probably don’t want them showing up next to your website.
Unfortunately, they can be really hard to push back off the front page.
Let’s look at a rather large and well known company. It has many people who love it, but a number of detractors, too: Amway.
(To be completely transparent, we do not have, and never have had, a business or personal relationship with this company. It is simply a recognizable name that is in an industry that is likely to have some detractors.)
The page 1 results for a search for “Amway” is mostly corporate-related properties with the profile off to the right.
Near the bottom, under the in-depth articles section, we see some results that question the validity of the business.
Page 2 is where we see start to see some outright hostility, but it’s surrounded by more corporate properties.
On both of these pages, there is a mix of domains that include “amway” in the domain name (“amwayconnections” or “amwayinsider”), but there are just as many – or more – that don’t include the brand keyword.
Most of them had the keyword somewhere in the URL structure, but even that wasn’t a sure thing (look again at the in-depth articles).
Again, it appears that the keyword in the title can help get you up there, but not as much as being the brand and being a trusted source for content or providing an opposing viewpoint.
The SEO.com Experience
So, now that we’ve been talking about domain names and SEO and how exact match and partial match names took a big hit, the most obvious question has to be: how did it impact an SEO company that just happened to be called: SEO.com?
Curious to know the details?
This is a story we intend to tell in the near future. Stay tuned for more.
Choosing the Best Domain
Whether you’re starting a new business or migrating to a more effective domain name, there are some things you should keep in mind.
- Pick a .com extension – This used to be absolute, but with the growing importance of brand, there may be some valid exceptions to this rule.
- Be short – Less than 15 characters is ideal.
- Be memorable – As all brands should be.
- Use keywords effectively – Avoid exact match keyword domains. Partial matches can be effective, but you should still think of brand first and keywords second.
- Be typeable – Hyphens, numbers, and special characters should be avoided.
- Don’t use multiple domains – Subfolders are more effective than sub domains. (More on this one in a future post. Stay tuned.)
- You can also get an accurate domain appraisal here if you'd like.
Exact match domains took a hit as a ranking factor back in 2012, but they’re still an important part of online marketing for different reasons.
From what we can tell, Google won’t hurt you for including keywords in the domain name because it can easily spot any spammy signals around the domain.
What does that mean?
It means that if you have an exact or partial match domain name, then you better have the best content and the most effective SEO to back it all up.
If you’ve got all of that in order, then your unique domain may be enough to push your further up the rankings.
Your domain might not carry the same weight it did a few years ago, but it is a unique feature of your online presence that absolutely no one else can imitate.
So be sure you’re using it correctly.
There is a lot of possibilities here, and as long as you can back it up with a powerful online marketing strategy, it can still provide a lot of value.
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