Beginner's SEO

Do domain names actually matter for SEO?

Written by

Haley Carroll

Last updated:

February 15, 2021

Your domain name is one of the first things users notice about your website, so it’s important to make a good first impression. But when focusing on improving your site’s SEO, consider how search engines view your website and how the different aspects of your site affect your ranking on search engine result pages.

So the question is, do search engines notice your domain name? Will your domain name have an effect on how search engines will index and rank your site? If so, how important is your domain name for SEO?

Before we get into that, we must first understand what a domain name is and how it fits into the broader domain structure.

What is domain structure?

Domain structure dictates how internet addresses are composed. Domains are made up of a subdomain and a root domain. Within the root domain is the domain name (also called IP address) and the top level domain, which is sometimes referred to as the extension or domain suffix. The image below illustrates domain structure. Let’s break down each of these sections.

Subdomains are the first section of the domain, separated from the root domain by a period. The most commonly used subdomain is “www.” or to have no subdomain at all. However, you can also choose to create multiple subdomains for one root domain for no additional cost.

For example, here are a few subdomains that could be created for the root domain, cheeselovers.com:

  • blog.cheeselovers.com
  • shop.cheeselovers.com

Something to note: when creating multiple subdomains, take care to avoid canonicalization errors.

The root domain comes after the subdomain, and it is considered the top of your website’s hierarchy. The root domain is most likely the website’s homepage, and all other pages’ URLs will be built off it. In order to be considered part of your website, each page’s URL must contain the same root domain.

A few examples of root domains are:

  • cheeselovers.com
  • bookclub.org
  • meetfriends.net

Websites must each have their own unique root domain.

Domain names are the first part of the root domain. They are unique to every website and must be purchased from a registrar. Domain names are how users get a feel for what the website is about, or how they recognize what business/brand the website represents.

Lastly, there is the top level domain (TLD). This is the latter portion of the root domain, coming after the domain name and a period.

Some examples of top level domains that we have already seen are:

  • .com
  • .io
  • .org
  • .net

This is just a small sample of the different TLDs a website can have; there are over 1000 TLDs available to choose from.

Is .com best for SEO?

Although there are many options out there, it is usually better to go with .com and other widely recognized TLDs. Users will be more comfortable and likely to visit a site if it has a TLD they are familiar with, thus meaning a .com or similar TLD will receive more traffic to the site.

However, it sometimes happens that the domain name you wish to purchase is not available with a .com or similar TLD. If you absolutely need to have that domain name, either because it’s your business name, your own name, or otherwise important to you, then opt for a less-common TLD. The most important part of the domain is the name, after all.

Now that we understand domain structure, we can narrow in on domain names and see just how much they affect SEO.

Do domain names affect SEO?

It turns out that domain names do matter for SEO, though they aren’t the end-all be-all as some people used to believe.

A number of years ago, people with otherwise weak websites used to be able to rank with Exact Match Domains, meaning the domain name would be a match to the user’s search query. An example of an exact match domain would be affordableswimsuitstobuy.com

Google was able to put a stop to this practice by lowering the importance of keyword matching in domain names. However, this doesn’t mean that your domain name isn’t important to your SEO strategy.

Choosing the right domain name can help you improve your search engine placement and reach your target audience. This can be accomplished through a domain name that tells people what the website is about and what it offers in a memorable way, making people recognize your brand name and helping your website stand out among the other search results.

So how can you create a domain name that’s optimized for SEO? Let’s examine some strategies.

How to choose a domain name

If you already have a business name, you should use it as your domain name as well. The point of your website is to build a presence for your business online, so users should be able to easily connect the website to your business.

If you don’t already have a name for your business, here are some options you can consider when choosing your domain name.

Brand domains

Both users and Google both resonate with brands, so having a domain name that is a brand can pay off in SEO benefits. Brands are easier to remember and recognize, and so a brand name can help your website build a positive reputation and trust among users faster.

For an example, let’s look at Etsy.com. Although the word “Etsy” doesn’t give anything away about what the website is about, that domain name has a much better ring to it than buy-and-sell-homemade-crafts.com. Etsy has become such a well-known name that most people will know what the website is about, even without hints from the domain name.

Building a brand is not easy and it certainly takes time. However, it is also extremely rewarding.

If you want to make sure that your domain name reaches and resonates with your target customers, here are some other strategies you can try.

Local domains

If your business is located in a certain area, you can put the name of the city/town/area into the domain name. This will help users searching for businesses in that area find yours. Keep in mind that if you want to expand your business to more places than that one area, having a local domain will not be as helpful.

Service domains

If your business performs a specific service or type of service and you especially want to rank in search queries for that service, you can include it in your domain name. Similar to local domains, it becomes difficult if you decide to expand your business later on. If you start offering other kinds of services, it won’t be as easy to rank for those as well.

You can combine these two domain name types to create a local service domain, which will help you rank for users looking for a specific service in a certain geographical area.

SEO best practices for domain names

With almost limitless possibilities for your domain name (besides all the domain names that are already taken), it can seem impossible to narrow in on the right one. However, here are some simple tips to keep in mind while choosing the right name for your website:

  • Make it memorable. You want users to be able to recognize your website among the thousands of search results.
  • Make it easy to read. Although a long domain name won’t hurt you, cramming a bunch of words together into a single name may make it difficult for some users to discern the domain name. Adding in hyphens for readability isn’t recommended either; it makes the domain name appear scammy and untrustworthy.
  • Make it relevant and authoritative. You want your domain name to relate to your business in some way, and for the URLs of your website to be easy to read and trustworthy.

Conclusion

Above all, your domain name should represent you and the image of your business that you want to convey online. It is true that domain names affect SEO, but you should use your domain name to build the brand that speaks to your target audience.

Whether that means using a unique name that doesn’t reveal the nature of the business clearly, or a local service domain that is direct in its meaning, the choice is yours. It’s great if your brand name has a story, but not every website needs one.

When in doubt, keep it simple and go with your gut. For more information about how you can improve your website for SEO, check out our other blog articles.



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