Keywords in Domain Names? How Domains Impact SEO

Keywords in Domain Names? How Domains Impact SEO

Domain names used to be a solid ranking factor.

Starting a website on a keyword-focused name meant you could be ranking in top 5 for that keyword in a matter of a few weeks.

It is no longer the case, yet the persistent myths keep lingering in our industry. So let’s start with those: SEO and domain name myths:

1. Domain names are no longer a direct ranking factor, according to Googlers

John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, has just recently confirmed that again.

In fact, exact-match keyword-focused domain effect was dampened back in 2011 when it became an obviously unfair ranking manipulation. The change in algorithm was slow and gradual which is why many SEOs still have a hard time letting it go.

One fact remains: Keywords in a domain name could generate some external link equity with those keywords as an anchor text.

Surely, the role of keywords in the anchor text is also a ranking factor that is slowly but surely losing power but it is still a very strong one!

With their new smart query processing algorithms, Google is going to rely on keywords less and less, so investing into keyword-driven domains or links is not a viable SEO strategy in the long run.

2. Domain age is not a ranking factor

This is a weird myth that has persisted for no reason: As far as I know, Google never confirmed domain age to impact their algorithm in any way.

In fact, they stated that domain age was not a ranking factor, yet lots of marketers are still trying to buy a second-hand domain because it is supposedly better than a brand new one.

3. No need to register your domain for years ahead

Another persistent SEO advice that has no reason to exist is to register your domain for at least several years ahead for Google to know you are taking it seriously.

Yet, Google said that this wasn’t part of their algorithm.

Domain registration is being considered by Google in other ways. For instance, Googlers have revealed that they do understand domain ownership change and use that as a ranking factor. This somewhat shows that Google may be using domain registration data to identify all sites owned by the same person.

On the other hand, this statement also means that there is little point in buying expired domains for the sake of claiming their rankings or redirecting their backlinks. Google will know those domains have changed ownership and devalue all of its past signals.

4. Domain authority doesn’t exist

Well, it may exist in the SEO industry but not for Google.

I did a detailed piece on why SEOs should stop using domain authority but the gist of it is that Google utilizes backlink signals on a page level, and never on a domain level

Domains do not aggregate link equity from all pages hosted on that site. We need to quit this myth because it fosters all kinds of ill-informed SEO strategy decisions.

DA is a third-party SEO invention that has nothing to do with the actual Google algorithm.

5. Top-Level domain (.com) is not a ranking factor

Many years ago getting a .com domain name would actually give you some SEO advantage. In fact, for commercial search queries, you’d have been hard-pressed to find any other domains.

This is not the case any more. These days Google doesn’t care about your top-level domain.

On the other hand, Google has confirmed to ignore keywords in TLDs (like .seo, .attorney, .events).

Note: Local domains (e.g. .ca, .com.ua, etc.) are still a solid ranking factor as Google will try to limit these sites to their local Google search results.

Domains are still important

While domain names don’t have a direct SEO impact, choosing a domain that (hopefully) triggers strong niche associations is still essential.

A well-chosen domain name can increase your click-through because it is part of Google’s search snippet:

A well-chosen domain that is memorable and eye-catching will help you build your brand recognizability, and that has many marketing benefits (higher click-through, more conversions, etc.) many of which are actual ranking factors.

On the other hand, with an ever-growing list of TLDs, defensive domain registration (i.e. buying different versions of a website’s domain name in order to block competitors from snatching them) can hardly be done now.

So keep in mind that your branding efforts are facing this risk of anyone trying to benefit from your name by registering it on an alternative TLD. While this is not strictly an SEO issue, it is important to keep in mind. As you are investing in your domain name, your brand name becomes a searchable keyword you need to keep an on and optimize for to keep any possible imposters behind.

Conclusion

When choosing a domain name, stop thinking in terms of SEO and focus on how easy it will be to type, remember and associate what it is you are doing. In other words, think branding instead of SEO.

Myth/Topic
Takeaway
Domain names as a ranking factor
Domain names are no longer a direct ranking factor, but keywords in the domain can still generate some link equity with those keywords as anchor text. However, Google is relying less on keywords in the long run.
Domain age as a ranking factor
Domain age is not a ranking factor according to Google, despite the persistent myth suggesting otherwise.
Domain registration duration as an SEO factor
Registering your domain for multiple years does not impact SEO directly, but Google does consider domain ownership changes as a ranking factor. Buying expired domains may not yield desired results.
Domain authority (DA)
Domain authority (DA) is not a factor for Google’s algorithm. It’s a third-party metric and not used by Google. Google assesses backlink signals on a page level, not at the domain level.
Top-Level domain (.com) as a ranking factor
Having a .com domain no longer provides a specific SEO advantage. Google also ignores keywords in TLDs (e.g., .seo, .attorney, .events). Local domains may still impact local search results.
Importance of domain names
While not a direct SEO factor, choosing a domain name that relates to your niche can increase click-through rates and brand recognizability. Branding efforts are crucial, and defensive domain registration is more challenging with the growing list of TLDs.
Conclusion
When selecting a domain name, prioritize branding over SEO considerations. Focus on making it easy to remember, type, and associate with your business or website.

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I am Ann Smarty, owner of SEOsmarty.com. I’ve been in the SEO industry for two decades. I am the former Editor-in-Chief of Search Engine Journal and a contributor to Mashable. These days I am running Viral Content Bee and writing for Moz, Buzzsumo, Wix and many others!

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