Domain Names and Their Influence on SEO
Struggling with picking the perfect domain name?
Don’t worry you’re not alone! A common roadblock many new entrepreneurs face is picking a great name for their business.
But if you choose the wrong domain for your website, you could be in trouble. Tests show domain names do impact search engine optimization. But how? Is there a wrong way and a right way to choose a domain name to maximize SEO?
What Is a Domain Name?
While some people understand the technical details behind domains, others are unsure of what these are all about.
Think about a domain name as a street address for a house.
While a street address looks like this – 100 State Avenue – a domain appears as follows: www.testwebsite.com.
A domain consists of two parts:
- A top-level domain (TLD), such as .com, .org, and .net.
- The actual domain name, such as “testwebsite” in the example above.
While you probably realize just how big the online world has become, you may not realize that nearly 300 million domain names had been registered as of 2015.
With robust growth continuing, especially in underdeveloped areas of the world, you can expect this number to skyrocket over the next five years.
How Do Domain Names Work?
Now that you understand the basics of a domain name, it’s time to address a few related questions:
What is an IP Address?
Also known as an Internet Protocol address, this is a unique identifying string of numbers assigned to every network, server, and individual computer on the internet.
In short, it’s used to identify information online and allow for efficient communication between networks and devices.
Why is there a ‘www’ before my domain name?
Above, we talked about the actual domain name as well as the top-level domain. However, there’s another part of the domain you need to understand: the ‘www.”
This is known as a subdomain, and is not associated with the actual domain name.
It’s important to correctly setup your www CNAME. By doing so, your website will resolve when a visitor enters www.testwebsite.com and testwebsite.com into his or her browser.
What happens when somebody types in the domain name?
When someone enters a domain name into a web browser, the domain name is then used to find the associated IP address. As a result, the intended website is displayed.
Note: domain names, as opposed to IP addresses, are used because they are easier to remember than a long string of numbers.
Domain extensions affect SEO
But not in the way you think. As this survey by Moz stated, domain extension has a low effect on your SEO, the real impact of extensions can be found in conversions.
Domain extensions can help conversions
A persons perception about a website can depend on its domain extension. Some extensions are seen as spammy while others like .com hold the highest level of credibility. Though the .com debate can change depending where you live. Typically Americans give .com the highest level of credibility while somebody in the United Kingdom may lend more credibility to .co.uk.
People perceives differently a website depending on its domain extension. Some extensions can be seen as spammy ones whether others will be be considered as references or will be easier to remember. You should not underestimate people’s navigation habits.
What Domain Name Should You Choose?
Choosing a domain name is a lot like choosing a business name – it requires a bit of planning and forethought. Your domain name is the hub for your online activity and identify on the internet; you want to make sure your domain name works with your business and is simple to remember and advertise.
To maximize search engine-referred traffic, follow the steps below to help you pick the perfect domain name.
- Easy to Type: Avoid choosing a domain name that is complicated to type like del.icio.us.
- Short and Sweet: Short domain names are easier to remember, easier to share, and have a smaller chance of typos.
- Make is Keyword Rich: Using keywords with your products and services in your domain name helps target your traffic.
- Target Your Location: If you are a local business, try adding your location into your domain name.
- Avoid Hyphens: If mydomain.com is taken and you decide to order my-domain.com because it is available, there is a great chance you will end up getting people lost at mydomain.com.
- Avoid Numeral Spelling: Using numbers as letters just really do not work. Tell someone your site is “v3llum.com” and you are guaranteed confusion.
- Be Memorable: It is important that the name be easy to type into a browser.
- Research: Make sure you are not infringing on trademarks or copyrights.
- Extensions Matter: People still assume that .COM is the only possible choice, it’s the better option.
- Avoid Copyright Issues: This is just common sense really. If you go for a domain named “bestgoogletraffic.com,” let’s just say a wordy letter will be coming to your inbox.
Basic Domain Facts
Before you make your purchase, take some time to learn what a domain name is, how it works and who owns them.
A domain name is an identification string that defines a realm of administrative autonomy, authority or control within the Internet. – Wikipedia
Essentially the domain name translates the IP address into something we can brand and remember. Otherwise we would all have to type IP addresses into our browsers, which look like phone numbers.
Average Daily Sales
I can tell you that today, 25th of March 2015, 152,970,465 domains were bought, deleted or transferred according to dailychanges.com.
