Domain names and their influence on SEO
We often get questions from people asking about the influence of domain names on SEO. Is there any relation at all? Does it help to include keywords like product names in your domain name? Is the influence of domain names different per location? And what’s the use of using more than one domain name for a site? In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and more.
What’s a domain name?
Let’s start from the beginning. A domain name is an alias. It’s a convenient way to point people to that specific spot on the internet where you’ve built your website.
Domain names are generally used to identify one or more IP addresses. For us, our domain name is yoast.com.
Note that we deliberately included “.com” here, where others might disagree with that. We think the most common uses of the word “domain name” include that top-level domain.
On a side note, if you’ve been on the internet for a while now, you may notice that websites back in the day used to have the “www” prefix before the domain name. So for Yoast that would be www.yoast.com. In this case, the domain name is still yoast.com, while www is the subdomain. These days people don’t add the “www” before the domain name anymore. It’s unnecessary, it makes your URL long, and frankly, nobody uses the term “world wide web” anymore.
Top-level domain (TLD)
Where “yoast” is obviously our brand, the “.com” bit of our domain name is called TLD (or top-level domain). In the early days of the internet:
- .com was intended for US companies,
- .org for non-profit organizations,
- .edu for schools and universities and
- .gov for government websites.
But this is from 1985. Things have changed quite a bit since then. For the Netherlands, we use .nl. But lots of companies are using .com for when the .nl domain name was already taken.
These days, TLDs like .guru and .pro are available. Automattic bought .blog in 2015. And what about .pizza? But these are not all. You can find all kinds of TLDs now. Many tech startups and SaaS companies are choosing .io as their TLD instead of the more “traditional” ones like .com or .net.
The list of available TLDs is updated and maintained by the IANA – the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority – which you can find here. We call this kind of TLD generic TLDs.
For SEO, you probably want to use just one TLD. And, in most cases, it’s best to choose a common option, like .com, .net, .biz, etc.
If your business is in a very competitive field, it might be a good idea to buy a few more common TLDs. This is to make sure someone else doesn’t use them to build a website with your brand name. It would be frustrating if your website is epicbusiness.com and someone starts epicbusiness.biz, right? But in most cases, it may not be needed. So whether or not this is necessary is up to you.
Generic TLDs give you the option to be a little more creative with your domain name. Some fun examples of the possibilities: order.pizza, visit.amsterdam, ice.land, or maybe buyher.flowers… If it fits your brand, you could give this a try. But you should keep in mind that not everyone might realize that they’re looking at a domain name. It might be a good idea to mention that you’re talking about a website when you put your domain name on a poster or show it somewhere, so people realize it’s a website they can visit.
Country code TLDs (ccTLD)
We’ve already mentioned the .nl TLD. We call these kinds of TLDs country codes or country-specific TLDs.
Many country code TLDs are “closed”, meaning they are restricted to only those who live or have residency in those countries. For instance, Australia’s .au or the UK’s .uk are considered “closed” ccTLD. But seeing the popularity of many generic TLDs, some countries have opened their TLD so anyone can register them.
Years ago, Tokelau – an island in the Southern Pacific Ocean – started giving away their .tk TLD for free, and thousands of enthusiasts claimed their .tk. It’s like .cc, which you might have heard of because it was once promoted as the alternative to .com. It’s actually a country-specific TLD belonging to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (although the people of Cypres might disagree)
Country code TLD or generic TLD?
Choosing a country code or generic TLD for your domain name depends on the goal of your website. If you want to target a specific location or country, like the Netherlands for instance, then choosing .nl makes perfect sense. It communicates to people that you’re indeed in the Dutch market and eliminate any confusion your visitors might have.
On the other hand, you could be choosing a generic TLD like .com and have no problem competing with other Dutch websites that use .nl. It’s about the content, the products, and the user experience that your site offer, and not about the TLD you choose. Besides, if you want to serve a wide range of international audiences, or if you plan on expanding your business to foreign countries, then a generic TLD is a much better choice.
Country code TLD or subdirectory for sites with multiple languages?
If your website is available in multiple languages, you might be wondering what the best solution is. Should it be domain.com/uk/ and domain.com/de/ (subdirectories or subfolders) or domain.co.uk and domain.de (which use country-specific TLDs)?
