Synergy Between Domain Names & Keyword Based Search Engine Optimization Strategies

Jun 29th

SEO Question: Do domain names play a role in SEO? Do search engines understand that the words are in the URL even if they are ran together without hyphens in between them? What techniques are best for registering a domain name that search engines like Google will like?

Answer: Over time the role of the domain name as an SEO tool has changed, but currently I think they carry a lot of weight for the associated exact match search. Depending on how they are leveraged going forward they may or may not continue to be a strong signal of quality to search engines.

Domain Names & Link Anchor Text

When I first got in the SEO game a good domain name was valuable because if you got the exact keywords you wanted to rank for in your name it made it easier to get anchor text related to what you wanted to rank for. For example, being seobook.com made it easier for me to rank for seo book and seo.

That link still exists, but nowhere near as strongly or broadly as it once did.

The Fall of Anchor Text & the Rise of Filters

Anchor text as an SEO technique is no secret. To make up for the long ongoing abuse of it, Google started placing less weight on anchor text AND creating more aggressive filters that would filter out sites that have a link profile that looked too spammy with too many inbound links containing the exact same anchor text. If everyone who links to me uses seo book as the anchor text it is much harder to consistently rank for that term than it would be if there was a more natural mixture to it. A natural mix would have some of the following

  • Aaron Wall

  • Aaron Wall's blog
  • SEO Book blog
  • book about SEO
  • the SEO Book
  • seobook.com
  • www.seobook.com
  • Aaron Wall's Seo Book
  • etc

Natural link profiles also contain deep links to internal pages, whereas spammy sites tend to point almost all of their links at their home page.

Domain Names in Action

As Google started getting more aggressive at filtering anchor text, they started placing more weight on the domain name if the domain name exactly matched the keyword search query. They had to do this because they were filtering out too many brands for the search query attached to their brand. Some examples of how this works:

  • At one point, about 2 years back, SeoBook.com stopped ranking for seo book due to a wonky filter that also prevented Paypal for ranking for their own name for a little bit.

  • A friend recently 301 redirected an education site on a bad URL to a stronger domain name. The site's ranking for the exact phrase went from 100+ to top 20 in Google. But, it still is a long way from #1, and it still is at 100+ for the singular version. In competitive industries you need a lot of links to compete, and the redirect also caused the site to slip a bit for some of the other target keyword phrases that the site used to rank for.
  • When you launch a new site on a domain name like mykeywordphrase.com and get it a few trusted links it should almost immediately rank for mykeywordphrase. A friend launched a 3-word education site about a week ago. That site ranks #1 in Google right now for those keywords ran together. That site also just ranked #118 in Google for the phrase with the words spread apart. As the site ages and gets more links it should be easier to rank for that exact phrase (but that domain probably wouldn't help its rankings much for stuff like the root sub-phrase).
  • My domain name Search Engine History.com ranked better than it should have for the query search engine history when its only real signs of trust were age and domain name. It was nowhere in the rankings for just about any other query.

Things Will Change Over Time

A few other caveats worth noting

  • From my experience this exact match domain bonus works with all domain extensions (even .info), but that could change over time. And if the content isn't any good it is still going to be hard to get traction in any market worth developing content for. This exact match domain bonus also works well in local markets for regional domains like .ca.

  • This post is about the current market, and is highly focused on Google's relevancy algorithms (rather than other search engines). I expect the weight on domain names to be lowered significantly (especially for competitive queries) as Google moves toward incorporation more usage data into their relevancy algorithms. This is especially true if many domainers put up low quality to average quality websites on premium domain names. Moves like creating 100,000 keyword laden sites in one massive push (as Marchex recently did) don't bode well for the future of domain names as a signal of quality.
  • The search traffic trends are moving toward consolidating traffic onto the largest high authority sites, so it probably is not a good idea to have 100 deep niche domain names like OnlineHealthcareDegrees.org, OnlineNurseDegrees.net, OnlineNursingSchools.com, OnlineLawDegrees.com, OnlineParalegalDegrees.net etc when you can cover a lot of those topics with a singular broad domain like Online Degrees.org.
  • Any advantage exact match domains seem to have for ranking is much smaller for related phrases that do not exactly match the keyword string or phrases within the anchor text of most of the inbound links.
  • For local businesses a keyword matching domain might be a way around paying to list in all the regional directories and other related arbitrage plays.
  • Domains that use familiar language and sound credible also have a resonance that helps build trust, make the information seem more credible, easier to link at, easier to syndicate, and easier to do business with. It is hard to estimate the value of that since much of it is indirect, and few have measured the affect of domain name on linkability or clickability of a listing outside of paid search arbitrage.
Published: June 29, 2007

