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Is the Domain Name Important for SEO?

Google factors in over 200 items into each search ranking and the domain name is only one of the factors. But how much does it affect the search engine results? We get asked this question a lot by clients who are working on finalizing their website domain names for a project. Selecting an appropriate domain name takes a great deal of thought and future planning. In this blog we will be taking a look at some of the SEO and non-SEO factors to keep in mind while selecting the perfect domain name for your business.

Is the Domain Name Important for SEO?

Back to the question at hand… How much does your domain name factor into SEO rankings? With all the changes in the 2011 Google Panda release this answer has changed over the last few years. Previous to the Google Panda update, the domain name of a website held a much bigger weight on the website’s SERP ranking. The change came about for two reasons: one, monster domain name holding companies decided to buy up millions of domain names and place low quality, place holding websites on the domain. Two, in an effort to increase their rank, directory lists and affiliate marketers were buying many domain names and placing low quality results on the domain.

does-domain-name-help-seoAlthough the weight given to domain name keywords has dropped post-panda, it is still holds some value. SEOMoz released their 2011 “Top Factors Effecting Search Results” based on a survey of 132 SEO marketers. In the results, the 132 SEO marketers gave “Domain Level Brand Metrics” roughly a 7% weight of the top 9 factors that Google uses to rank a website. Additionally, Nicholas Cardot of Site Sketch 101, ranks the domain name as the #5 of top 15 Google search result ranking factors (2011) explaining that sites with the keyword in the domain generally rank higher.

These findings show that even in a post-panda world there is still some weight given to the domain name of your website, but the future holds a different story. In the 132 person survey conducted by SEOMoz, nearly 2/3 of respondents predicted that “Exact Match Keywords in Domains” is the most likely going to decrease in importance.

It’s important that you remember that there are other things to consider when selecting a domain name above and beyond any impact on SEO. Here are some key questions to ask yourself when selecting a domain name:

  • Is it recognizable and memorable?
  • Does it help brand my business and give customers an association to who we are?
  • Is it limiting in any ways (geographically, future product/industry extension, etc.)?
  • Is it short, easily spelled and pronounced?

In a recent “White Board Friday” for PRO SEOmoz members, Rand of SEOMoz made an extremely good point that should be taken into consideration when selecting a domain. Using an exact match domain makes it very hard to build any type of branding for your business. There’s no brand recognition with a generic, exact match domain name and thus it’s difficult for customer’s to put your website and brand together. Additionally, because of the abuse exact match domains received over the years, many times exact match domains turn customers off of clicking because they are afraid it’s another low quality affiliate marketing or directory site.

My personal suggestion for selecting a domain name is to use your company’s name and branding in the domain. Keep it cleaver, memorable and short. Stick to dot com’s if possible/applicable. The general public hasn’t quite accepted more obscure domains name extensions. And as for SEO, get a good strategy for keyword use in search engine friendly URL’s and title & description metadata. Take some time to pick a domain that you can commit to using for the life of the business, after all website age is another important SEO factor.

  • What are your thoughts on selecting a domain name?
  • Which strategy do you prefer, exact keyword usage or company name / branding?

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