Domain Names and SEO
This one is a bit tricky, for a few reasons. For starters, once you choose your domain name its not something you can really change. Second, it might not be within your control. That said, if you do have the ability to control your domain name we have a few recommendations.
- the shorter, the better
- domain names should be memorable
- don’t use dashes or underscores (oops, we messed up on this)
- try to use a memorable name not something weird or difficult to spell like whooseywaggonz.io
- stick with .com, .net or .org if you can, if not no big deal
- older domains are generally better
- use keywords sparingly
EMD’s: Exact Match Domains
EMD’s or “exact match domains” are exactly the way they sound. Let’s say your product is “black sunglasses” an EMD would be “www.blacksunglasses.com. A few years ago, Google started penalizing domains that abused this. There are still many domains out there that are EMD’s but not nearly as many as their used to be, and they aren’t favored nearly as much as they were.
With every recommendation, there are exceptions to the rule. Google “how to write a book” and sure enough you’ll find an exact match domain with a ton of hyphens:
Please don’t take that example as a license to register a domain with 4 hyphens. Remember, there are over 200 ranking factors and just because one of those factors are not optimized doesn’t mean other factors aren’t coming into play.
Domain Name Registration History
One of the most common SEO recommendations when it comes to domain names is having an “aged” domain name. This isn’t really a factor that you can control, but rather something that gets better with age. As your website ages and as time goes on, your domain becomes more trusted not only by Google but by other websites as well. It shoes that at the very least you aren’t a scammer that is registering a new domain name every 6 weeks. You can check the domain registration by doing a “whois” on any domain.
In this illustration, we query popular SEO website “moz.com” to get some information:
- We can see that the domain name was originally created in 1998.
- It was modified in 2013, this is most likely when they started re-branding from seomoz.com to moz.com and purchased this domain from someone else
- It expires in 2021
- They are using a custom DNS service
- The domain was registered from enom.com
While most of this information doesn’t play a direct role in search engine rankings, we can extrapolate a lot of information about a website that can assist in rankings. For instance the fact that Moz uses a custom DNS service means that they care enough about their website load time to pay for an extra service layer.
Your motivation for moving domains could be anything. It could be a copyright violation, a new branding direction, found a better or more appropriate domain, or you might have just changed your mind. Regardless of your reasons, there are some factors to take a look at before moving.
If you are moving domains i.e. keeping the same website but changing the name of your domain name there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account before making the plunge. While moving a website or domain can be a daunting task, there are some specific elements to take into account as an SEO:
- you’ve backed up your website, sitemap, and robots.txt file
- 301 the old domain to the new one
- fill out change of address in Google Search Console
- create a new sitemap and submit it to Google Search Console
- create a new robots.txt and submit it to Google Search Console
Also know that even though a 301 can pass link juice, in many aspects you’ll be “starting over.” There will be a period of adjustment, sometimes referred to as “the Google Dance” where your site may appear to be moving around or “dancing” in the search engine results pages.
Run Screaming Frog SEO tool as well as Xenu and get a complete snapshot of your old site, back it up locally.
Once you’ve made the plunge and your domain is moved you can run a “fetch as Google” just to make sure Google is seeing your website properly. If you have an SSL certificate you’ll need to reconfigure that as well.
Over the next few weeks you’ll need to monitor Google for your index status as well as rankings.
A word on New gTLD’s
gTLD’s or “generic top level domains” are new types of domain names available for register on the web. Some people also refer to these as “domain extensions” or “generic domain extensions.” Some examples of these new domain name extensions are:
Some examples of how these domain names might look in combination with some other words are:
As you may have already noticed, some of these new domain names are generic words, others are actual brand names such as “Samsung, Volkswagen, or Heinz.” As a general rule of thumb, I’d probably recommend staying away from these domain names with company names contained within them to avoid any legal troubles unless of course you are associated with those companies. Many companies are already scooping up some of these new domain name extensions, e.g. Trek Bicycles already registered (now down, as of 2017).
With that out of the way, you might be temped to start buying up domain names with really cool combinations. Although we already recommended within this section of the guide that .com, .net and .org are preferred, that does not mean that Google dislikes or even devalues these new domain extensions. There are some clear benefits to having these new domains. There are many more options available to register, and some of them are extremely easy to remember.
The fact is, you can search for almost anything you can think of in Google and the top results will probably be a .com or .net. Yes, you can probably find some examples of some obscure domain names but it is still too soon to tell.
On the other hand the reason for this may just be that these domain extensions are still too new and are being overpowered by domains that have been registered for a decade or more with tons of authority? If you want to be safe, go with a .com, .net or a .org.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a client who has called me days, weeks or even months later with some sort of regret that they did not realize until they started to use their domain name. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is not paying attention to readability issues. Believe it or not, there are certain letters that just don’t go well together.
Consider this scenario, look at a quick glance: can you tell the difference between these two domain names:
Both domains are meant to read “Matte Finish Dot Com” but can you tell the first example, the “M” is actually an “RN.” If you can’t tell, look even closer.
Now this might not cause issues with your rankings, but it can certainly cause issues with your users that might frustrate them which could lead to negative site metrics that negatively affect your website. Some of these metrics include a high bounce rate, failure to find your site at all, or linking to the wrong website by way of misspelling it.
There are dozens of other types of letter combinations that can cause readability issues. Other common mistakes are:
- the letter “l” and the number “1”
- confusing two consecutive “vv’s”‘ with a “w”
- confusing “j” and “i” in some fonts
- the combination of “IN” with “M”
- the letter “B” and the number “8”
- “O” and “0”
- the letter “S” and the number “5”
- the letter “Z” and the number “2”
I am sure there are more, but you can get a good idea with these. You might be thinking that it is a rare occurrence when someone might misinterpret a misspelled domain name but that is not the case. An entire industry has been created out of people who misspell domain names and in some case domain name misspellings can bring in quite a bit of traffic.
Don’t follow the latest trends. Remember during the first dot com bubble how everyone was adding “My” before their domain. We had domains prefixed with things like “My Yahoo” and “My Hotmail.” Try to resist adding things like “best” or “top” as a suffix unless you really have to.
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