Top-level Domains (TLD)
The top-level domains (TLDs) such as com, net and org are the highest level of domain names of the Internet. Top-level domains form the DNS root zone of the hierarchical Domain Name System (Wikipedia).
- Generic top-level domains (gTLDs): Top-level domains with three or more characters. Include prominent domains com, info, net, edu, and org.
- Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs): Two-letter domains established for countries or territories.
- Sponsored top-level domains (sTLD): These domains are proposed and sponsored by private agencies or organizations. Examples include .realtor and .dental.
- Internationalized country code top-level domains (IDN ccTLD): ccTLDs in non-Latin character sets (e.g., Arabic or Chinese).
Learn About ICANN
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is a nonprofit organization that is responsible for the coordination of maintenance and methodology of several databases of unique identifiers related to the namespaces of the Internet, and ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation.
ICANN’s primary principles of operation have been described as helping preserve the operational stability of the Internet; to promote competition; to achieve broad representation of the global Internet community; and to develop policies appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based processes (Wikipedia).
Who Sell’s Domain Names?
Domain names are sold by Registrars who’s job is to provide domain registration service to other companies or individuals that would like to own a particular web address.
You will usually pay the domain name registrar a flat or monthly fee to keep the name registered, so that no other person is able to acquire the web address.
How Long Do You Own It?
You own your domain name for as long as you pay your registration fees. These fees are typically billed annually and range from $5 to $50 depending on your registrar.
If you do not pay your renewal fee then your domain name is re-released into circulation and available for anybody (including a competitor) to purchase.
Content is King
Despite the domain name you choose your website content is king. The tips below will help you select a domain name that can turbocharge your search engine placement but only in conjunction with good content.
At the end of the day if your website content does not make the cut then it does not matter how awesome your domain name is.
When you first begin your domain name search, it helps to have keywords or phrases in mind that best describe your business or audience.
Keyword research tools are a great help when deciding on a good domain name. Typically these are used for ppc campaigns but you can leverage them for domain research.
Once you have this list, you can start to pair them or add prefixes & suffixes to create good domain ideas. For example, if you’re a local business make sure to include the location in your url. Don’t forget that adding what you offer is a great way to open up domain name options and improve SEO.
Domain Name Structure Options
The right domain name can drastically accelerate your search engine placement and help to target your website traffic to your ideal customer. I group domain names into four different camps.
1. Branded Domain
A branded company would be somebody like Funnls. Typically your branding is at the forefront of the domain name acquisition. .
SEO Benefit: The name does not specifically give me an advantage in search engines for anything. This gives me a blank slate to craft the definition of the domain name for search engines. My website could be about funnel cake, oil funnels or marketing funnels. Its up to me to decide.
Downfall: With this option my content must define what my website is about without the aid of any keywords in my url.
2. Local Domain
A local business that focuses on serving a specific area with their product or service. Typically these are companies that have no desire of building business outside of a certain geographical area.
SEO Benefit: This domain name has the advantage of specifically target customers in Miami. While the content would have to describe what service Bob is selling…he does have the distinct advantage of letting search engines know his business is based in Miami.
Downfall: If Bob wanted to start targeting search traffic in cities outside of Miami or around the state it would be harder. Not only from a search engine point of view but from a branding point of view.
Having the city so predominantly displayed in his URL defines his business as being from Miami. This association could either benefit or hinder his marketability depending on the persons opinion of Miami.
3. Service Domain
This could also be a local or national company that wants to advertise their specific service to the local population in various cities simultaneously.
SEO Benefit: By highlighting the service that he offers Bob has opened himself up to advertising his products and services not just in Miami but in other cities as well. While the domain name helps market his products and services, Bob needs to define his service locations in the content of his website.
Downfall: Bob would not easily be able to rank for terms outside of his specific service of Pest Control. If Bob wanted to offer additional services like plumbing then he should use a Location or Branded domain name.
4. Local / Service Domain
This choice is a combination of #2 and #3 because it includes both a service definition and location definition of your business in the domain name.
SEO Benefit: This double whammy helps search engines more precisely define your business and location.
Downfall: Unless you live in a new or rural community often these domain names have been bought long ago. If you don’t mind having a lesser known domain extension the address could be available.
Check Your Spelling
Prior to Funnls my business name was In4mation Architects. The problem was architects is phonetically tricky for some people. This left room for a lot of potential spelling errors.
Please avoid the temptation of creating a completely off the wall spelling variation or a combining letters and numbers to sp3LL w0rd5.
