domain names and seo

Domain names
and their influence on SEO

Domain names and their influence on SEO

May 03rd, 2017 – 28 Comments

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, I’ll answer all these questions and more.

What’s a domain name?

Let’s start at the very 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. So for us, that domain name is yoast.com. When we are talking about www.yoast.com, which we rarely do, the domain name is yoast.com and the subdomain is www.

Note that I deliberately included “.com” here, were others might disagree with that. In my opinion, most common uses of the word “domain name” include that top-level domain. 

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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.

We’re talking 1985. Things have changed quite a bit. For the Netherlands, we use .nl, but lots of companies are using .com instead, for instance, when the .nl domain name they wanted was already taken. Things have gotten quite blurry. These days, TLDs like .guru and .pro are available. Automattic bought .blog a while back. And what about .pizza? We call these kind of TLDs generic TLDs.

Country code TLD (ccTLD)

I’ve already mentioned the .nl TLD. We call these kinds of TLDs country code or country specific TLDs. 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. If I would have claimed michiel.tk, there would have probably been nobody in Tokelau who could have pronounced my domain name well. 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.

This brings me to the first statement about domain names and SEO:

ccTLD or subdirectory?

If your website is available in multiple languages, you might be wondering what the best solution is: domain.com/uk/ and domain.com/de/ (subdirectories or subfolders) or domain.co.uk and domain.de (ccTLDs).

For SEO, the subdirectory makes more sense. If you use a subdirectory, all links will go to the same domain. Marketing is easy because you have one main domain. If there are language differences per subdirectory, use hreflang to tell Google about that. If you include all in one (WordPress) install, maintenance is easier. Just to name a few advantages.

Note that a subdomain, like the “www” I mentioned, is something totally different than a subdirectory. Google actually considers kb.yoast.com to be a different website than yoast.com, even though I’m sure they can connect the dots.

Age of a domain

These days, the age of a domain – referring to how long your domain already exists – doesn’t matter as much as it did before. It’s much more about the content, the site structure and basically how well your website answers the query people used in Google. To become the best result and rank top 3 for a query, you’ll have to be the best result.

As a matter of fact, John Mueller of Google confirmed just a few weeks ago 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 probably have a nice amount of backlinks, pages in the search result pages etc. And obviously, that might influence ranking.

Exact Match Domain (EMD)

BuyCheapHomes.com is probably an existing domain name. This is an example of an Exact Match Domain name. In 2012, Google introduced what we now call the EMD Update. Google changed it’s 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? Only if the rest of your website adds up. Homes.com works pretty well :) And in the Netherlands, the Dutch equivalent of cheaploans.com, goedkopeleningen.nl, probably gets a decent amount of traffic. But that’s because Google is better in English than Dutch (but catching up on that).

My advice: if you managed to build a brand around that EMD, and you still get lots of traffic, keep up the good work. If your money is still on BuyCheapHomes, please make sure your branding is absolutely top notch. You’re in the hen house and a fox might be near.

More on EMD in Moz’s The Exact Match Domain Playbook: A Guide and Best Practices for EMDs.

Branding

Following the EMD update, branding became even more important. It makes so much more sense to focus on your brand in SEO and your domain name – as opposed to just putting a keyword in the domain name – that a brand name would really be my first choice for a domain name. LEGO.com, Amazon.com, 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).

Make sure your brand is unique and the right domain name is available when starting a new business. By the way, this might be the reason to claim yoast.de even if you’re mainly using yoast.com – just to make sure no one else claims it ;)

By the way, I mentioned that a (known) brand is usually easier to remember. For the same reason, I’d prefer a short domain name over a domain name like this. Pi.com was probably already taken.

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 I 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, just 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 at the subdirectory section as well. 

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Domain Authority (DA)

I feel I have to mention domain authority here as well, as you hear a lot about it nowadays. Domain Authority is a score that predicts how well your website will rank on the search results pages. It’s based on data from the Mozscape web index and includes link counts, MozRank and MozTrust scores, and dozens of other factors (more than 40 in total). Source: Moz.com. It’s Moz-specific, so if you are using Moz, go check it out. And if you are a heavy user of domain authority, please elaborate why in the comments, as it’s not a metric I use, to be honest :)

Keep reading: ‘SEO friendly URLs’ »


28 Responses to Domain names and their influence on SEO

  1. Training Dubai
    By Training Dubai on 12 May, 2017

    What kind of domain one should register for if one has to target all countries in Middle East? as every country has there own domain extension but business is happening in entire Middle East.

  2. Elke voss
    By Elke voss on 9 May, 2017

    I have not received any confirmation for my order

    • Ben Vaassen
      By Ben Vaassen on 9 May, 2017

      Hi Elke,
      We can see you sent us an email, you should have a reply from us by now :-)

  3. Christopher
    By Christopher on 8 May, 2017

    Nice post but can I still rank with EMD?

