Just How Important Are Domains for Keyword Ranking?

by on November 25, 2010

Keywords in your domain

Funny I was having this conversation on Twitter just the other day. Granted not much of a conversation with 140 characters but I decided to take it a bit further and write a blog post.

You’re setting up your website. You already know you’re going to pay a professional SEO specialist to perform the complete kit-n-SEO-kaboodle, you just haven’t hired anybody yet. Now, you’re pretty sure you read something about domains being important for the process, but how important is it?

… and what’s a domain?

As you may or may not know, a domain is your Internet address. It’s the “http://www.mysite.com” you type in to reach your site. It’s also an important part of your SEO strategy to consider if you haven’t bought a domain yet.

If you already know you’re going to hire someone to do your SEO, don’t wait until after you have your domain. Many of the strongest SEO strategies have been created before the website was even built. In fact, it’s often easier to create a highly optimized site from scratch than it is to come in after the site is created… and it all comes down (for the most part) to keywords.

If a potential visitor is looking for widget makers for example, and your domain is “widgetmaker.com”, you get double power from your domain. One, the search engine will consider your site to have a higher amount of relevance in the search (thus, ranking your site higher). Second, the potential visitor will believe they’ve found just what they’re looking for.

Search engines are always looking for relevance in their algorithms; finding relevant keywords in the domain name scores very high. They give a lot of weight to keyword rich domain name.

If you’re iffy about this, do a search for anything. Instead of looking at the information for each listing, look at the domain name…

  • #1 listing for “SEO company” – www.seocompany.com
  • #2 listing – www.seocompany.net
  • #1 listing for “golf shoes” – www.golfshoesplus.com
  • #1 listing for “internet marketing” (after Wikipedia, that is) – www.freeinternetmarketingcourses.com

WWW or Non-WWW?

People are starting to drop the “www” from their speech; when people remember a site name, they seldom add the www to it. Whichever you choose is fine, but remember search engines will index both versions. This can cause issues. Once you decide make sure you set which one you’re using in your .htaccess file.

For non-www to www

For www to non-www

The problem now is that people are realizing that having keywords in a domain helps with organic SEO. There’s a good chance all the good domains have disappeared. For example, “business.com” was the highest valued domain ever, and will never be available again. You have to be original.

.com, .net, .org?

Another discussion ensued on Twitter about the .com, .net, .org  here is what you should keep in mind. Several domain types are available – so many that it can be overwhelming. Which type of domain is best? First, consider the user. Most people simply assume a domain name will end with “.com”, so it’s easy to remember. If you can’t grab a good .com domain name, move to the next best thing, which is “.org”. The third is “.net”.

However, don’t give up a good domain name just because the “.com” isn’t available. For instance, if you want “widgetmakers” and the .com or .org aren’t available but the .net version is, go for the .net. As with anything, the potential visitor is the ultimate target, not the search engines; never give up user experience for search engine ranking.

Find a good keyword-relative domain name for your new web site, but try not to make it too long. Make it catchy, memorable and as short as can be. So next time you are in a position to help a client or a friend choose a domain name what are you going to do?



{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

John Doe August 13, 2011 at 3:28 am

Domain names are a key component to a web presence. Domain names convert the numerical format that computers use to identify a website into a text based name that is easy for human users to understand and recall.

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Richard, Leeds December 5, 2010 at 5:30 am

I used to think that the keyword URLs held far more authority, but I’m sure that Google have gotten wise to that and reduced the relevance. Certainly, it used to be a case for Bing that you’d go straight in at number one if you owned the right one – but that is no longer the case.

The domain trick also has the problem that it can only really work on a niche site – as you can only target the one term (unless you use subdomains effectively, in which case you do not really need the main domain to be a keyword)

From what I have seen, a title tag seems to hold far more weight than the URL.

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Gabriella December 1, 2010 at 10:04 am

ooo, such thought-provoking comments. I love it. Hope I can do them some justice… ;)

@Jason – Aged domains are all well and good, but if I had the choice, I’d go with keyword rich any day. Relevance, relevance. What if I could get 5-year old internetmarketing.net OR brand new search-optimized4u.org? Which do you think I’d go for? Domain age can change, but keyword rich domains just keep on giving.

@charliesaidthat – I’m as big an advocate of company trust as anyone else, and yes, I have to admit that when a company does a 301, it automatically makes me wary. I don’t see anything wrong with grabbing domains and using proper linking, passing along traffic from keywordrichdomain to branddomain, but the 301′s are a no-go in my book. Great point!

@M Steele – Fantastic comment, Marjorie, thanks! When old-fashioned still works, it’s not called “old fashioned” it’s called “vintage”. I think it’s important to look at SEO techniques like scotch or brandy; many get better with age. Especially since many are also forgotten or never known by “up-and-comers”, so you may very well be the only one doing them. Which, of course, gives you the upper hand.

Feeder sites are still populating the Web, though… they just aren’t being bragged about like they used to. They’re there and still doing the beautiful job they’ve always done.

@ all – Every piece of Internet real estate is worth something, no matter what the domain name actually is. What a domain is worth is all up to what you think you can do with it. Don’t dismiss a domain just because it doesn’t seem to fit at first glance. Usually, if a name catches your eye, there’s something about it your subconscious caught on to.

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M. Steele December 1, 2010 at 7:24 am

Fantastic advice as always, Gabriella (and thanks for the Twitter shoutout!).

@charliesaidthat – I agree; site owners need to be honest about their main domain and keep in mind that users should always trump search engines when it comes to your target audience. That being said, I think companies can definitely leverage keyword rich domains that aren’t their main site domains. Feeder sites used to be a popular way to drive traffic, and while they seem to have fallen out of style, I’ve seen some companies use them very effectively – and ethically, if you can believe it. E.g., say Widget Makers’ main site URL is widgetsrus.com. Strong, but not awesome. Suddenly, http://www.wemakewidgets.net becomes available. Widget Makers could make a wemakewidgets.net into a keyword rich feeder site which provides useful information (key word: value) about Widget Makers’ widgets (or perhaps about the brand itself) and drives traffic to the main site with optimized links. The main site gets some lovely links AND hopefully some nice traffic for the feeder site’s niche keywords.

What do you think, G? Is this strategy too old-fashioned?

@Jason – I’d love to hear what Gabriella has to say about domain authority vs. keyword power too. My own feeling is that domain authority (i.e. PR) can be built, but you’re stuck with your URL’s keywords forever. If I had the choice between a new keyword rich domain and a 4 year old domain without much keyword power, I would pick the new domain and start furiously building links.

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charliesaidthat November 25, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say here – I still distrust a brand if they have http://www.superkeyworddomain.com as their site when their http://www.brandname.com is 301 redirected to the keyword domain.

It might get more visitors through search BUT crucially is it trusted? I guess most people wouldn’t question it. For me it says something far more powerful about the company if they don’t trust in their brand enough to keep that as their domain name.

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Jason November 25, 2010 at 7:11 am

Gabriella – These are some fundamental tips to good SEO. Putting your target keywords in your domain has been one of the most popular on-page SEO strategies for a long time.

However, I have been hearing lately that instead of starting a brand new site it could be better to buy an aged domain which are domains that have been indexed for a good while.

It is believed that these domains hold more authority with the search engines and will allow you to rank easier for your chosen keyword. Of course, the aged domain would have to be in the same niche you are interested in getting involved in.

What do you think? Is it better to buy an aged domain even though it might not have your chosen keyword in it?

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