Also make sure pluralizing or word combinations don’t give it the appearance of a duplicate meaning like my example: AmericansCrapMetal.com vs. AmericanScrapMetal.com.
Do Dashes Hurt SEO?
From an SEO point of view the dash does not hurt or help your chances of ranking. But it sure makes telling somebody your website or email awkward because you have to highlight the dash in any conversation. Try to avoid using dashes when possible, they look cheap and spammy.
Plural Forms of the Domain Name
If your domain name is not available its possible your registrar will recommend alternative versions of the name you entered. For example, if you were looking for pestcontrol.com, and it was taken (which it is), the registrar might recommend buying:
If you pick a pluralized version for your domain name you must remember that you need to highlight this on your marketing material.
Often times people will visit the non pluralized version of your domain name. I promote and market my business as Funnls vs. Funnl. This allows me to maintain brand consistency and condition people to naturally visit funnls.com.
What if .COM Isn’t Available?
From a purely functionality standpoint it does not matter if you have a .org, .net, .co or .services. Search engines will crawl and index all Top Level Domain Names the same way. But personal perception of your website might change by using a lesser known TLD.
The problem with choosing a non .com is a branding dilemma. Personally for Funnls, I am a stickler for consistency in branding. I would not have moved forward with anything until I had secured the .com. Luckily for me I was able to secure it.
From a local perspective if your competitor already has a locally targeted domain name with an active website, you could still build a presence on a lesser known TLD. But you could cause brand confusion for yourself and send traffic to your competitor because people tend to visit .com first.
For best results, avoid uncommon top-level domains (TLDs). Like hyphens, TLDs such as .info, .cc, .ws, and .name are spam indicators.
Finding a Domain Owner
If the domain name you are looking for is taken but there is no website presence you could try to reach out to the owner and purchase the domain name. A great tool for determining domain name ownership is www.who.is.
Downfall: The selling party already knows you are are interested in making a purchase. This could lead to an inflated value beyond your initial budget. But if you are interested then pick a budget and stick to it.
It’s possible you are the first person enquiring about the domain so the buyer might be anxious to take your offer.
Quick Tip: Prior to making contact make sure to purchase a backup domain. It’s possible your enquiry might lead the person to picking up similar domains.
Advantages of Buying Expired / Old Domain
Old and expired domains have a tendency of showing up in Google search results faster. Where cold start domains (new domains) take longer to start ranking. This is due to the historical credibility older domains have with search engines. With older domains you have the possibility of inheriting backlinks.
If you can find an old or expired domain that works with your target market and branding, it would be a good investment to pick it up. With a little bit of elbow grease (fresh content) I have seen results up to 4x faster than starting with a newly minted domain name.
International Domain Names
In the United Sates we recognize .com as the default domain name of choice. But in other countries this is not always the case. Surprisingly the most coveted domain names in foreign countries is the one associated with the residents cctld.
If are are attempting to purchase a domain name in a foreign country, and you are not a resident, you might find it difficult. Often foreign domain names require a local point of contact to complete the domain registration process.
A domain hack is a domain name that suggests a word, phrase, or name by incorporating the url extension. For example I purchased marketinghacke.rs for my side project called Marketing Hackers. Other examples of this are ma.tt and bestna.me. Other domain hacks include the now converted del.icio.us.
Problems with domain hacks revolve around the spelling of the web address. Unless the user is intimately accustomed to your brand they could have a difficult time remembering how to spell your website domain.
Where to Buy Domain Names
Determining where you are going to buy your domain name can be broken into three separate sub topics. The determining factor is if you are buying a fresh domain name off the shelf or a pre owned domain name that is expiring or at auction.
Many registrars like NameCheap, have the ability to offer you domains held at auction and unregistered domain names as well.
If you would like to search current domain auctions check out SnapNames.com. They offer a long list of available domain anmes that people are either selling at auction or lapsed renewals.
Quick Tip: Write down a few domain names that you want. List the possibilities and make a decision to buy even before you visit a registrar to check.
The Importance of Content
To recap what I said above, the best domain cannot overshadow shallow or weak content. Great content tied to a well thought out domain name can boost the speed at which your content and website ranks into search results.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to adapt your business to your domain name. Your domain name should be a natural extension of the products, services and branding of your company.
Avoid purchasing a domain name only to change it later down the road. Migrating to a new domain name from an established domain name has the potential of destroying your SEO if not done correctly.
Do you have any other questions about registering a domain name? Leave them in the comments below.