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Comments

Chris G
July 4, 2007 - 6:33pm

Aaron,

Thanks for the feedback re: Marchex. You make some good points. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Richard also raises some interesting points in questioning whether it's possible to automate local in this way:

"it's an interesting idea but I think it will fail. You can't automate local. How are these generic sites going to beat established sites like CitySearch and Digital City (AOL Local)? Those companies have dedicated editors for each city as well as partnerships to properly syndicate local content."

Chris

Hawaii SEO
June 29, 2007 - 10:28am

What about situations where the keywords are all there but in reverse order. For example: CamerasDigital.com or whatever? Would these domains work better with a hyphen? Cameras-Digital.com

Janusz
June 29, 2007 - 10:31am

Yeah. I was always wondering about hyphens as well. It is a sign that domain name is not that expensive and lower chance of having a good content on it so Google could count a less weight on it but it is just my speculation.

stu foster
June 29, 2007 - 10:49am

I buy keyword domain names for creating quick niche sites and they always rank quickly.

Number 1 in less than 24 hours was a standard assumption a while back but i think you are right in what you are saying.

My own methods are failing me slowly as Google home in on yet another loophole in their algo.

I have been penalised recently for anchor text so i can confirm what you are saying is definately happening right now.

Lea de Groot
June 29, 2007 - 12:14pm

Whether or not a hyphenated name works in the engines - have you ever tried giving someone the URL over the phone? Awful!
If its a Real Site, not just something spammy for the engines, avoid hyphens, citing the 'phone test'

steve
June 29, 2007 - 12:53pm

Will an exact match .us keyword do as well ranking wise, at the search engines as a .com

Matt L
June 29, 2007 - 2:38pm

Steve,

what comes after the "." doesn't matter in the search engines (unless we're talking about geographic-based extensions), but it would matter for your branding.

It will take much more money to brand a site with a .us extension because most people automatically think of .com when they type in a site, and much of your marketing efforts will be siphoned off by those who have the more-known extensions. I can't think of one site offhand with a .us. The same applies for other extensions like .info, etc. Of course a .com is exceptionally hard to get, so sometimes you have to drop down the ladder to a .org, .net, etc.

On the other hand, if you have an already-established offline brand your decisions are more limited. If your name is trademarked, you can always try to use legal options to wrangle the domain away. You can also use a slight variation on the name.

David Kubicka
June 29, 2007 - 7:11pm

How about del.icio.us? That ranks right?

I still default to using keyword laden domains for new or young sites as I have definitely seen how much easier it is to get ranked in the short term. But something like del.icio.us is a branded image domain. What does the word Google have to do with search, or myspace with community site, or monster have to do with finding jobs?

They are all branded business concepts, and are far more catchy than myfavoritesearchengine.com. If search is moving towards larger authority sites, keyword domains will definitely lose influence, simply because legitimate businesses so rarely name themselves using keyword search terms, if ever.

Aaron's domain seobook.com is a good balance between brand and keyword. I doubt people are searching for "seo book" unless they already had heard the name. But the domain gives something noteworthy for others because it stays in your head.

Hamlet Batista
June 29, 2007 - 9:43pm

I still prefer to have an easy to remember and brandable domain name. Even if I lose some SEO edge.

Kimber Cook
June 30, 2007 - 12:32am

I agree with Hamlet, I prefer my domains to have a catchy brand name rather than a generic keyword domain.

Though brandable, memorable AND keyword rich would be optimal, but that's where it gets tricky.

Mack
June 30, 2007 - 12:35am

David Kubicka
I think you were trying to make a point with the search term "seo book", but thats how I found this site. True to the knowledge I had very very little knowledge of SEO itself. As a matter of fact all I possessed at the time was SEO meant Search Engine Optimization. :)

I have a site with a hyphen in the title that ranks very well. I am currently trying to acquire the .com version without the hyphen. Why?