For SEO, using a subdirectory makes more sense. If you use a subdirectory, all links will go to the same domain. Marketing is easier because you have one main domain. And all the backlinks you get are also attributed to that main domain. If there are language differences per subdirectory, add the
hreflang tag to your pages to tell Google about that.
Note that a subdomain, like the “www” we mentioned, is something totally different than a subdirectory. For instance, we have a dedicated website to store technical information related to our software for developers at developer.yoast.com, which is a subdomain of yoast.com. Google actually considers this to be a different website than yoast.com. Though we’re sure they can connect the dots.
Does the age of a domain influence SEO?
The age of a domain – referring to how long your domain already exists – doesn’t matter for SEO as much as it did before. Some may say it doesn’t matter at all. Nowadays, it’s much more about the content, the technical setup, the user experience, and how well your website answers the query people used in Google. You’ll have to be the best result to rank for a query.
As a matter of fact, John Mueller of Google confirmed way back in 2017 that domain age doesn’t matter:
Is it that black and white? No, it’s not.
Domain age as such might not influence ranking. But older domains may have a nice amount of backlinks, pages ranking in the search result pages, etc. And obviously, that might influence ranking.
Does Exact Match Domain (EMD) give you a ranking advantage?
Let’s say Buycheaphomes.com is an existing domain name (it probably is). This is an example of an Exact Match Domain name.
In 2012, Google introduced what we now call the EMD Update. Google changed its algorithm so websites that used domain names like that wouldn’t rank just for the simple fact that the keyword was in the domain name. And yes, that used to be the case, before the update.
So, after this update, does it still pay off to use a domain name that includes a keyword? For the most part, the answer is no.
You don’t need a certain keyword in your domain name. You can build a site on a different domain, write content that targets that specific keyword or topic, and still outrank a site with the exact keyword in its domain name.
But if you managed to build a brand around an EMD, and you still get lots of traffic, keep up the good work. Just make sure your branding is absolutely top-notch.
Choose a domain name around your branding
Following the EMD update, branding became even more important. It makes so much more sense to focus on your brand in your domain name as opposed to just putting a keyword in the domain name.
For instance, you probably know LEGO.com, Amazon.com, or Google.com. It’s all about the brand. It’s something people will remember easily and something that will make you stand out from the crowd and competition. Your brand is here to stay (always look on the positive side of things).
In fact, Google’s John Mueller also suggested picking a domain name that’s more like a brand and that you can build upon:
Make sure your brand is unique and the right domain name is available when starting a new business. This might be the reason to claim more than one generic TLD or country code TLD – to make sure no one else claims it.
We mentioned that a (known) brand is usually easier to remember. For the same reason, we’d suggest going with a short domain name or a catchy one so it stays with people. Like Booking.com for instance.
Read more: 5 tips on branding »
More than one domain name for the same website?
Does it pay off to claim multiple domain names and 301 redirect all the domains to the main domain name? In terms of branding: no. In terms of online ranking: probably not.
The only valid reason we can think of to actively use multiple domain names for the same website, is offline and sometimes online marketing. If you have a specific project or campaign on your website that you’d like to promote separately, a second domain name might come in handy to get traffic straight to the right page on your website.
“Actively” is the main word in that last paragraph. As mentioned, feel free to register multiple domain names, but make sure not to confuse Google. Besides that, actively using multiple domain names for the same website will diffuse the links to your website. And that isn’t what you want, as mentioned in the subdirectory section as well.
Domain Authority, Domain Rating, what are they?
We feel like we should mention and clarify these concepts. You’ve probably known or heard about the concept of Domain Authority, Domain Rating, or Authority score. They are metrics developed by popular SEO software providers:
- Domain Authority: developed by Moz. This is a score that predicts how well your website will rank on the search results pages.
- Domain Rating: developed by Ahref. This metric shows the relative strength of a website’s backlink profile.
- Authority score: developed by Semrush. This metric is used for measuring a domain’s or webpage’s overall quality and SEO performance.
Essentially, these metrics aim to quantify the quality of a website based on many factors. They all have one thing in common, which is the inclusion of a site’s backlink profile in calculating the score. For the Domain Rating metric by Ahref, the metric is purely link-based.
Let us clarify that none of these are ranking factors that Google uses. They are metrics specific to the software that uses them. While Google doesn’t use these metrics, you can still use them as a reference point in your SEO strategy. But don’t blindly rely on them as there may be flaws in how these metrics are developed or calculated.
Keep reading: SEO friendly URLs »
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