What’s in a domain name? When it comes to SEO, it might be much more than you think.
Your domain name identifies who you are, what services you provide, and how you appear in the marketplace. Depending on what you choose to register, your online presence could appear more or less friendly to curious human visitors.
Today, global competition for ranking a good domain is increasingly competitive: worldwide expenditures for SEO jumped to $80 billion in 2021. Ranking highly for SEO matters more than ever, especially when it comes to your domain name.
Domain SEO impacts almost everything published on your websites—your content, your landing pages, and even your products. Understanding exactly how your domain name affects page rankings and web traffic is critical to the success of your brand.
Let’s explore the basics of domain SEO, starting with its actual definition.
Table of Contents
- What is domain SEO?
- Does domain name matter for SEO?
- Steps for picking an SEO-friendly domain name
- Performing a competitor domain name SEO analysis
- How to improve your domain name SEO
- SEO-friendly domain name examples
- Do I need to change my domain name for SEO?
- Domain SEO tools for creating a winning strategy
- Domain SEO FAQ
What is domain SEO?
Domain SEO is the practice of optimizing owned domains to make them more accessible to human visitors and search engines. It involves picking a simple phrase, an optional subdomain, and a top level domain (TLD) to create the perfect web identity.
Contrary to popular belief, domain SEO is different from webpage or URL SEO:
- Webpage SEO involves optimizing your digital web content, including copy, images, and associated buttons.
- URL SEO focuses on optimizing title tags, link anchor text, and elements of the actual web address.
- Domain SEO only strives to optimize the name of your registered domain.
It’s best to use domain name SEO as a complementary strategy with other optimization efforts, including on-page, off-page, and technical approaches. The more time you spend creating a streamlined, polished domain name, the easier it will be to advance other SEO strategies.
Does domain name matter for SEO?
A domain name's length, keywords, and extension are critical components of an SEO strategy. A trustworthy, focused, and simple domain name will get more traffic and interest from people and search engines.
You might be tempted to assume that domain names are less important than other elements of SEO. However, take, for example, www.cheap-discounted-jeans.net or freeshippingforlife.biz. Neither of these domains inspires much confidence.
In fact, you might be more likely to view these addresses as scams simply because of their names. Customers are extremely aware of this, and so are search engines.
Steps for picking an SEO-friendly domain name
The best way to choose your next SEO domain name is to be mindful of keywords, to consider shorter lengths, and to focus on simple or abbreviated terms. While you might not find yourself on the front page of Google overnight, you will be grounding your domain in best practices right from the get-go—and reaping plentiful rewards as a result.
Below are four actionable tips for choosing a domain name that is optimized for search engines.
Choose the right keywords
The importance of using keywords in a domain has varied over the years. It was once a mainstay of search indexing on sites like Google and used by hundreds of thousands of ecommerce brands throughout the early 2000s. Today, keywords continue to play a part in domain SEO—albeit in an abbreviated context.
These days, domains don’t need keywords spelled out in their names to see search engine boosts. However, it’s not always a bad idea to throw in a concept or two to provide clarity around your brand.
Luxury fashion brand Giulio Fashion leverages a keyword in its domain name, giuliofashion.com, without appearing spammy or awkward. The company Giulio is complemented well by the addition of “Fashion,” setting expectations and helping searchers find what they’re looking for. Sabo Skirt (saboskirt.com) is another example of a brand adding keywords to help boost relevance.
Keep in mind that a great domain name doesn’t need to be wholly focused on keywords. Try to choose a domain name with just one or two keywords, or encapsulate the idea of your brand with a short acronym.
Opt for a short domain name
The actual length of your domain name does not affect its standing on search engines, particularly Google. However, it can and will have a significant impact on customer memorability.
Research indicates that the average domain length is just 13 characters long. For the world’s 500 most popular websites, this average drops to just seven characters.In either case, consider creating a domain name that holds its own without overwhelming your audience. Remember: the shorter a domain name is, the more valuable it will be.
