Is Domain Name a Google Ranking Factor?
If you are thinking about launching your own website, you probably have a possible domain name. You also may have come across a suggestion that using an exact match domain will help your site rank high on Google. An exact match domain (EMD) usually contains the keywords of the services or products you’re offering and oftentimes includes your location. EMDs typically contain the keywords the target audience will search for when they need a product or service. For example, “www.genderneutralkidstoys.com”, “bestgadgetdeals.com”, and “bestlosangelesrealtor.com” are all EMDs containing the possible keywords shoppers will use. But is exact match domain a Google ranking factor in 2021?
According to Google, The Answer is No
If you time-traveled back to the years before 2012, the answer to the question is yes. Domain names used to be a ranking factor on search engines and using an exact match domain was the best thing you could do for your website when launching. But things started to change in 2011 when Matt Cutts addressed the debate about whether domain names can impact Google ranking in a Webmaster Hangout. According to Cutts, Google realized that they were giving too much power to keywords in domain names.
“Now if you’re still on the fence, let me just give you a bit of color, that we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains, and some people have complained that we’re giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains. And so we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn’t necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”
Later in 2012, Matt Cutts shared a tweet that using an exact match domain incorrectly will affect rankings adversely.
Should I Change My Domain Name?
There’s no need for you to change a domain’s name that you’ve been using for years, have built your brand with and that is working for you just because it’s no longer trendy. Except if the domain is not giving you your desired results.
But for a company that has been using an exact match domain for years, you have built your reputation and traffic around the name, it would not make sense to change it now. Instead, put more effort into your SEO strategies by creating better quality content, capitalizing on referral links, optimizing your website for mobile, etc.
On the other hand, if you are a new company and have only been using an exact match domain for a few months or years, it might be better to switch to a domain that conveys your brand better. A professional name that represents your brand rather than mere keywords will remain relevant even when you expand your operations in the future. Hence, if you think your domain name may limit your brand in the long run, it is better to change it now.
Do Domain Names Matter At All?
Before 2012, using an exact match domain was like using a cheat code to reap SEO benefits on search engine results pages. But now in 2021, your domain does not matter for boosting search rankings. Google Algorithm has come a long way, and it now prioritizes factors such as quality content, mobile responsiveness, loading speed, all over keywords in domain names. Additionally, Google Algorithm has about 200 factors for ranking websites, and domain name is only one factor out of them.
However, domain names still matter. A good name will inform people of what your brand is about and present your brand as professional.
Here are some of the things to consider when choosing a new domain name or switching names.
Your Domain Name Should Represent Your Brand
We’ve established that using an exact match domain name may not impact your rankings but imagine using “backpacktravels.com” as your domain name when you are in the fashion business. The domain name suggests that the website is about low-budget travelers and backpack nomads and not about fashion.
A good domain name can contain a relevant keyword that conveys the brand of the website, relates to the specific niche, or the location even. For example, petespastries.com suggests that the website is in the business of making and selling pastries. In this case, it doesn’t matter whether the domain name contributes to rankings. What matters is that buyers will be more interested in ordering pastries from petespastries.com than a vague domain name such as superb.com.
Keep Your Domain Name Short
Quality domain names are usually short, limiting the word to two or three at most. It is easier for people to remember short and catchy domain names. This is one of the reasons why exact match domains may not be effective for gaining loyal customers. It is easier for customers to remember petespastries.com than remember tastiestpastriesinlondon.com even though they entered “tastiest pastries in London” into the search engine.
A domain name might seem perfect because it captures everything your brand stands for but don’t hesitate to drop it if it is too long.
Avoid Using A Previously Registered Domain Name
Whether you’re choosing a domain for the first time or changing your domain name to a better one, the process of choosing a name can be tiring. So tiring that some people end up choosing a previously registered domain name. A previously registered domain is not an automatically bad choice. But why you should avoid such domains is because of the way the domain name was used by the previous owner.
Spammers often register domain names to use recklessly, violating Google rules until Google penalizes the domain name. They drop the domain name when it gets red-flagged, leaving it inactive until the registration elapses. The problem is that these domain names usually never rank high and will mostly remain on the second or third page of SERPs no matter how much SEO effort you are putting into getting the domain name to rank. As a result, it is better to avoid previously registered domain names altogether.
Keyword optimization is not all that matters for ranking high on search engines. Invest more time and resources in other SEO practices for boosting your rankings.