Yes, your choice of domain name can affect SEO.
However in most cases, it is probably less important than you think, the content on your site carries far more weight than the name of your site.
Spammy exact match domain names such as ‘bestapplepeelers.com’ should be avoided, but high-quality exact match domains such as ‘hotels.com’ which perfectly match the user intent and have a thorough and comprehensive content strategy can work very well.
What Is A Domain Name?
When we talk about a domain name we are specifically talking about the bit between the www. and the TLD (top-level domain; usually com, .co.uk or similar):
This, along with the top-level domain, is the part you will choose when setting up your website. It is the name that your website will be known by.
How Domain Choice Affects SEO
So does your domain name affect SEO? Yes, it does, but the impact of a domain name is less significant than most people think.
Content is far more important than any domain name.
If you owned bananas.com and wrote exclusively about apples, covering every apple-related topic and linking into one big apple hub page, then it is conceivable that bananas.com could rank top for ‘apples’.
However, if you owned apples.com the job would be quicker and somewhat easier.
Hotels.com Exact Match Domain Use
A good example of an exact match domain being used well is hotels.com
It’s an exact match domain for the keyword ‘hotels’ which it ranks top for in many countries.
The site is almost 30 years old and has been dominating the SERPs for a very long time.
It gets over 70 million visits a month (ahrefs data), regardless of any exact match domain penalties (more on this below).
This is because the site is packed full of highly relevant hotel content, when a user searches for ‘hotels’ they are searching for precisely what hotels.com is offering them.
Many spammy exact match domains, such as our example bestapplepeelers.com, trade off the domain name and don’t put the work into creating a comprehensive resource on all things apple peeler (or whatever your niche of choice is).
People Trust Exact Match Domains Less
Another thing worth bearing in mind is that while Google isn’t too concerned with your domain name people often are.
For example the domain bestapplepeelers.com can look spammy and untrustworthy to a user.
If someone is writing an article and they want to link to a trustworthy resource on apple peelers they are more likely to link to a branded domain like thespruceeats.com (currently ranking top for ‘best apple peelers’) than an exact match keyword domain which appears untrustworthy.
Over time you can lose a lot of potential links due to this which can contribute to website decay, or can even prevent your site from ever fully taking off.
A brandable domain is a domain that uses a name that is unique to your business.
It doesn’t have any keywords in it.
Examples of brandable domains include things like:
- Greenmrdean.com – a suitable brandable domain name for a gardener called Dean
- Contentcaterpillar.com – a suitable brandable domain name for a copywriting company
- Peterspeelers.com – a suitable brandable domain name for a company selling or reviewing peelers
They don’t have keywords stuffed in and the search terms “green mr dean”, “content caterpillar” * “peters peelers” don’t have people searching for them (you can use Google Ads Keyword Planner to check this).
It may seem like a bad idea to choose a name that no one searches for however this is not true.
Having a unique domain means that it is very easy to measure how brand awareness is growing.
You can use tools such as Google Search Console to see how searches for your brand name have grown over time.
If you use an exact match domain you have no idea if people are just searching for your exact match keyword more or if they specifically want to find your website.
Brandable domains also give your site more freedom to grow in the long term rather than confining your site to a small keyword-focused topic.
Should I Choose A Keyword Rich Domain?
There are pros and cons to using a keyword-rich domain, speaking from experience I would avoid using an exact match domain in most cases however there are some scenarios where it may be beneficial.
Pros Of A Keyword Rich Domain:
- Allows you to rank quicker for your domain keyword.
- Narrows the focus of your site – focusing your content tightly around one particular topic is a great way to build topical authority which will improve rankings.
- You will get exact match links more easily – when people are linking to your website they will naturally use your target keyword in their link.
Cons Of A Keyword Rich Domain:
- They limit the scope of your website – supposing your site grows to be successful and you’ve written everything there is to write about apple peelers having an exact match domain can make it difficult to expand into new topics.
- It’s impossible to know if anyone is directly searching for your website – checking keyword volumes for your domain name will show you how many people are searching for your exact match keyword, you will have no idea how many of those searches are for your domain.
- You may be penalised for exact match domain use – an exact-match domain can in some cases hold you back (see below).
- Many lower quality exact match/keyword-rich domains will target their exact match keyword on their homepage – this is less than ideal if you want to build an authority site.
The Google Exact Match Domain Update
In September 2012 Google released an update that was meant to reduce the number of low-quality exact-match domains in the search results.
Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) September 28, 2012
Pre-September 2012 it was very common to see exact match domains ranking for all manner of search terms.
For example, you may have searched for “low credit car finance” and found lowcreditcarfinance.com ranking top.
It is far less common now to see these sorts of domains ranking, particularly for keywords in competitive niches such as finance or health.
While exact match domains are very much still alive and kicking you see far fewer spammy exact match domains doing well long term.
SEO Best Practice For Choosing A Domain Name:
- Use a brandable domain name – brandable domains are generally deemed as being more trustworthy, they also make it far easier to measure organic brand growth over time.
- Keep it short – shorter domain names are easier to remember.
- Avoid numbers – numbers make the URL look spammy and are easy to forget.
- Avoid hyphens – hyphens can be confusing, for example, if you tell someone your domain name they may end up on the website without the hyphen in, people may also incorrectly link to the non-hyphenated site.
- Make it memorable – I like to use alliteration on a lot of my sites to make their name more memorable. For example keyboardkoala.com headphonehero.com etc.
- Don’t repeat letters – avoid having domains with repeated letters between words such as fishhelper.com or bossskis.com. This looks confusing and it can be easy for people to mistype it.
- Add a relevant keyword in your domain rather than making it exact match – if you’re keen on having some sort of keyword mention in your domain then rather than using an exact match keyword use a partial match, instead of bestapplepeelers.com go for something like peterspeelers.com.
- Use a trustworthy top level domain extension – such as .com, or a country-based one (I used.co because .co.uk wasn’t available…don’t copy me!).