Strive for domain name simplicity
Wharton’s Dean of Entrepreneurship, Karl Ulrich, performed an intensive research study that measured the empirical evidence of online domains, including their performance in the marketplace. The research found that simple and straightforward naming schemes were the most efficient:
- There is a 2% reduction in traffic for every domain name character past the seventh.
- Less complicated addresses without hyphens avoid traffic penalties.
- The repetition of vowel sounds and consonant sounds correspond to a worse rank.
The takeaway for entrepreneurs? The simpler your domain name is, the better it will perform.
Pick a trustworthy domain extensionThere’s no question that the .com TLD is perhaps the most coveted extension of all. It’s currently the most trusted domain extension in the world, and 33% more memorable than any other TLD. While the use of .com itself won’t provide any search engine boosts, it will prove your trustworthiness to customers—bringing your rankings up organically.
Not all is lost if you don’t have access to a .com domain. Extensions such as .co continue to gather audience trust, as does .us and .net. According to this study by Growth Badger, you may want to avoid any generic top-level domain (gTLD) that was released after 2015, including .frogans, .moda, .olayan, and other less recognizable terms in the marketplace.
Performing a competitor domain name SEO analysis
Before you purchase an SEO-friendly domain name, you may want to check on the domains used by your largest competitors. A competitor domain name analysis allows you to better understand your rival domains’ position, ranking, and perception in the marketplace. The analysis can be used to help inform your decisions before making a domain name purchase.
Unlike site audits or content evaluations, all you need to perform a competitor domain name SEO analysis is a set of simple questions. Asking these questions will allow you to work through competitor decisions for domain naming and understand how it has potentially impacted their online rankings. You can use these insights to choose domain keywords, phrases, gTLDs, and lengths that are even better than those used by competitors.
- How simple and brandable is the domain name? Is it less than 14 characters max?
- Consider the uniqueness of the domain. Does the company own all domains with similar gTLDs to protect against imposters (e.g., swimsuit.com, swimsuit.net, swimsuit.biz)?
- Is the domain authoritative? How does it line up with their branding?
The more information you glean from your competitors’ domain SEO, the better decisions you can make about the domain name you choose to purchase.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of checking competitor metrics on your own, platforms like Moz.com can provide a comprehensive analysis that ranks domains based on keywords, spam, and more. This is a good place to start if you have a large number of competitors to sift through.
How to improve your domain name SEO
Understanding the elements that improve your domain’s SEO status will help you build a winning strategy. Once you have purchased a domain name, you’ll want to continuously improve your factors for search engine optimization.
The best way to improve your purchased domain name’s SEO is by focusing on creating value, building backlinks, and creating positive experiences with good branding.
Create valuable content
Content is one of the most valuable things you can publish on a domain. Highly researched and informative content is an excellent method of increasing your authority in the marketplace, and will help increase your web traffic.
Start by creating SEO friendly web pages, landing pages, and blog pages. Be sure to add value in every piece of writing you produce, and never rely on plagiarism or black-hat techniques to speed up your content production.
Other examples of content you could publish on your domains include:
- Case studies
- White papers
- Yearly reports
- Statistic round-ups
Not only will this content provide evergreen SEO value to your domain, but it also has the potential to generate organic backlinks as well.
Source domain backlinks
Backlinks are third-party hyperlinks that connect to your domain via secondary websites. These are important for two reasons: they drive traffic from one site to another (yours), and they help to prove your brand’s relevance and authority among other competitors. According to a recent study, 91% of online pages without domain backlinks receive zero organic search traffic.
The best way to source backlinks for your domain is to become an authority in your niche. Creating actionable content and well-written copy is one of the most efficient ways to do this. You can also reach out to other brands or websites who may be interested in partnering with you or creating roundups or affiliate content to garner interest.
Note that bulk backlinks from a single website are frowned upon by Google’s search algorithm. It’s best to rely on organic links as much as possible—and not black-hat or paid strategies.
