Remember the early days of the internet?
You could spend all day chatting with your friends on AOL messenger while you played solitaire on Yahoo games. And then your mom picked up the phone to make a call, and you were kicked off the web. Good times.
In those days, if you were doing some shopping, there was a good chance you were doing it on a site with an exact match domain (EMD). For example, if you needed a dog collar, you’d probably end up on a site with an address like www.buydogcollars.com.
In those primitive days of search engine optimization, it was common for companies to put their exact target keyword phrase right in their domain URL.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on how you feel about EMDs), scammers and bad actors took advantage of this, snatched up many of these domains, and linked them to low-quality sites.
So, what’s true today? Does your domain name have an impact on search results?
Let’s take a closer look at the debate.
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The Claim: Is Domain Name A Ranking Factor?
Having an exact match domain used to be a big deal.
In 2010, CarInsurance.com sold for $49.7 million: still the most expensive domain name purchase of all time. So clearly, someone valued domains with that keyword.
It was (and sometimes still is) common for people in the SEO industry to advocate for EMDs. The claims around them usually being that they instantly generate credibility and generate a competitive edge.
But remember those bad actors we talked about in the last section? Eventually, Google got wise to their keyword-stuffing URLs and changed its algorithm to discount them. But that’s not to say your website’s domain name does not affect SEO.
The Evidence: The Impact Of Domain Names On SEO
There is a lot of mixed information about domain names and their impact on rankings.
There’s no question that domain names played a role in rankings at one point.
In a 2011 Webmaster Hangout, Matt Cutts, a software engineer on Google’s Search Quality group, acknowledged the role EMDs played in the tech giant’s search algorithm.
However, he also stated:
“And so, we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn’t necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”
And just one year later, in 2012, Cutts tweeted that low-quality exact match domains would get reduced visibility in search results.
Finally, in 2020, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller revealed keywords in domain names no longer play a role in determining search engine results rankings.
Answering a question if keywords in domain names impact rankings during an Ask Google Webmasters video, he said, “In short, no. You don’t get a special bonus like that from having a keyword in your top-level domain.”
But this doesn’t mean that domain names are unimportant. They’re just not direct ranking factors.
Learn more about Google Ranking Factors in our 2nd Edition ebook.
Our Verdict: Your Domain Name Is Not A Ranking Factor, But Is Still Important
Now that we’ve established that domain names are NOT a part of your overall search engine rankings, SEO professionals can just forget about them, right?
Your choice of a domain name can be an important aspect of your UX and public image. Your domain name should usually be the most recognizable aspect of your business. Sometimes that’s not your business name but a particular brand or trademark.
You may want to consider subdomains or even separate domains for different properties. If you sell products that resellers carry, this can help your customers find you more easily.
Using keywords in your domain doesn’t help in terms of search ranking; if not done correctly, it could even hurt your SEO.
But, if your branding is heavily focused on a particular service or product, including a keyword in the domain could help users understand what you’re about at a glance. A carefully placed keyword could also help attract audiences likely to convert.
Don’t be afraid to use a keyword if it’s highly relevant or part of your branding.
So, here’s the TL;DR: Your domain name doesn’t directly impact your Google ranking but provides opportunities for savvy web marketers to reflect their brand’s values and create more positive user experiences.
For more help choosing a domain name, check out Roger Montti’s advice.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal