Optimizing Your Domain Name for SEO
November 18, 2017//2,528 words
Choosing a domain name for your website can be a really fun experience – just thinking about the possibilities and how you hope that someday everyone will know about your domain.
You play around with a few ideas. You’d like it to be clever and creative, but not too weird, right?
You think of the perfect domain name but … uh, it’s already taken.
You decide on one that will serve its purpose and then you go with it. Easy enough, right?
Well I’m going to add another layer to your process. That is – you need to also consider your domain name in regards to SEO.
There are 10 rules to follow in this complete guide to domain name search engine optimization. Fortunately, none of them are too extensive and you may already be compliant with some of them without even realizing it. Like every factor of SEO, you may not be able to follow these to a T. However, every little bit that you can will gain you valuable ground on your competitors. Let’s go …
For much information on Google and SEO, we rely on Matt Cutts, one of Google’s lead software engineers. In the video below, Matt actually takes the time to answer a question in regards to SEO – “How does Google determine Domain Age?”
We can take this to mean that Google does in fact pay attention to domain age – in fact, Matt stated that they even filed a patent for determining domain age in 2005. He also stated that it does carry value, however Matt then made fun of the fact that some people go out of their way to purchase an older domain just because they think it will carry extra value.
Matt did share some valuable insight, however. That it will, in fact, take at least a few months for your site to be recognized, or at least recognized for search results. To combat this, when you know you’re going to be building a new site, purchase your domain and put up a placeholder page letting people know what is coming soon. Then by the time your website is finished being built (typically 1-3 months later), Google will be ready to go.
I’ll tell you that older domains are often viewed as more powerful because of age but that is mainly due to the size of the sites due to years and years of page creation and indexing. Having a older site does generally have a higher page rank, but that is due more to the size of the site as opposed to it’s birthday.
Pro Tip: Matt stated that age is calculated by when your site is first crawled, not registered or according to the WhoIs data. So submit your sitemap to the Google Search Console ASAP!
KEYWORD APPEARS IN TOP LEVEL DOMAIN
This was what I meant at the beginning about adding another layer to your domain name thought process.
Can you creatively squeeze your relevant keyword into your domain name?
This does give you a relevancy boost if you are able to squeeze your most important keyword in your domain, however, the cat is already out of the bag on that one. For example, in the world of SEO where this is obviously no secret, the value of purchasing a domain with “seo” is likely less than the cost. Per GoDaddy …
Seo.com is already owned and here are my remaining options. Getting my $4,999.99 investment back, specifically from the traffic that is going to be generated by me having SEO in my domain, is going to take quite a long time. Especially considering that it is a “.club” top level domain which doesn’t warrant the same power anyway.
Now, I would be in favor of including a keyword in your domain just for clarification purposes. It will help with your user experience factor – giving your audience a better idea about what you do. Often, company names are very obscure and that’s because, well, there are a lot of companies out there with registered and private names! In that case, I would just count it a bonus if you are able to include a strong keyword in your domain or company name. Consider these 2 relevant examples:
KEYWORD AS FIRST WORD OF DOMAIN
This is one of those factors that doesn’t require much additional explanation. Plainly enough, if you have a keyword in your domain name, you will receive a slight edge if you have it at the beginning of your domain name instead of at the end.
Get it? Good! Let’s move on!
DOMAIN REGISTRATION LENGTH
When I say length, I’m referring to your actual registration going forward, not the length in characters of your domain name.
For this factor, as with others, when you have the opportunity you go to the source – Google. Referring to Google’s own patent filed in 2005, Information Retrieval based on Historical Data …
“Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. … Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith.”
“the date that a domain with which a document is registered may be used as an indication of the inception date of the document.”
So we talked about domain names going backwards … and recognized that a domain name that is 20 years old is likely no better from an SEO perspective than one that is 10 years old, or 5. Now we are talking about their future – how long you plan on keeping your domain name.
From all accounts, it appears that this carries more weight. Given how relatively cheap most domain names are, and that you likely plan on keeping it for the foreseeable future, I would recommend registering your domain name for a good 5 years or so into the future, or more. Take away any shadow of a doubt that you are only investing the short-term into your website.