1st. Because my domain is co.uk at the moment with not as many US visits as I would like.

2nd. Just because I want it

Chris G
June 30, 2007 - 1:34am

Hi Aaron,

I'd like to suggest you do a post expanding on the Marchex developments and how Google might react to this. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, as I thought what Marchex is doing is interesting.

fyi ...
http://techdirt.com/articles/20070627/112254.shtml

Chris

June 30, 2007 - 2:52am

Hi Chris
Their monetization is semi-automated, perhaps almost entirely automated...they use a technology called Openlist to gather relevant content from across the web or other local data partnerships, and then wrap the contents in ads, while collecting user feedback as content.

Of course the format will change over time, but think of the web as being a whole bunch of eHow / WeHow / Yahoo! Answers / etc. on niche domain names.

Off the start a large percent of the content might be scraped from trused sources, organized, and distributed on relevant domain names is a way that provides adequate signal to noise ratio.

Over time as they collect more user feedback and expand the value of their sites perhaps they might also look for ways to integrate the ads more aggressively.

What I would be concerned with is thinking that even if the sites were good enough to get indexed now I don't think the end goal is what Google would want to support.

Where possible, Google would rather show Google Local or Google Base information, or send the local traffic to the same sites and companies that Marchex scraped the content from or brokered the content deals from.

If what Marchex is doing was of value and proved to be useful, Google has more capital than they do, so Google could just go direct and do the same deals, then send that traffic to Google Local. Google already allows people to leave feedback directly on Google Maps.

Richard Ball
June 30, 2007 - 4:33am

Regarding Marchex, it's an interesting idea but I think it will fail. You can't automate local. How are these generic sites going to beat established sites like CitySearch and Digital City (AOL Local)? Those companies have dedicated editors for each city as well as partnerships to properly syndicate local content.

How is a scraper going to beat these kinds of sites? No, I think Marchex would be better off parking their generic domains. It's an "all or nothing" proposition. Either build real location-specific sites with unique content or have zero content and just ads (which in theory should be relevant).

I'd be curious what Matt McGee thinks of the Marchex effort. ;-)

Mike
June 30, 2007 - 6:45am

domain names carries sooo much weight. (too much weight)

Take a look at "image hosting"

Guess who is rank #1? Not imageshack.us, not flickr, not photobucket. I used to rank #2 (imagehosting.us) for "image hosting"

If Aaron had a different domain for the SEOBook, he "probably" would not have #1 ranking for "SEO Book" Maybe or maybe not. That is how important domain name is to SEO.

steven emery
June 30, 2007 - 7:41am

Strategic Keyphrase Location Based Top Level Properties are PriceLess.

Your Company is judged by your domain. dashes hyphens only weakens your credibility. Imagine using a .us youll always be looking up at the stars and wondering how many people are going to the most credible domain. or if that .com address is receiving your email by default. .com is on the Iphone as a instant icon for linking without typing in the .com. A premium vertical Dot com represents prestige and that you will most likely be around for a long time to com.. Not some late in the game flash in the pan-handler.

When business.com sells for 300-400 million and dowjones or nytimes starts a whole new site what is at the core of what they are paying for. We will soon see portfolios of domains sell for billions of dollars. On your marks get set. Game over for most.

August 31, 2007 - 4:19am

Hi Hawaii SEO
I have found that it doesn't really factor in if the words are backwards.

As to the other questions, I think it works across .us as well as other extensions, but does not work if the domain name has hyphens in it.

Jon Dale
July 1, 2007 - 10:57am

"From my experience this exact match domain bonus works with all domain extensions (even .info), but that could change over time. This exact match domain bonus also works well in local markets for regional domains like .ca".
Yes, but there is a strange Google penalty at work when it comes to sites with a co.uk domain. Searches at Google.co.uk using the "pages from UK" option return fewer results for a co.uk site than searches using "the web" option. It's the exact opposite of what you'd expect, but it's what happens.

