The question, ‘What’s in a name?’ gets used in many contexts, but when we are discussing SEO, it normally refers to the domain name of a website. In particular, the biggest debate surrounds whether you should use one or more of your main keywords in your domain name.
Several years ago, the answer would have been a resounding ‘Yes’ because having an exact match keyword in a domain name carried a lot of weight in Google’s ranking algorithm. Where this caused a problem for Google was a plethora of websites, many of them spammy, springing up using exact match domains, getting a good ranking, but offering little else in terms of relative or quality content.
Google soon realised this was bringing the quality of their search results down, and so they acted. In 2012 their algorithm was altered so that the spammy sites we mentioned did not benefit from their keyword domain. This also impacted some sites that would be regarded as not spammy, and since then there has been some confusion about whether having a keyword or exact match domain helps or hinders.
There have been several case studies and lots of comprehensive SEO testing to establish whether keywords in domain names make any difference to ranking. Whilst there are some variances on the scale, it is generally agreed that it can be positive, but with several caveats.
The first of these is that the amount a keyword in a domain name will influence a website’s ranking is limited, especially when compared to other factors like backlinks. It could tip the balance if all other factors were equal compared to another website, but it is not going to jump you from the bottom to the top of page one on Google.
Other evidence from the research shows that merely having your top keyword phrase in your domain is of no use without other SEO factors being in place. This includes all the on-page and on-site optimisation that must take place on any website that the owner hopes to be ranked highly.
Near the top of these will be the content that appears on the website, and as we mentioned above, if your content is thin, poor, irrelevant or worse, all three, then no keyword domain will ever overcome the negative signals that this sends to Google.
If you do choose to have a keyword domain, there are some choices to be made with regards to the type of keyword or keywords you use. First and foremost, whichever keywords you choose, they must have some relevance to what your website is about. It may seem an obvious point, but with the number of websites which exist that don’t, it is worth stating.
The first type of keyword you might choose to have in your domain is your brand name. if you are focussed on getting that brand as much exposure and recognition as possible. If you use only the brand name and nothing else, it may take some time, as until it gets associated with a certain niche or industry, it is not going to be searched for, or ranked for, when searches are made that include related keywords.
An alternative to this is a brand name paired with one or two keywords that are highly relevant or searched for in high volumes. For example, if a dog grooming company was called ‘Mutt Cuts’, then a domain name along the lines of ‘muttcutsdoggrooming.com’ allows for both the brand and highly relative keywords.
The intention would be that Google would start to see the domain name, and therefore, the website, as relative to searches which include ‘dog grooming’. Again, this will happen only if other elements have been put in place, with the keyword domain adding to the SEO of the website.