How Your Website’s Domain Name Affects Its Search Rankings

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If you’re planning to build a new website, you’ll need to register a domain name for it. Consisting of a unique string of letters, numbers, and hyphens, it will reflect your website’s location on the internet. Rather than typing your website’s Internet Protocol (IP) address in their web browser, users can enter the domain name to visit your site.

In addition to helping users find your website, the domain name can affect your site’s search rankings. By understanding the role domain names play in search engine optimization (SEO), you can choose the right one for your website.

Exact Match Domains EMDs

Some webmasters use a domain name consisting exclusively of the primary target keyword for which they want their website to rank. If a webmaster wants to rank for “fuzzy blue widgets,” for instance,” he or she may register and use the domain name fuzzybluewidgets.com.

Known as an exact-match domain (EMD), it’s intended to project a higher level of relevance for a website’s primary target keyword.

If your website uses an EMD, you may assume that search engines will rank it higher for its primary target keyword because it’s included in the domain name. In the past, search engines rewarded websites with EMDs by ranking them higher in the search results.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until webmasters began abusing this tactic by building thin websites with EMDs. To clean up the search results, Google rolled out the EMD update in 2012.

The EMD update specifically targeted these low-quality EMD websites by devaluing their authority and lowering their search rankings.

Global Match Domains GEMDs

In a similar way to EMDs, some webmasters also use a domain name consisting exclusively of the keywords for which they want their website to rank. The difference is that it includes words from multiple languages rather than just one. In the example above, the webmaster might register and use fuzzybluewidget.com, which would be considered a GEMD.

GEMDs don’t have the same negative impact on your website’s SEO that EMDs have, partially because they’re more difficult to build and maintain. However, in 2012 Google began downranking these types of domain names by roughly 10 percent for international searches in non-primary language phrases.

Generic Match Domains GOMDs

Possibly the best way to go about choosing a domain name for your website is by choosing one that doesn’t include your primary target keyword. Instead, it consists of a completely generic and non-branded keyword phrase like widgets.com or shoes.com. Because it includes words from multiple languages and the primary target keyword isn’t as obvious, it’s considered a GOMD.

As mentioned earlier, Google tends to downrank websites with GEMDs by roughly 10 percent for international searches in non-primary language phrases. On the other hand, it doesn’t apply any negative ranking adjustment to websites with a GOMD. In fact, it rewards their authority with an organic ranking boost.

What Does This Mean For You?

When choosing a domain name for your website, you have three primary choices: EMD, GEMD or GOMD. By looking at their pros and cons, you should be able to make the best decision for your site’s SEO (and your budget).

Brand Names are Better

Rather than an EMD, use a branded domain name for your website. Branded domain names are characterized by the use of a unique brand name rather than an otherwise common keyword. Examples of branded domain names include amazon.com, walmart.com, and ebay.com.

The use of a branded domain name isn’t a direct ranking signal, meaning search engines won’t reward your website with higher rankings simply for using one. Nonetheless, branded domains offer several SEO benefits over their EMD counterparts.

Visitors typically trust websites with a branded domain name more than those with an EMD.

After all, EMDs are associated with spam, whereas branded domain names are associated with legitimate businesses.

With a branded domain name, you’ll earn the trust and confidence of your website’s visitors, resulting in positive user engagement metrics that encourage higher search rankings.

Your website may attract more backlinks if it uses a branded domain name. Upon seeing its branded domain name, visitors will recognize your website as being a legitimate online business. If a visitor operates a website, blog, or social media profile, he or she may then link to your site.

A branded domain name allows search engines to track your website’s popularity more effectively. Even if a webmaster doesn’t link to your website, he or she may mention it using plain text.

With a branded domain name, search engines will associate each of these brand mentions with your website. With lots of brand mentions, search engines will perceive your website as being popular.

If your website uses an EMD, on the other hand, any online mentions of it will likely consist of common and generic keywords.

Domain Name Character Length

Don’t make the mistake of using too many characters in your website’s domain name. Generally speaking, the shorter your website’s domain name, the better. A study conducted by Gaebler found that the top 1 million websites, based on Alexa ranking, had an average of just 10 characters in their domain name.

For the top 1,000 websites, domain names were even shorter at just seven characters on average.

Shorter domain names are easier to remember than longer domain names. If your website’s domain name contains 20 or more characters, users may fail to remember it. And if a user forgets your website’s domain name, he or she won’t be able to visit it by typing the address in their web browser.

Combined with fewer backlinks, the lack of returning visitors caused by a long domain name may harm your website’s search rankings.

Avoid using hyphens

According to a study by Moz, keywords with one or more hyphens in their domain names are associated with lower search rankings. For example, compare the ranked keywords boating-supply and boating-supplies. The latter is likely to rank higher due to its lack of hyphens.

If, for whatever reason, you can’t avoid using hyphens in your website’s domain name, try to use as few of them as possible. If your website is named boating-supplystore, for example, removing one or more hyphens would instantly improve its search rankings.

