Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in 2016. As of June 2021, it’s been updated and republished to reflect current information. The article was cleaned up, recommendations were reassessed, and references refreshed.
Back in the day, picking the right domain name had a big impact on your SEO rankings. Today though, things are a little different.
Exact match domains (or EMD for short) were a big deal. Google would boost your results because the keywords were right in the domain. That alone gave a website validity and ranking power.
It makes sense on the surface. If you were looking to buy a computer and did a Google search, a website name like www.buyacomputer.com or www.bestcomputerdeals.com would look like the best places to show you computers for sale.
Other companies used subdomain and subfolders to stuff even more keywords into every URL in the hopes of ranking a little better. A site would add a page with a web address of www.abcelectronics.com/buy-a-computer to get instant SEO results.
Then things changed.
Google realized that authoritative sites needed more than just a great domain name. The algorithm was changed to take many other factors into account, like referring sites and reliable information.
The emphasis on site content is clearly shown on the results page. Before, Google would list results and bold the keywords in the title tag, which often included the domain. Now, when doing a search for buying a computer, keywords in the search question are bolded within the schema markup or piece of content from the site.
All this is to say that keywords in domains are no longer an automatic high-ranking factor.
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Do Domain Names Matter Then?
Absolutely. Picking the right domain name is a vital part of your marketing strategy. You should choose a domain that fits with your company branding and is not too complicated.
The name alone is not the only consideration in a URL either. Companies should think about the TLD (top-level domain) portion. It matters if your domain is a .com, .org, or .computers (or any of the other thousands of options). We recommend businesses and organizations use a .com domain because most potential customers are naturally going to assume that’s how your website address ends. In other words, it’s going to be easier for them to go right to your site if it ends in a .com.
It is also important that your URL is readable and looks professional. This graphic from Moz is a good visual on how a web address affects a user’s perception:
Domain Names and PPC
One area that domain names may see a higher impact is with PPC. If you have limited space for ads, having a keyword in the domain may help. People who click on PPC ads are generally looking for specific products, not companies.
Local SEO results can also be higher when the location is included in the domain or subdomain.
In a recent Google Webmasters video, John Mueller from Google answered a question about whether using a .job TLD will help a job posting site rank higher. His answer is no, but there is more to it than that.
For example, if someone is visiting Miami and searching for a bar close by, mentioning North Miami instead of South Miami may improve the number of clicks based on where you are located.
Another example is if your domain ends with a location-based TLD, like .uk or .de. The clickthrough rate will likely be higher for these types of domains if someone is searching in that location.
Should I Change My Domain Name?
If you have already an exact match domain, you may be wondering if it is worth changing.
Probably not, but it depends.
Companies and websites that are established with branding and traffic do not need to change their domain. Years of work and reputation management go into building a brand, and if a company is seeing success with that, don’t change it.
Instead, focus your SEO efforts on writing quality content, building referral links, and getting good reviews or influential mentions.
If your company is newer and you are just starting out, you may want to consider a switch. From a general marketing standpoint, as your company grows, you may want to expand your products or services beyond the keyword you put in your domain. An exact match domain could limit your future growth potential.
The key is to focus on getting the best SEO results through strategies that go beyond just keywords.
No matter where you are on the business longevity spectrum, it is important to have a solid SEO strategy. We can help your company by providing fully managed, advanced SEO services. Contact us today for a free quote.