Refer to this article by the Search Engine Journal to learn a little more on this specific topic.
KEYWORD IN SUBDOMAIN NAME
I’m not going to spend much more time discussing having a keyword in your subdomain name than I did discussing having a keyword at the beginning of your domain name. What I will say, however, is that I would consider subdomain names as beneficial to improve the site structure and user experience of your site. For example, it might not be a bad idea if I end up writing additional posts regarding social media for me to create a subdomain like this:
I could then continue that to other areas of my site, such as:
Or for promoting my services:
Just some good things to think about. Again, site structure and user experience. Plus, if you’re a neat freak like me you might appreciate having things orderly as well!
The way that domain history can affect your website encompasses a lot of potential factors.
Think about it, everything that you are doing to optimize your site now is basically being logged as part of your website’s and domain’s history going forward. If you purchase backlinks and stuff keywords, you are going to develop a bad name for your domain and over time, if not corrected, you will bury yourself into a hole that will be tough to dig out of.
Trust rank is a term that Google uses to virtually score how your site is doing with white-hat seo techniques as opposed to black-hat seo techniques.
Brian Dean shares a story on his site, Backlinko, when a competitor of his blasted one of his blog posts with over 250,000 comments – a common black-hat technique common back in the day. This would have normally been enough spam to remove Brian’s page from the rankings. He goes on to say that it virtually had no effect.
Why? Well Brian thinks it’s because he has built up so much Trust Rank with Google that it would take a lot more than a few black-hat occurrences to penalize his site.
What if your site has been around for a long time and used to be active back in the day with what are now deemed as black-hat techniques? Take the time to right the wrong. Don’t change your domain name and confuse your users. Just take the time to clean it up and start performing SEO the right way and Google will take notice and begin rewarding your site accordingly.
EXACT MATCH DOMAIN
You might be unfamiliar with the term exact match domain or EMD, but they are actually very common. They when someone buys a very specific domain name assuming that they will rank highly for that term as if it were the name of their company. Here are some examples:
Now, you can’t expect to rank highly for these terms even if your company name was Red Apple. This is such a generic term that the assumption is there are a plethera of other viable and relevant options that someone may be searching for. In fact, it may even make it more difficult for people to find your business website this way.
Have you ever searched for Facebook when you know very well that you could just type in “www.facebook.com?” Maybe it was faster? Maybe you were already on Google to begin with? This is an argument against those who think that Google has flipped and actually penalizes sites for exact match domain. John Mueller from Google actually took 10 minutes to address this very topic in a Google Hangout.
One reason to perhaps shy away from this, however, is that it may put you in a box. If your domain name is red-apple.com, what do you do if you want to start talking about green apples or even oranges? While I will always encourage you to find a niche and that no niche is too small, you do need to keep your options open at least a little!
PUBLIC VS PRIVATE WHOIS
Even big brands publicize their WhoIs information! Check out Pepsico’s WhoIs information.
PENALIZED WHOIS OWNER
You can be a penalized WhoIs owner by having a history of spamming or copyright complaints. Not only will Google penalize your website, they will penalize all websites owned by you!
COUNTRY TLD EXTENSION
The country top-level-domain extension is the end of your domain name.
.US (United States)
For a complete list, visit Wikipedia’s page on Country TLD extensions.
Ever since Google’s Pigeon update, local search results have seen a boost. For example, if you search for a restaurant, you will see local restaurants listed because typically the intent of searching for a restaurant means that you want to eat somewhere!
The country top-level-domain is also a result of the local search result boost. While it may be fun to form cool domain names using some of these extensions, just beware that you will take an SEO hit if you’re not actually located in that country. Well, your ranking in thatcountry might be good!
So that’s it – your complete guide to domain name search engine optimization!
The key idea I want you to remember is to not just choose a domain name because it struck you as creative without taking the time to think it through. Choose a domain name that is relevant – a true representation of your brand, don’t be overly concerned about the history because you can fix that, and be transparent. Transparency helps your business with your customers and it also helps your site with Google.