Keywords in Domain and Links as Google Ranking Factors

This is the third part of an article series that examines and verifies the important factors for ranking in Google. The factors we will examine in this part include keyword use in the domain name and keyword-focused anchor text in internal links.

There are other important factors, of course, that will be examined in future articles. These include “geo-targeting factors” which have already been discussed in a previous article here on SEO Chat. 

Other things that are self-explanatory and known to have positive effects on one’s Google ranking include adding “unique and substantive content on the page” (remember that “content is still king”). There is no need to verify this factor because it is essential that all web pages provide value to users by having unique and useful content.

Keyword Use in the Domain Name

Keyword use in the domain name has been a hot issue for a while now; there’s an ongoing debate as to whether it is an important ranking factor in Google. I can remember that SEO experts used to say that it is NOT actually the keyword use in the domain name which is contributing to rankings. Rather, since there is a high probability that hyperlinks will use the domain name as the anchor text, keyword use in the domain name leads directly to lots of inbound links that use the keyword in the anchor text. Keyword use in the anchor text is the most important ranking factor in Google according to the latest survey conducted by SEOMoz. I verified that this was true in the first part of this article series.

For example, in high quality directories or other websites, many webmasters and even bloggers still prefer to link to the domain using the domain name, like this:

<a href="http://www.seochat.com">http://www.seochat.com</a>

The hyperlink anchor text for the above link would look like this: http://www.seochat.com

This contains the important keyword “SEO.” It will be interesting to examine the probability of ranking pages in Google containing keywords in the domain name. When we have the data, we will learn whether or not the expert opinions are true.

We will employ the following test:

Step 1: Select 10 competitive (two-word) key phrases.

Step 2: Count the number of results in the Google top 20 containing at least one word matching the targeted keywords in the domain name.

For example, if the targeted keyword is mobile phones and one of the search results has a domain name: www.mobileburn.com , then it contains at least the word “mobile” in the domain. That counts (Google even bolded it in the search results).

Step 3: Count the number of results containing an exact match of the targeted search term in the domain name. For example, if the search query is “commercial mortgage,” then the domain name www.commercialmortgage.net is an exact match.

Step 4: Assign scoring. If it’s not an exact match, the count is 1. For an exact match, we will assume it to be three times as effective. This is only a rough guide, though it might be valued even more by Google.

Results:

The first column is the targeted keywords; these are competitive and searched for frequently. The second column, “contains at least one word,” is the number of results in Google’s top 20 with domain names matching at least one word in the targeted keywords. The third column, “contains exact keyword in domain name,” is the number of results in Google’s top 20 with the domain name exactly matching the targeted keywords.

The fourth column is the score we assigned to an exact match. To emphasize the importance of having the exact match in the domain name for the targeted keywords, we multiply column 3 by 3. The fifth column (shaded in yellow) is the total score, which is the sum of the number of occurrences of at least one targeted word in the domain name and using the exact targeted keywords in domain name. The last column is the number of Google results (sample size is 20).

The sum of the total score rating (all values in yellow shaded cells) is 105 (5 + 6 + 6 + 16 +10…). And the total sum of Google’s top 20 results is 200 (20 x 10, there are 10 keywords examined).

The % of Google’s top 20 results that uses keywords in the root domain name is:

% = 105/200 =52.50%

Experts featured on seomoz.org give keywords in domain name an importance rating of 60%. We can say our results are more or less comparable/consistent.

Recommendations: If you can use the exact match of keywords in the domain name, then use it during domain registration (providing you have researched it very carefully, you can read some domain research tips). It has some SEO benefits, particularly long term.

Think twice, however, if you are a company that needs to establish branding among customers and the community. Then using your company name might help establish your online reputation in the long term (think of Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and Amazon – their sites feature not keywords in the domain name, but their business names). Most bloggers are not running a registered business, so they can register domain names containing their targeted keywords.

Warning: Abuse of this can lead to Google considering your site to be spam — for example: i-have-a-very-long-targeted-keywords-for-seo-purposes-in-google-to-get-benefits-from-domain-name-importance.com, so register wisely.

This factor was given a 55% level (high importance) among the search engine ranking factors listed by SEOMoz. What does this mean? Inbound links from other sites pointing to your website might use keywords in their anchor text. Here, we’re talking about the anchor text on links coming from your own site, pointing to another page on your site.

See the illustration below:

In the illustration above, the sample targeted keyword is “link building tips.” Outside the optimized domain (yourwebsite.com), “otherwebsites.com” link to a specific page on the optimized website (yourwebsite.com/linktips.htm) using the targeted anchor text (link building tips). The page targeted by the link coming from outside the domain is the exact link building tips page.

Now within the pages of the optimized domain, say the home page, there is also a link to the link building page using the targeted keywords in the anchor text. This is the correct way to do internal linking that can help the user experience, because it can make the navigation menu useful.

Here is a good rule of thumb: the pages to which you have targeted your inbound links coming from outside the domain are the same ones to which you should also target your internal links. This provides some sort of consistency and will maximize the relevance score of the optimized document.

Let’s observe whether our assumption is true in the search results by the following procedure:

1. Select five competitive keywords (example “commercial mortgages,” “penny stocks,” “samsung lcd tv,” “exercise bike” and “seo services”).

2. Get the ranking pages for the first position for each of those keywords.

3. Sample 10 random URLs/inner pages of the domain.

4. Get statistics as to how many of these sample pages link to the targeted/ranked pages in Google. For example, if the ranking page is www.businessfinance.com/commercial-mortgages.htm, take 10 sample URLs of the domain businessfinance.com and examine how many of these 10 URLs link to this page: www.businessfinance.com/commercial-mortgages.htm .

5. Analyze, come to a conclusion, and give recommendations.

 

Results:

The results of this test are surprising. Only 24% of the pages of the observed top rankings URLs for very competitive keywords link towards the ranking URL in Google for those sampled targeted keywords. Twenty-four percent may be too low for the expected 55% importance as surveyed by seomoz.

Recommendations: You can get pages to a position one rank without having keywords in your internal link anchor text pointing to the optimized pages. This is what we observed in the sample data gathered. Here is a closer look, for a site ranking in the first position in Google.com US for “exercise bike.”

Google’s technical and quality guidelines would still apply in this case. Only use the targeted keywords in the internal link anchor text when both documents (linking and targeted page) are highly related, which in this case can help the user experience. Google algorithms might be very smart to detect internal links that are created for the user experience or for pure SEO purposes.

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