Domains and SEO

Domain names play a big role in the search engine optimization game. Many SEOs will not go into a market niche and dish out link investments until they catch a good domain name for the field. In this article I try to answer the question of what is considered a good domain and how domains affect SEO.

Domain Age

Domain age is one of most crucial SEO factors. Since older domains cost a lot more than new ones, search engines take this as a quality cue. If a webmaster purchases an old domain name for several thousand dollars, it’s a good indicator that the website will have quality content.

Search engines cannot see for how much one buys a domain, but they can check the date of registration in WHOIS.

When buying a domain name, check its age. Aim for something that is at least one year old, as Google will put more trust on it than a brand new registration.

Another benefit of old domains are old links and existing pagerank. Though links may be irrelevant to your content, they still pass page rank and some authority.

Domain Match

Here is an example of a domain match in a search:

Search

mortgage loan

domain match

mortgageloan.com

I have no affiliation with mortgageloan.com.com.

A domain match can be very powerful. If you have a domain name that matches your keyword, you’re 25 percent of the way to top rankings. The reason for this is that search engines classify an exact match to a domain as a navigation query. For instance, if someone searches for "baseball bat" and your domain is baseballbat.com, search engines may classify this query as a navigational one, thus showing you as an authoritative listing.

If an exactly matching domain is in a non-competitive market, sometimes the name is enough to rank on the first page, coupled with a few links and some content. If, on the other hand, you’re entering a crowded field, expect to invest much more time and money in content and links. An exact match won’t produce magic in competitive market place, but it increases your chances.

The domain matching approach works for .com, .org, .net and other extensions. A domain match is also known to increase search and pay per click CTRs.

The domain match strategy doesn’t work well with new domains. Regardless of keyword proximity, Google doesn’t trust new domains, so to really make the domain match strategy work, you need to find an old domain name.

This is the tricky part. Most domain names with an exact match for competitive terms are OLD, expensive and already taken. Those that are for sale, even with .net extensions, go for at least $5,000 – $10,000, so you need to have solid ground for a purchase.

If the site has many links, has a good click through rate and is a decent age, Google may place site links for your keywords and make the listing authoritative. Authoritative listings can account for up to 80 percent of all visitors searching with the term, so the investment is well worth it.

On the contrary, however, an exact match is not necessary to get site links.

Bad Domain Names

Example: get-mortgage-loans-low-interest.com

It’s bad because it appears spammy, it’s hard to remember and just doesn’t sound right. Though I stated above that making your domain exactly match your keywords is a good strategy, it’s good only for as long as the domain appears to be memorable. Once it crosses the line into "goofy territory," all of its match leverage is lost.

In general, domains should be easy to remember and have no dashes. They must be easy for someone to type into the address bar (dashes complicate things) and easy to cite on the blog or a page. It should also be easy to convert a domain name into a brand, so the shorter the name the better.

Domains With and Without Dashes

Dashes are evil. Most people won’t remember your domain, and those who do will not remember to put dashes.

.COM vs .NET, .ORG and other extensions

The .com extension is synonymous with the Internet and is the BEST one you can use. But .coms also costs much more than their counterparts. For example, site.com will cost at LEAST three times the price of site.net or site.org.

  • Go for .coms when you can. People automatically include .com at the end of each domain name. You may even miss some direct visitors if you park on .net or others, because users may remember the address but assume it’s a .com.

  • Stay away from .INFO. Those are hard to remember and create a WEAK impression by default, which is passed on directly to your brand.

  • Local domains like .CA, .CO.UK, .AU and others are as powerful in terms of branding as .COMs. The down side is that they are limited to one country, and it’s a lot harder to appear on Google.com. Local country domains are perfect if you’re only after your country’s market and don’t care about global rankings.

  • Nonprofit organizations and charities usually reside on .ORG domains, though it’s not a rule. Seomoz.org is has a functional business on .ORG which is by no means a charity.

  • .FM is perfect for radio stations, and was in fact created with radio stations in mind. .TV is perfect for television, but most networks prefer .COM (because it’s the default extension in people’s minds).

It’s not necessary to have keywords in your domain name. If you have a choice between a keyword-rich new domain and an old domain, go for the old one. Google places more trust in old domains, and it’s easier to rank them for any keyword.

Domain Keywords and Link Building

The biggest benefit that keyword-rich domains offer is the anchor text for incoming links.

In many cases, people don’t bother putting any anchor text into a link and simply use the site’s URL. In that case, keywords in the domain are extremely useful for link building, because the domain name serves as anchor text. For example, if you’re after the keyword "engine" and the URL is enginemaster.com, then you benefit from the keyword engine when someone cites your site without wrapping it with anchor text. On the other hand, if you’re after "engine" and site address is "horseriding.com," then the benefit of the keyword is lost.

Length of the Domain Name

Just as people don’t remember dashed or .info domains, they don’t remember long ones. Our society is extremely lazy, so don’t expect anyone to memorize anything, especially something long.

Server Location and Extensions

If your server is in Canada and the domain features a .ca extension, you’ll have a hard time ranking for US or internal searches. The good side is that you’ll be given a boost by Google on Google.ca. This applies to the UK, Australia, Germany and any other country.

It’s a good idea to host your site in your country, and register the domain name with an appropriate country extension if you’re after local markets.

Search engine optimization is powerful, but relying entirely on search for visitors is a bad strategy. Many of the most successful small brands get most of their visitors DIRECTLY while still ranking extremely well on search engines. Examples are seochat.com, searchenginewatch.com, seomoz.org, copyblogger.com, grokdotcom.com, searchengineland.com and many more. Ironically, those sites do so well that, if you were to eliminate their search engine rankings they would maintain their mind share and do just fine.

Branding is a topic of its own, too large to cover here; you can learn more by doing your own research. To add to this section, content is one of the best ways to brand a site online, but content has to be in the form of a unique idea or a new approach to things. I cover this concept in detail in my articles on online copy writing.

Learn About Domains from the Pros

Frank Schilling is the biggest domain broker in the world. Though he doesn’t do SEO, he knows the domain business from the inside out from all perspectives: selling, buying, pricing, parking, SEO, search and more. You can watch his 40 minute speech where he shares his story (from which you can learn as well) and talks about domains in general. Also check out his Seven Mile blog, as there’s a lot of wisdom in his posts

Conclusion

Some basic domain guidelines from an SEO perspective:

  • Go for old domains over new ones.

  • Go for domains that have at least one of your keywords in them (because of anchor text benefit).

  • Don’t use dashes.

  • .INFO and .BIZ have low trust levels.

  • Go for .COM over anything.

  • .CA, .AU and other local domains are as good as .COM if you’re after local markets.

  • Short, easy to remember domains are best for branding.

  • Use hosting in your country if you’re after local markets.

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