SEO Factors To Consider When Choosing A Domain Name

    February 12, 2013
    Chris Ainsworth
    Comments are off for this post.

The old saying “a stitch in time saves nine” couldn’t be more applicable than when it comes to launching a new website. It pays to take the time “make your list and check it twice.” Making the right choices before you launch a website can save a lot of time later.

Obviously, one of the of the most important decisions you’ll need to make when launching a new site is your domain. Since about ⅔ of consumers use search engines to help make buying decisions, search engine traffic is critical to the success or failure of most websites. This results in SEO being a common decision-making factor for choosing a domain.

How will my domain name impact SEO?

There are two primary ways your domain will impact your future SEO efforts and search rankings:

  • Keywords
  • Branding

Let’s examine each of these in more detail.


Historically, many SEOs chose domain names that included their target keyword phrases. For example, if you wanted to rank for the keyword green widgets, you might use a domain such as greenwidgets.net (exact match domain or EMD) or greenwidgetsshop.com (phrase match domain or PMD). The presence of the keyword phrase in the domain made it easier to gain a high ranking for that keyword phrase.

With the introduction of recent algorithms such as the Penguin update and the Exact Match Domain (EMD) update, Google has changed how they view domains that include keywords. Is it still worthwhile to choose a domain that includes your target keyword phrase? Let’s look at the data.

Should you choose a domain name with your keywords in it?

Our recent Google’s EMD Update study found that after the Google EMD Update:

  • Average EMD site ranking decreased from #13.4 to #26.6
  • Average PMD site ranking decreased from #39.7 to #47.7

Dr Pete also has some excellent data on EMDs in his article Are Exact-Match Domains (EMDs) in Decline?

From this data, we can draw the conclusion that EMDs (and PMDs) no longer provide the same ranking boost that they used to. However, EMDs can, and in many cases do, still rank well. Our advice regarding keywords in your domain is:

  • If you already own an EMD or PMD, you don’t necessarily need to get rid of it
  • If you’re buying a new domain, an EMD or PMD isn’t necessarily bad, but branding factors are more important
  • If you can buy a domain that includes one or more of your keywords without sacrificing any branding considerations, that may be a good choice


It may interact with SEO in a less obvious way, but branding is actually the most important SEO consideration for purchasing a new domain. Your online brand (how people perceive and remember you) will directly impact your SEO efforts and results. Why? It’s simple:

  • “Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.” ~Google CEO Eric Schmidt
  • Google likes brands, because users like brands. Which site would you rather read, link to, or share with your friends – NYtimes.com or your-ny-news-stuff.com ?

See The Rise of Brands in Google’s Relevancy Algorithms.

A strong online brand means users are more likely to click on, read, share, and link to a website…all of which will help the site gain higher Google rankings.

Choosing a domain as the foundation of your online brand

The first step in building a strong online brand is choosing a good domain. Choose a domain that is:

  • Memorable. You have no hope of building a brand if users can’t remember your name.
  • Unique. A generic sounding name, such as musicsite.com won’t have the same impact as a unique domain name.
  • Relevant. Some domains are industry-neutral, whereas others are clearly relevant to a specific industry (example: WebMD).
  • Not error-prone. For instance, a domain such as example.ws is a branding nightmare, because users will tend to type example.com instead. Delicious changed its domain name because so many users got confused by their non-standard domain.
  • Short. Most well-known online brands are 1-2 words or less. SEOmoz suggests sticking to a domain of 15 characters or less.

Remember that your domain is just the start of building a brand – an essential step, but only the first step.

Bonus Tip: Avoid Hyphens

If mysite.com is taken, should you buy my-site.com? No. Here are 3 reasons to avoid hyphenated domains.

  • http://www.dariopetkovic.com Dario Petkovic

    Great and up to date tips. EMD names are not big in Google’s eyes so I reckon just sticking to branding is the way forward IMO. Cheers for content once again.

  • http://domainbark.com Kurt Varner

    Really helpful tips, thank you. One thing that could fall under the branding umbrella is an available social media presence. It can’t hurt to do a quick check to ensure that the username is available. A lot of people have started to squat on Twitter handles, etc.

    Also, check out http://www.domainbark.com for an easy way to find domain names. I personally built this site because I was frustrated with the current search tools available. Hope you like it :)

    • http://www.snickn.com Nick Nelson

      Nice site. You should look at adding name.com too. Great place.