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 9 May, 2017

      Hi Christopher,

      I think you need to take a number of things into account:
      – Spammy EMD isn’t recommended (verycheaploans.something). Google’s smarter than that
      – If your consider using a product name and are afraid the EMD update will hurt you somehow, I think you can safely use that. It’s quite unique if you can get that product name, and otherwise, it’s probably branded. Keep in mind that brands of others are usually trademarked etc.
      – In smaller countries like The Netherlands, it’s sometimes still possible to use a very spammy EMD. Simply because Google can’t read that domain name very well – yet.

      So there are some exceptions, but trial and error is the only way to know for sure. I’d focus on branding, tbh.

  4. Studio 72
    By Studio 72 on 8 May, 2017

    I use DA simply because I need a quick way to check the rank of the page a back link is coming from.

  5. Paginas web Lanzarote
    By Paginas web Lanzarote on 7 May, 2017

    Hello! Thank you very mucho, the article is very interesting and very easy to understand, thank for that. All the best from Lanzarote

    • Michiel
      By Michiel on 8 May, 2017

      You’re welcome! And thank you

  6. Holiday
    By Holiday on 7 May, 2017

    Hmmm, nice points Michiel. But i still believe that exact match domains are still having impact on the SEO of a site, yes the content is the king but if you don’t have an exact match domain or a domain that is easy to remember then you have to make that domain popular by advertising costing thousands of dollars. Then why don’t you have exact match domain for better traffic?

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 9 May, 2017

      See my reply to Christopher’s comment above :)

  7. Abin
    By Abin on 7 May, 2017

    Is there any article which has more on DA ?

  8. ???? ??????
    By ???? ?????? on 5 May, 2017

    it’s very good and useful article and thanks to you for this , in my country , country code is .ir , and unfortunately , some SEO analysis tools can’t show me , domain age :(

  9. John Wright
    By John Wright on 5 May, 2017

    This is really an interesting and well explained article. You explained domain names seo very well. I have learned a lot from your post.

    • Michiel
      By Michiel on 8 May, 2017

      Thank you, John!

  10. John
    By John on 5 May, 2017

    ccTLD or subdirectory, or subdomains?

    I find the best solution for internationalization is subdomains, Google has a good article listing the various options here,
    https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/182192

    • Michiel
      By Michiel on 9 May, 2017

      Hi John, thanks for this nice overview! We generally advise subdirectories, because that way your site will benefit from the ranking of the main domain, and it’s likely to cause less technical issues than subdomains.

  11. Anytime Assistance
    By Anytime Assistance on 5 May, 2017

    Not long before I witnessed EMDs having an edge in SERP, so it definitely used to work. Since you said google has changed it algorithm, will have to see if things have changed in case of EMDs.

  12. David Hoe
    By David Hoe on 4 May, 2017

    Really helpful. I’d like to know your thoughts on the new TLD’s
    I encourage my clients to purchase them as I think they will be perceived as more “modern” or “cutting edge” and I imagine it can only help with SEO

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 9 May, 2017

      Depends on how that modern domain name fits your business. I think (personal opinion!) that there are a lot of *bs* TLD’s that look fancy but don’t contribute to the domain name as such. I always smile when I see a .guru domain name, for instance. But I can totally see a .today website rank as well as a .com. Somehow makes sense for a news site, right? You’d still have to compete with the big brands, of course :)

  13. Michael Lauritzen
    By Michael Lauritzen on 4 May, 2017

    Excellent article as always top quality information.

    EMD still works but be careful.

    • Michiel Heijmans
      By Michiel Heijmans on 9 May, 2017

      I think we agree, see my reply to Christopher’s comment above :)

  14. Rojgar Daily
    By Rojgar Daily on 4 May, 2017

    Excellent article Michiel. Investing in brand building makes so much more sense than registering an EMD these days.

  15. Euonus IT
    By Euonus IT on 4 May, 2017

    I don’t think domain name has any influence on SEO but it gives clarity to searchers while they search and see that website in results or ads.

    Searchers have become smart but EDM still get’s my dad’s attention :/.

    • Euonus IT
      By Euonus IT on 4 May, 2017

      by clarity I mean they will likely to click on seopluginwordpressdotcom instead of yoast, if they are a newbie or are unaware about the champion of seo plugin.

  16. Abdul
    By Abdul on 4 May, 2017

    Excellent!..

    The same questions that are always in my mind.

  17. Ron
    By Ron on 3 May, 2017

    That’s is a wonderful post. I personally consider to get better I SEO one should focus most on is brand name and I think if people just search your brand name l the time and Google might think, hey this site has some stuff let’s give him some benefit as more people want to reach it”. It means you will automatically outrank your competitors in terms of keyowrds as your is much search and asked by people.

    • Martijn Verkuil
      By Martijn Verkuil on 4 May, 2017

      What about city-specific domain-names like .Amsterdam? I read that Google wouldn’t rank it higher compared to other domains for now (that ‘for now’ was a couple of years back). I was thinking of using .Amsterdam for a project about Amsterdam since it would make the most sense. But I don’t like the length (not super pratical on flyers and such) and the popularity of amsterdam-domains is pretty low as well (about 6 times more expensive than .nl) so I am still a little reluctant. At least I already did claim both .nl and .amsterdam. :-)


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