Do domain name keywords help SEO?
What are domain name keywords?
Domain name keywords are… wait for it… keywords you’re targeting in search that appear in your website’s domain name. So, if you sell iPhone accessories you might find www.iphoneaccessories.com a pretty useful domain name.
Not only will your URL be nice and easy to remember for people who come into contact with your offline ads, it should help you rank better in Google’s search results, right? Well, maybe, more on that later.
What role do domain name keywords play in keyword strategy?
In the early days of the internet, domain names had real strategic value for a business. They could be a strong ranking signal for search engines, because the algorithms were less sophisticated and had a lot less data to look at.
And of course there were more domain names still available back then. Fewer websites and no speculators (or “domainers”), meant you would have a better chance of finding a relevant, two or three-word dot com (like www.iphoneaccessories.com).
Even now our iPhone accessories example still works. If “iPhone accessories” was an important key phrase for your business it would do you no harm to make owning and using that domain name part of your keyword strategy. Just as optimising your site for relevant keywords in line with best-practice SEO helps your pages do better in search, keywords in your domain name can have the same impact.
But you need to be really careful here because chances are your first, second, third, maybe 10th, maybe even 20th choice is already taken. This is when your domain name can hurt you. You might want your site returned when someone Googles “cheap iPhone accessories Sydney” but you absolutely do not want www.cheap-iphone-accessories-sydney.tv to be your homepage URL.
Google is likely to flag that site and look a lot closer for signs of over-optimisation, such as keywords stuffed into title tags or suspicious inbound links from dodgy third parties. And if you do turn up in search results you’re likely to have some trust issues with users.
Two reasons for that: 1) we added more words and separated them with hyphens, which looks really spammy; and 2) we picked a less desirable top level domain.
How do hyphens in domain names affect SEO?
There are no hard and fast rules for hyphens in domain names, but they are definitely a part of your keyword strategy in which you need to tread cautiously. Adding a single hyphen can make your domain name easier to read and therefore easier to remember (www.iphone-accessories.com v www.iphoneaccessories.com, for example).
But multiple hyphens and four or more keywords start to set off the spam detectors, even if you got the dot com (www.cheap-iphone-accessories-sydney.com, still doesn’t look that appealing to users and Google will feel the same way). Add a low rent top level domain and you have double the trouble for your keyword strategy.
How do top level domains affect SEO?
Officially, Google doesn’t use top-level domains to rank web pages. But, in reality, there’s a class system when it comes to top-level domains and even your less nerdy users will be aware of that. If your domain uses “.com”, “.org” or the relevant official country code (“.com.au” in Australia, “.co.nz” in New Zealand, for example) your site will be seen as more credible and trustworthy than one using “.tv” or “.net”. That’s why www.keywordyouwant.biz will likely still be up for grabs.
Spamhaus, an international spam watchdog, recently published this top 10 most-abused top-level domains, which is worth a look before you get too creative with your domain name choice.
Should I buy domain names that feature my target keywords?
Well, that depends what you plan to do with them. Let’s stick with our iPhone accessories example. If you owned the dot com it would make sense to buy some of the other top level domains (the “.org” if you could get it, the “.com.au” if you were based in Australia, for example). You might also buy some variations on “iPhone accessories”, again, if they were still available.
You would redirect these domains to your main domain (www.iphoneaccessories.com in this case). But you would be doing this to protect your brand, not to improve how your site ranks in search. Owning those domains has no search benefit. What it does is it protects your iPhone accessories business from sneaky competitors looking to ride on your coat tails and steal some of your potential customers.
Of course, “iPhone accessories” won’t be your only keyword. What about buying up a load more domain names that feature other keywords relevant to your business? Again, it depends what you hope to achieve. If you’re messing with your competitors or speculating on a domain name’s future value, go for it. If you’re expecting a boost in search rankings, save your money.
Do links from domains I own help my SEO?
When Google was first formed back in the late 90s it was the ability to rank pages based on inbound links that set it apart from the competition. Now, almost two decades later, inbound links are still an important ranking signal.
What’s changed is that links are becoming harder to manipulate. All the tricks for getting links that use your favourite keywords as anchor text and point to your target landing pages have been used, abused and now burned.
If a credible third party site links to you because you have useful and interesting content that link is going to help you do better in search. If you just replied to an unsolicited email offering 1,000 inbound links for USD $5 you’re risking a manual penalty.
The same goes for sites you own. If you have two sites that are both well-established, good quality resources that follow best practice SEO, and there’s a good reason for one to link to the other, you have no problem. You probably won’t hit the number one spot overnight, but it’s certainly not going to hurt you.
If on the other hand you’ve been buying up domains for the sole purpose of creating links to your real site it’s likely you’re going to invest a lot of time and money in a tactic that will, at best, work temporarily.
Check out this explanation of the lengths some SEOs were going to back in 2011 to run this tactic and hide it from Google. As a good, general rule, if you’re doing something you don’t want Google to know about in the hope that it will improve your search rankings you are storing up big problems for the future.
Can buying and redirecting an existing site help my SEO?
Okay, so creating your own link farm is out. What about buying the domain of an established, quality site that already has some link juice and redirecting it to your main domain?
Well, better than the link farm idea, but it’s still not a great long-term play. For one thing, 301 redirects, which is how you would point users and search engines from the domain you bought to your actual site, leak PageRank.
Google’s Matt Cutts can explain what that means:
There is also evidence that PageRank fades over time. Signals picked up some years ago are not going to be as relevant for search today, especially if it’s been a good while since the page earned any new ones.
Domain keywords, keyword strategy, SEO best practice, 301 redirects. What does all this mean?
Sure. Lots of jargon in this post, so apologies for that. Here are some takeaways that should help simplify it all a little:
- Domain keywords can be helpful for name recognition and SEO, but no more than three words and no more than one hyphen;
- Top level domains have an established pecking order, so www.example.com or www.example.co.nz will be trusted by search engines and users ahead of www.example.net or www.example.biz;
- Buying domains and redirecting them to your main site is a good way to protect your brand but it will likely have no impact, positive or negative, on your SEO;
- Creating multiple sites for the sole purpose of linking to another site is called “link farming” and it is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines;
- The benefits of buying an established site and redirecting it for the PageRank are likely to be short-term.