Domain Extensions

When registering a domain name, you’ll have to choose an extension. Also known as a top-level domain (TLD), it proceeds your site’s domain name. Your website’s address will consist of a domain name, followed by a dot and then the extension.

There are currently over 1,500 domain extensions, some of which include .com, .net., .org, .info, .co and .us. In 2012, Google published a YouTube video in which search engine specialist Matt Cutts talked about domain extensions and whether they affect search rankings.

According to Cutts, Google’s algorithm doesn’t give preferential treatment to websites based on their domain extension.

With that said, most digital marketing experts agree that a website’s domain extension can indirectly affect its search rankings. The popular .com extension has become synonymous with business websites.

As a result, many internet users expect commercial websites to use it.

If you register your website’s domain name with a lesser-known extension, such as .info or .cc, users may forget the address. And if a user can’t remember your website’s address, he or she won’t be able to return or link to it.

Domain Age

The age of your website’s domain name may affect its search rankings.

For example, an online store that has ranked well in Google for several years will probably rank even better if it uses a domain name that is three to five years old. But keep in mind that this isn’t always the case; there are many other factors involved in determining your website’s search rankings.

The domain registration date is one of the most important indicators of a website’s age.

The older your domain name, the more trustworthy and established it will seem to online users. For example, if you use a freshly registered domain name for an eCommerce store, visitors may worry about its legitimacy and security. But using an older domain name will instantly add credibility to your website.

Backlinks are links that point to your website from other websites. They’re necessary for improving your website’s search rankings, as they signal Google that you’re highly relevant to the keywords entered into the search engine. If other websites link to yours, it will appear that you offer valuable content and services.

An important factor for determining your website’s natural link profile is the length of its domain name. As you probably know, links are under no obligation to point directly to a webpage. They can also point to an entire domain name, which is known as a root domain. According to Moz, shorter URLs tend to accumulate more backlinks than longer ones.

As such, you should strive for a shorter domain name to maximize your site’s natural link profile and improve its search rankings. For example, if your website is called Red Perfume Store, using red perfumes instead will help it rank better than perfucessence.com. 

Keep in mind that many websites use long domain names because they want to include their products’ features. If you’re planning on launching an eCommerce store, it’s probably best that the name of each product appears in your website’s URL.

Registration Length

It’s a common misconception that the registration length of a domain name influences the search rankings of the website with which it’s used.

Many webmasters believe search engines will rank their website higher if they register their domain name for a longer period than the standard of just one year.

Depending on which registrar you use, you may save money by registering your website’s domain name for five or more years, but it probably won’t improve your site’s search rankings.

If you’re on a budget, feel free to register your website’s domain name for just one year at a time. The registration length of a website’s domain name is not a ranking signal used by any major search engine.

To rank high on Google and Bing, you must use the right domain name. While not necessarily a direct ranking signal, your website’s domain name can affect its search rankings in several ways.

It affects the likelihood that users will remember your website, which in turn, affects the number of backlinks and the amount of traffic your site generates.

How and Where To Register

GoDaddy has been a long-standing favorite for registering domain names. It is, in fact, where I manage my domain names.

For those who want to save money along with getting a great domain name, you can also try lesser-known registrars like Namesilo and Name Cheap.

FAQ

What is a parked domain?

A parked domain is a domain name that has been registered but not yet put to use. Instead, webmasters often use them as “forwarders” or redirect to their main website address.

Do I need a domain for a website?

You need a domain name to make it live. The domain name is the web address that tells the internet where to direct your visitor to.

What is a domain extension?

An extension is the little “extract” that comes after the dot in a web address. Some examples are .org, .net, .edu, and .com.

What is a subdomain?

A subdomain is another type of domain name that is used in addition to an existing “main” website URL. For example, you may have the main site at ballenblogger.com, but use a subdomain like blog.ballenblogger.com for your separate blog website address.

How can I create my own domain?

You need to register your domain with any of the available top-level domain (TLD) providers like GoDaddy, or Namecheap.

What Do They Mean by Domain?

The domain is the complete address of a webpage, which usually starts with www and ends with .com. For example, this domain is BallenBlogger.com.

How do I check my backlink count?

SEMrush has a backlink checker tool that you can use to see the backlinks your website has. You can also use a free tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer for this purpose.

How do backlinks affect SEO rankings?

Backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors used by Google and other search engines. They are necessary for improving your website’s search rankings as they signal to Google that you’re highly relevant to the keywords entered into the search engine.

What is a TLD?

TLD stands for Top Level Domain name. It is the last part of a domain name. For example, .com is a TLD

Does registration length affect rankings?

The registration length of a domain name is not a ranking signal used by search engines.

How long do backlinks take to pass value?

It takes several months for backlinks to pass value.

What is a domain registration date?

A domain registration date or simply “registration date” is the exact day you registered your website’s domain name.

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Lori Ballen SEO

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