  • http://www.results-seo.co.uk/ Denzele Washington

    These are graduates you gave to us. Actually I do SEO but I didn’t know these kind of thing before.

  • http://marketingbyweb.co.uk Eilidh MacRae

    Great post Chris! Cannot agree more with the fact that including your key words in your domain name when possible is essential in SEO.

  • http://chris-green.net Chris Green

    “Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”

    This should be a quote given to every new business, I’ve been privy to some conversations about new branding and some of the final decisions could almost be likened to the flick of a coin rather than any well considered choice.

  • http://www.absolutedigitalmedia.co.uk Tobias Bowman

    Thanks for the insight Chris. The wheat has been separated from the chaff now. Google seems to have cleared a lot of the unfair advantage out of the EMD/PMD fiasco. However it’s going to be much more difficult to prevent the ‘churn and burn’ EMD domains that litter the results for certain markets. Check out what is going on in ‘payday loans’ – and other affiliate-rich market sectors. I would be interested to see a refresh of that research after the next update.

  • http://www.gentscode-chivalry.blogspot.com Donald Ekwegba

    I consider this highly useful. A lot of mistakes in choosing a Domain Name has been rampant for long, with the culprits ignorant of the did. The link I provided to my site is a clear indication that I am guity of same. But with this expert-insight provided above am taking precautions on my subsequent moves.[Twitter]@Don_Ekwegba

    • http://seocel.blogspot.com/ Amir

      I really appreciate your effort and about that nice topic. Here you ask that choosing the same domain name as your keyword is don’t have much appreciate in seo. Well i agree and its good to know some thing more here. Regards

  • Craig

    Baloney..think about it.
    How will your branded domain gain traction without help from the search engines?
    More importantly, how long would a search engine last if it ignored exact
    Search term requests? This article plays directly to the needs of the engines to increase revenues.
    Don’t believe a word of it.
    A search engine that ignores an exact request when a qualified website exists, is manipulating search….an THAT may soon be banned!

  • http://www.seoireland.org mark

    Great content, but it is more about brand name rather than keywords in domain name.

  • http://www.technameshop.com Viljami

    Your article is spot on. While it doesn’t hurt to have a relevant keyword(s) in your domain, EMDs, especially long ones, are thing of the past. Public is getting more and more educated about the fact that most EMDs are just fronts for affiliate links and lead generation. It’s all about the brandability these days as social media drives more and more traffic.

  • http://www.snickn.com Nick Nelson

    Yep – when I finally launched snickn.com – a SEO friend immediately said “You should work to get nicknelson.com” – while I may be able to get it – snickn has been my nickname since 2000…branding is important and there’s no reason to bail on a brand to try to get an EMD. Not in today’s google.

  • http://www.vannplace.com Terry

    Loved it – thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.pinkzebralionmarketing.com Dusan

    The fact that EMD’s rank lower doesn’t mean they’re not useful, just that having one is not as useful as it used to be.

    If all you stated were true, an EMD would not rank (no content on the site, just a wordpress installation) on page 1 within a week (admittedly, not a very competitive keyword).

    The point? There are many parts to getting traffic and, at times, EMD’s give you still a boost. EMD’s don’t rule out branding, either.

  • http://www.acerservicecentrehyderabad.com magesh

    good, its more useful…

  • http://weblogcode.blogspot.com weblogcode

    thanks for telling about hyphens in the domain names. I was very confused while choosing my domain name

  • https://www.thexyz.com Perry

    I always thought that hyphenated domains were a no-no, but some of mine that have hyphens are doing exceptionally well in rankings. I do not believe there is any negative effect of a hyphenated domain.

  • http://iarora.com iArora

    Great Article!

    EMD’s in the short run will be a quick win as long as other SEO things done well, like Fresh Content, Links etc…But if you are a Business and offcourse want to pay less for Branding, Advertising etc in the long run then definitely having a Brandable Domain (Businees Name) should be the strategy. And if you can be a bit creative then you could have both for e.g. If you running a Travel Deals website then makeup a name like “traveldealsy” etc…

  • https://whoiszz.com/ Irena Bee

    I also want to tell a very useful service that I use.

    Free Whois domain lookup tool for finding domain names ownership information, registration data and much more.

    Maybe it will help someone =)