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.
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 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, 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 to decide.
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 would be a good idea to add www or https:// in the branding 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)
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.
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.
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 »