Elevate domain name branding
Your domain name isn’t just text on a screen—it gives visitors an inside look at who you are and what you do. Domain SEO is largely based around user signals, meaning that the more positively your domain presents to visitors, the better it will do online.
Use your domain name to give users a taste of your brand, including its voice and tone. Domains that are more focused on branding than keywords are usually referred to as “branding domains,” though all registered domains should try to incorporate both elements sufficiently.
There are a number of great examples of this:
- Manscaped.com says everything you need to know about the company in just two syllables: a playful yet high fidelity store for all things male hygiene.
- Cettire.com is a luxury brand whose naming conventions say it all. An elegant play on words sets the tone—and voice—of the brand.
- AloYoga.com—a domain owned by women’s yoga apparel brand Alo— is fun, fast, and mindfully modern. It reflects the brand image and personality of Alo.
SEO-friendly domain name examples
Learning by example is a great way to approach domain name SEO. Whether you already have some inspiration or are looking for domain name suggestions, these popular ecommerce domain examples are perfect examples of strategy, length, and branding.
- Gymshark.com: Just two syllables long and extremely brandable, Gymshark is a word that just rolls off the tongue. This very short domain name is separated into multiple subdomains to help with global traffic. This is a great SEO tactic for brands with a multinational presence.
- Colourpop.com: This domain is memorable, specific, and easy to remember. No hyphens, numbers, or other strange spellings are included, which helps visitors return to the site without much trouble.
- Beeinspiredclothing.com: The .com extension and exact brand name means visitors can find Bee Inspired Clothing in the blink of an eye. According to Ahrefs, the domain also commands more than 15,000 backlinks, which is a boon for SEO.
Do I need to change my domain name for SEO?
Domain names do impact your SEO, but they aren’t necessarily a make-or-break portion of your strategy. In fact, a changing domain name could confuse search engines and other bots trying to crawl through your web pages—making a short-lived but still negative impact on your SEO. Updated domain names might make it more difficult for returning visitors to find your site again, tanking your overall web traffic.
You should only consider changing your domain name for SEO if:
- You’ve already considered rebranding your site or company
- You’re planning on using 301 redirects to sustain previous SEO
- Your current domain is confusing or hard to access
Remember that your domain name doesn’t necessarily factor into search engine rankings. However, changing it or rebranding it without following best practices could confuse visitors and search engines alike.
Domain SEO tools for creating a winning strategy
The best domain names certainly didn’t appear overnight, and picking a domain that follows all best SEO practices could take even more time. These tools could help to evaluate your options before registering a domain online.
- Shopify provides domain registration, domain search, and hosting opportunities for your next digital identity. There’s also a way to find key information, like who owns the domain, when it was registered, and when it expires.
- BlueHost searches for available domains based on entered keywords. This works if you’re looking to buy a domain name immediately, but doesn’t offer any information lookup function.
Domain authority tools
- Ahrefs offers a helpful authority checker that measures the strength of any currently registered domain name. Use it to keep up with any linking websites or backlinks.
- Prepostseo.com is a free online tool that allows users to measure the authority of multiple URLs under the same domain. Again, this is best for domains with a large number of pages to manage.
- Web.archieve.org allows you to check the history of a domain name before you register it—and ensures you don’t pay for something with a poor background or lingering SEO penalties.
Domain monitoring tools
- Domaintools.com provides a domain monitoring service that tracks owned and unowned domains. Keep a watchful eye on expiration dates, status changes, and other factors that may impact domain SEO.
- Domain Rank Tracker lets users check for the top 50 keywords that are sending visitors to a certain domain, allowing them to monitor changes over time.
- Brand Monitor protects your domain name from bad actors and lookalike domains that could hurt your rankings and SEO results.
Putting domain SEO into practice
Domain names are online digital identities that speak volumes about who you are, what you do, and what visitors should expect from you. While the name you choose will not necessarily affect search engine rankings, it’s a good idea to pick short, memorable, and highly relevant phrases that put you in the running with today’s major brands.
With some dedicated effort and a little planning, you can choose an SEO friendly domain name that continues to reap the benefits long after registration.