When you create a website, one of the first things you start with is a good domain name. Some businesses don’t hesitate to simply use the company name or a branded term. Others make sure to strategically include a keyword or two in the domain name.
At one point in our SEO history, using keywords in a domain seemed like a great SEO strategy. After all, what’s more important for relevancy than including the exact terms you’d like to rank for directly in the domain name, right?
Well, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller had a different take on the matter during a recent Webmaster Central hangout session.
Keywords in Domain Names - It’s Tougher to Rank Than You Think
John started the discussion by stating that using a keyword in your domain name can be a sound SEO strategy. But there’s a catch.
Keyword Domains Come With a Lot of Competition
Using keywords in domains is an old school SEO tactic that just about everyone knows. Aside from competitors who already use those terms in their domain, other unique domains may have years of optimization already built into their domain. In other words, some keywords already have inherited competition so trying to get a keyword rich domain to rank can be an uphill battle.
SEO Sidebar: Keywords in Domain Perspective
Keep in mind that Google has over 200 ranking factors and shows results they believe are the most relevant to users. Over the past few years, keywords in domains have become less of an SEO advantage due to the amount of competition. However, if we ever came across an older domain that contains keywords, has a good link profile and receives organic traffic, we wouldn’t pass it up.
Real Life Example of Choosing Branded Terms Over Keywords
Back when we were looking for a company name and associated domain, we contemplated the idea of incorporating some keywords such as “Austin” and “SEO.” However, many other local SEO companies were already using this approach. Plus, we believed that there were other SEO tactics that played a much bigger factor in winning rankings.
Instead, we went with a brand name that had little to no results in Google, SearchRPM. And guess who shows up first when you search for SearchRPM? We do! Ranking for our brand name was a small but pivotal victory in search.
Had we gone with a domain name like, TheBestAustinSEOCompany(dot com), who knows how long it would’ve taken for us to rank for our brand name. If anyone searched for “Best Austin SEO Company,” I’m sure we would’ve gone head to head with some established players.
Some people also worry that including keywords in a domain name could get a site flagged. This is due to the idea that when people link to a website, they often use the domain name as the anchor text. The concern is looking spammy to Google, especially if many people are linking to the site using the domain name.
Using our situation above, had we went with the keyword rich domain, it’s very likely that publishers would link to us using “Best Austin SEO Company,” as their anchor text. The last thing you want Google to think is that you’re trying to manipulate rankings in your favor by using keyword rich anchor text across the web.
According to John Mueller, as long as your links look natural they shouldn’t be a problem. Natural links with the domain name in the anchor can still help your site rank for those keywords, however it still might not outweigh the competition for top rankings.
Keyword Domains Can Pigeon Hole a Brand
John also made another good point. Using a domain name simply because it has good keywords can pigeon hole the business. It’s easier to expand and move in different directions when the domain isn’t built around a few specific keywords or phrases.
The safer bet for a business that wants to rank for their domain name as well as a wide variety of keywords is to go with a branded domain. John’s general sentiment was, “be your brand, not your keywords.”
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