Wondering how your domain name affects your site's SEO in 2017? Find out!

Choosing the Right Domain Name for SEO

Wondering how your domain name affects your site's SEO in 2017? Find out!

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.

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53 comments on “Choosing the Right Domain Name for SEO

    1. 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!

      1. 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. Yes, this will affect your SEO, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. You can see what is working for them and what you need to do to take their spot in the rankings. By doing this, you could even steal traffic that would have otherwise ended up on their site.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. For optimal SEO, I agree that your brand name should be your domain name or similar. But this point is not always relevant or a big priority. There are so many parameters that you need to get right.

  4. 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

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

  6. The .com extension is my first choice. According to my private experience every one has more trust in websites with a .com domain name. But don’t forget to use All in One SEO to maximize your site.

  7. My .us domain is also consideed as spam on all social media networks. Very tired, not sure what I need to do.

    1. You have a good site, but it looks like you are not using social media. There are social media icons on the site, but they don’t link to any of your social media pages.

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

  9. I just bought a domain, lets see how it goes… Google keeps changing their SEO algorithm… hope it goes well this time 😀

  10. Actually not 100% true any more. Recent Google algorithm changes (last 12 months) point out 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.

  11. 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

    1. @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.

  12. Great article Arnaud. What about country specific domains i.e. in Australia where the extension is .com.au? With a .com.au. and all being equal and with good original content, would a .com outrank a .com.au if someone is Australia is searching?

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

  14. Thanks, your article is very helpful for me because I am very confused when it comes to choosing the right domain name.

  15. All really good advice. I do usually prefer to pick a dot com, but in the spirit of branding and fun, I think some of the newer domain extensions can work out nicely depending on the brand and your goals. Though, I’d probably go for *both* the fun extension (.club .ninja, or whatever it might be) and the dot com version of anything.

  16. Here in Canada we don’t use the .com if not needed. Although after testing (looking at front page results, lol,) We see most of the URL results are brand related. We also see some EMD results as well. As long as you have great content and a good SEO strategy is what we focus on leaving the EMD domains at a small relevance to our campaigns. Thank you for this great article.

  17. What about using country extensions (e.g.: .fr vs .com)? Even if the site is not in English, is it better to use the .com?

  18. Hi guys. I do see much sense in the write-up by Arnaud. I’ve got a couple of EMD names.

    I have been fighting blind on Google for about a year. The best ever position on Google in the UK has been P1:#5. In Ireland P1:#2.. My content wasn’t bad per se. In fact, up until the Penguin update, I was the top site for many years. But since Penguin, things have never been the same.

    Now, I am constantly working on the content.

  19. Hi there Arnaud from South Africa!
    Thanks for this great article. I have a question. My domain name captures what we do exactly, but I want to rank higher on searches for a wider area of the same field, e.g. a pinpoint search is “diamonds”, the wider search “precious stones” or the pinpoint search is a city, the wider search a country. Thanks so much! Anyone else reading this thread please share, thanks all!

  20. AS you have all seen on the search pages in whatever niche you are in, Google always seam to have ads for your products that they are affiliate reps for. IMO a lot of Google changes is to knock down any site that may be costing them sales, I mean think about it.
    What about if you have multiple sites say as an Amazon affiliate would have. Would it be better to have one main domain , your brand, and everything else in a sub-domain like all the big guys do. Amazon has thousand of web sites but only one domain name so does Wikileaks and they both use either sub domain or directory type sites.
    Take Amazon for instance they have the same content on their sub-domain as I have on my affiliate site yet they are always on page 1 and I am some where,lol.
    To make a long story short, how will the affiliate do by using band domain then lots of sub-domains sites.
    Any suggestions anyone?

  21. If .biz, .online, .site are viewed as spammy, then why do companies like GD and HG and the rest sell them? Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. The Big G will continually change the rules and have us jumping through hoops ad infinitum with regard to that… If your content on your website is helpful, timely and informative, then you will rank well in the search engines.

  22. It all sounds pretty much par for the course, somewhere between stating the obvious and doing the right thing. Nothing ground breaking but sounds reasonable enough.

    However then you go and spoil it all with another set of “advice”, the one that tells us all not to use hyphens or numbers. Well the latter means we would be screwed as our company, and as such our brand, begins with a “1”.

    Sorry but unless anybody shows me any compelling evidence to back that up I’m going to say that’s nonsense. What would a company called B & A use? banda.com or b&a.com? Or b-and-a.com? Any could possibly be seen as easy to remember by the reader, but few would read “banda” as “B and A”. In fact a well known national store in the UK, B&Q, use diy.com.

    Would 888 Casino be better off using eighteighteight.com or 888.com? Would you advise Porsche to use porschenineoneone.com, or porschenineeleven.com? I’ll bet you if the site name was read out on a radio ad most people would type in porsche911.com.

    I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with hyphens for the same reason. Many sites do use them and a lot of sites, especially smaller sites, are likely to use something like denhams-decorators.com instead of denhamsdecorators.com and visually, the former is more appealing and more likely to be remembered by people because it’s easy to see the two words as they would be written, i.e. Denhams Decorators, not Denhamdecorators.

    As for spelling, if you’re a well known brand Google will know what people are looking for anyway. Argos, a UK high street chain, use their name as their website but if you mis-spell it Google will pull up the correct site anyway. Try it – type “arrgos” and see what happens. Of course, it’s not going to look so good if your brand is mis-spelt but it might be worth registering a URL which is a popular mis-spelt version of your brand and divert it to your main site.

    1. You cannot use special characters like & in a domain name so that is why someone would use “and”.

      You can only use a-z, numbers, plus a hypen (-) but only if there are alphanumeric characters on either side. You cannot have a name like -a1.com or a1-.com or even a–1.com.

      So, from that, you can interpret that the hyphen is meant to be use to separate two “words”. Hence using a dash (-) is not so terrible. Google can handle it. It interprets a – as a space in terms of parsing URLs etc.

      But I agree with your comment about numbers.

      Buying misspelling not so much. Alternative TLDs definitely.

  23. “Avoid misspelling words on purpose. It’s a no-no for branding”

    Disagree with that one. This is actually a common strategy for branding all around the world. Taking a common work like “cool” and changing it to “kool”

    Kool-aid – don’t drink it on that one.

  24. How about using a quarantined domain with loads of trust and have your brand named after the domain? As long as the topics do match.

  25. Great info indeed! Country-level TLD help a lot when your targeted audiences are local. 🙂

  26. It was interesting to learn about how brands can be really useful for building an online presence and SEO and links and keywords may be a little less important and it could be more useful. I can understand how a business could find it important to make sure that they have the best SEO and online presence possible so that they can generate more traffic. Getting some help from a professional could be more useful and get the right domain so that they can be easier to find.

  27. I recently made a mistake on creating domains for my Web and ended up losing all my content on that Web how do I restore it
    I got my support team to restore but that seem not working
    Can that process berevesed

    1. Hey Romney,

      Thanks so much for dropping by.

      If you haven’t been using a backup plugin to save your website to a remote location, you can consider asking your hosting provider if they can restore your website from their backup.

      All the best.