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:
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 ?
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.
- Domains that include hyphens may be a negative SEO ranking factor.
- Many users will type the domain without the hyphens and end up on a different site.
- Hyphenated domains are often perceived as lower quality.