Shubhankar Basu
July 2, 2007 - 11:18am

hi everyone
domain names are very important if you are targeting a particular service or a product.. and its a gold mine if u can get what u want as a excact keyword matching domain... but i feel it should not totally a key word domain with out an value or meaning.. for example say " travelbhutantour.com" this will come on top no doubt but todays surfers are smart people and dont like domains which are to get on top on google..

i personally have many sites online which are number 1 on google and i make good money out of them but i also make sure that my content is rich and iam selling what iam writing on my domain and not taking people on a ride..

also i feel that google adwords is a excent tool if used wisely and smartly.

also i will like to add that i uploaded my site on 18 june.. got it indexed by 24th june and started gettting queries by 26th ! :)

cheers people i hope i help..

basu

May 19, 2009 - 2:07am

It has been my experience that having the the keywords in reverse order for an exact match keyword domain will still give some benefit but not near as much as the exact match keyword domain where the words are in the logical order.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that if a domain "just doesn't look right" in the eyes of a user then they often won't click through so be mindful of that when looking at domains with alternate order keywords.

As far as hyphens go: I would say that IMO exact match keyword domains without hyphens are worth easily 10X their dashed counterparts. If you want to find dashless exact match keyword domains then try out this free tool that uses real time data from Google to help find these kind of exact match keyword domains: http://www.domainsuperstar.com/domain-finder-tools/type-in-traffic-finder

May 19, 2009 - 2:09am

Another downside to having a domain with dashes is that it can be hard for visitors wanting to return to your site to remember where exactly the dashes are. It is easy to lose repeat traffic to the dashless domain counterpart if you have a dashed domain.

September 27, 2007 - 3:26pm

I have a client that has an extablished domain 2 years. The domain was never submitted to google and nobody linked to it so page rank is 0.

My question is should I promote hotelname.com or should I register hotelnameparis.com to target "hotel paris".

2nd question, will there be any problems using both. Use the easy one for documentation and emails and use the keyword one for links?

October 22, 2007 - 7:32pm

In most cases I would recommend using the shorter of the two in offline marketing, while ensuring it 301 redirects to the other one if I decided to use both names.

As far as which is better, it really depends on if you think you might extend your hotel chain and if you would intend on extending it into different countries.

Typically each domain should be set up to target one language and one country. Additional countries and languages should either be new domains or subdomains.

May 30, 2009 - 4:44pm

I have a keyword rich site with in two week i got yo to the first first page on the google.

for $10.99 for one year its not bad.

site name is silverjewelryfactory.net
type silver jewelry factory on google you can see my listing on the first page.

i get like 200 hits a months.

so by all means if you can get keyword rich domain name get it if its .net or .us ect... it helps in taffic.

Thanks.

May 30, 2009 - 4:47pm

make sure the new domain name is configured properly on your server and iis...

the new domain name cant be a redirect,
goodgle is very particular on this...

and try to have all the shopping cart all the information
below that new keyword rich domain name

please dont put a static site then there will be ranking...

I learnt it by practical way

reg
Rafi

November 8, 2009 - 4:17am

I have a question that I probably already know the answer to. My question is, if I have a good content site but I am hanging around in the middle of the first page for a certain keyword phrase. Could I go get an exact match keyword domain and then just forward it somehow to my main site?

The reason I ask is because I am currently ranking #4 on a specific keyword phrase. I was actually at #1 for a short time. Then out of no where, some crap site shows up above me, with absolutely no valuable content, I think 2 or 3 content pages that look like they went through a spinner they were written so bad. No PR at all (I have a PR 2 site) Also the alexa rank on the site is about 1.6 million (mine is about 175K). The first post on this site was made less than a month ago.

Basically some one just grabbed exactkeywordphrase.com spent about 5 minutes throwing crap content on it and is now #3 of that phrase.

Can I get exactkeyword.us or something and redirect to my good site that is already ranking number 5?

onlinedegrees
January 28, 2013 - 1:00am

I have to disagree with the above post about not having niche websites. For years yes having niche was great (keyword.com, etc.). I know having a larger more site with authority is good but I would also have many niche websites instead of putting all your eggs in 1 basket. I've seen tons of sites get hit in 2012 and why would you risk that. We have a site online-degree-programs.com that once was a big site and now we took it down to focus on just online degrees. I think this is better than us having 1000's of pages that focus on everything education related.

January 30, 2013 - 6:14pm

...with your spamming efforts. however, you won't be getting links from us. your comment has been delinked & your account has been banned.

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