If you’ve ever been curious about how domain names affect your website’s SEO, read on. Over time, the direct and indirect impacts of domain names on website rankings and signals have evolved. At one point, keyword specific domain names, such as “mens-blue-jeans.com” would rank higher in search results for queries that included those three words: “mens,” “blue,” and “jeans.” Since the 2012 Exact Match Domain (EMD) update, keyword-heavy domains have been slowly losing effectiveness on rankings. What this means is that the content on your website and the branding that you do for your company online means more now than ever before.
So, how does your domain name affect your website’s SEO — both now and in the projected future?
What is a Domain and URL?
Let’s start by breaking down the basic structure of a website URL:
- protocol = http
- subdomain = “www.”
- domain = sample
- TLD = “.com”
- directory = /12345
- subdirectory = /abcdef
- path = /12345/abcdef
All of the parts of a URL: protocol, subdomain, domain, TLD, directory, subdirectory, and path can play a role in your SEO efforts, but we’ll focus in on the domain for now.
Domain authority is the measurement of a website’s age, popularity, and size.
You may have been reading up on your technical SEO tips recently and found the phrase “link juice.” This seems to be the overarching term for how much weight any one link or collection of links adds to a single domain’s authority. This authority occurs when one website links to another. It’s like a vote of confidence from one domain to another, or a “like” (such as on Facebook) from a user to a page.
Domains also aggregate the authority gained by each individual page on the website. This is similar to a dental practice. The doctor and the staff work hard to uphold an excellent standard of service and practice reputation. Everyone on the team must do their part to ensure patient satisfaction. Your website does the same with each individual page of content. Each page adds to the overall domain authority.
What does the projected future look like for domains? It’s tough to say, but domains do still mean something when it comes to branding. A website’s URL/Domain is like a street address to a brick and mortar business. So, if you want people to remember your business, start with your domain name and then work on the content to brand that domain name — similar to branding your practice offline.
Purchasing A “Strong” Domain
Unfortunately, there’s no formula or procedure for choosing and buying the perfect domain name. Some people attempt to cut corners and purchase a previously expired domain that accrued domain authority over its lifetime. What these people don’t realize is that every single search engine in the United States can see who owned a domain previously, how long it was owned, and its overall history. Various signals are taken into account when any of these factors change on major and/or minor scales to alert the search engines that the domain is now in the hands of someone else. Consider also the history of domains. Search engine indexing stretches all the way back to the late ’90s, which means you’ve got little to no chance in fooling the engines.
If you could indeed fool search engines and keep the domain authority that your newly-acquired domain accrued in its past life, you would be susceptible to the penalties the domain accrued, as well. Over time, search engine algorithms have changed. Standards have changed. Everything has changed. So, with the potential positive of keeping the tenured domain authority, you bring on the tenured penalties, too.
For every domain you consider to purchase, check its history with tools like archives.org and its Way Back Machine for previously cached versions of the site (if it has any). You can use the various link checking tools on the internet to determine what the domain your purchasing actually holds in its history related to link building.
Purchasing Domains for Redirects or Parking
Acquiring domains for the sake of not letting anyone else use them is not an SEO tactic; it’s a business necessity.
If you park a domain, it will not rank in the SERPs. When someone types in the direct URL of a parked domain, the page that loads is an advertisement for the registrar that’s hosting the domain. A parked domain is basically a safe full of cash that only you have the combination too.
Let’s say you purchase a batch of domains related to your primary domain, and you redirect all of those domains to your main domain. The effort on this is pretty low, and — if there ever is a benefit — it’ll be low, too. This is an edge case, but if someone uses one of the redirected domains, they find your website. That’s about all the benefit you’re going to get. Let’s say someone links to your redirected domains. It may give the redirected domain a few ticks, but it’s not going to sky rocket it through all competition to the top of the SERPs. Whether a few or a lot of links point at redirected domains isn’t going to get you consistent and/or significant results.
The final move that a handful of website owners make is to host their website on more than one domain. This is a colossal mistake, and here’s why: duplicate content. If your one website is on many different domains, it won’t rank you multiple times. Best case scenario: search engines mark this occurrence as low-quality duplicate content. That’s not always the case, though. Doing this can be flagged as a spam tactic, which gets your domain, site, and content penalized. In the end, taking this risk is a mistake, and it could permanently affect your main domain, website, and overall SEO factor.
How to Pick Your Domain
In the most general sense, you want your domain to be an extension of your practice. It should be a branding tool for your online presence. For example, if your practice name is “Bright White Smiles” and you focus on cosmetic dentistry, your domain name, design, content, and social engagement should reflect this. A great way to determine your domain name is to keep the process simple:
- is it simple, 1-3 words?
- is it memorable?
- if a user looks for your business online, will it be something they type into the search bar?
- does it have your business name in it?
- does it include numbers and hyphens? (avoid these, if possible)
- does it use an appropriate extension (.com, .org, .biz, .info, etc.)?
“The days of SEO being a game outsmarting algorithms are over. Today content strategy and valuable, sustainable strategies are essential, not just tricks and links.” ~ Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer, RKG