What’s in a (Domain) Name?
How much impact does a domain name have on search engine optimization? The answer really depends on who you ask. For example, many webmasters note that after several Google search engine algorithm updates, a website’s Uniform Resource Locator (URL) no longer carries as much value as it did back in the early years of the Internet. You can also still find a lot of internet marketers who will first pick a “catchy” domain name, and then build their entire site around the keywords in their URL. However, like most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in between. Therefore, the truth is that a domain name can help or even hurt a site’s SEO.
Your website’s URL is how search engines and visitors will identify your site. Therefore, you want a domain name that’s relevant to your brand and recognizable to your visitors. In other words, when your target audience sees your URL, they should be able to easily associate it with your brand. The length is important as well. For instance, the more characters in a domain name, the harder it will be for visitors to remember. If you are following SEO best practices, your site’s URL should be no more than 15 characters. However, the shorter the better when it comes to good branding and SEO. If your desired name is already registered, don’t use hyphens between words to try to make it “unique.”
Unique Name vs Exact-Match Keywords
A big decision that internet marketers and webmasters often struggle with is whether to use exact-match keywords related to their niche in their domain name. For example, let’s say that you run a dry cleaning business in New York City. A lot of users in your target market would likely use search phrases like “best dry cleaners in New York” on Google. Therefore, you might be tempted to select an exact-match domain name like bestnewyorkdrycleaners.com Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems (related to branding and SEO) with using exact-match keywords in your URL. First, when it comes to branding, selecting a domain name based on the popularity of keywords is a terrible idea. You won’t be raising your brand’s profile. Generic keywords aren’t a good way to distinguish your business from competitors. Secondly, selecting an exact-match domain name can actually hurt your site’s SEO. That’s because Google is onto the “trick” of webmasters trying to lure visitors to their site by using popular keywords in the URL. Furthermore, using popular keywords in your domain name will make it harder for your site to rank well in search engine results. That’s because the more popular a keyword is, the more competitive it’s when trying to rank for it. Therefore, instead of selecting keywords based on their popularity, select a URL based on unique keywords related to your niche. For many businesses, they register their official business name as their URL.
Choose the Right Top-Level Domain
Once you select a URL, you need to pick the appropriate top-level domain. For example, if you are running a for-profit business located in the United States, then you should select a .com URL if at all possible. If you are running a non-profit organization, then you would select a .org top-level domain. A lot of webmasters will select a .net domain if their preferred .com choice is already taken. However, if someone else has already registered the name that you want, you are better off picking a different URL. As mentioned, one of the important elements of a domain name is branding. Therefore, selecting a .net domain because someone else has already registered the same name as a .com won’t help you differentiate your brand. You can learn more about top-level domains online.
In short, the most important consideration when selecting a domain name is your target audience. Your website’s URL should ideally include the name of your business or a unique keyword related to your brand. Avoid selecting domains with exact-match keywords as they are hard to rank for and can hurt your site’s SEO. If at all possible, select a domain with a .com extension.