There are over 360 million registered domains out there, but when you’re choosing a domain name for your project, there are a lot of different concerns to factor in. As well as finding a domain that suits your brand, and speaks to the purpose of your site, you’ll need to think about how it could impact your SEO performance.
The good news is that buying a domain needn’t be expensive — with some providers offering them for under £1, or even for free alongside another product. That said, many companies opt to buy a domain that’s already owned, and this can get more expensive. SEO could well play a part in the decision to buy a pre-registered domain name, so let’s take a look at exactly how your domain name can impact your rankings in a SERP (search engine results page).
How does your domain name impact SEO?
While the exact number is hotly debated between SEO-enthusiasts, Google has confirmed around 200 different ranking factors, along with thousands of algorithm updates over the years, all of which directly affect how websites rank and perform on the search engine.
The list is constantly evolving, but (at the time of writing) domain names don’t feature. That said, they can still have a significant influence on your position for various keywords. Where a good domain name can improve your visibility and increase organic traffic, a poor one will do the opposite.
How do domain extensions affect SEO?
By contrast, the domain extension you choose has almost zero impact on your rankings. The exception to this rule is ccTLDs (country-code top-level domains). When you use a ccTLD like .uk or .fr, your site will likely have an advantage when it comes to geographical search. That means you’ll rank more highly in the SERP for users searching in the same country as your ccTLD.
Want to find out more about generic TLDs? Take a look at our blog to learn which type of domain extension is right for you.
SEO best practices for domain names
Thankfully, there are a few key principles you can keep in mind to make sure the domain name you land on isn’t detrimental to your SEO performance, and maximises your visibility on the SERP.
Keep it brief
It may sound obvious, but choosing a short, punchy domain name means you’re less likely to lose traffic to ‘processing fluency’. This term sounds like fancy jargon, but it effectively refers to the bias our brains experience when we’re processing something difficult. In short, if it’s tough to pronounce or write down, we’re less likely to remember or understand it.
A snappy, memorable domain name is more likely to be successfully shared by word of mouth. In fact, a recent study by Gaebler found that the top 50 most popular websites had an average domain length of just 6 characters. So don’t over complicate it.
Use keywords (sparingly)
Advice on using keywords in your domain name has fluctuated over the years, in line with a series of algorithm updates. Today, it’s not beneficial to stuff your domain with target keywords — and the spammy appearance of a domain like this can make potential customers question your legitimacy too.
Instead, you might want to consider adding an inconspicuous keyword to your domain name, maybe in conjunction with the name of your brand. One great example of this is B&Q, whose URL is simply www.diy.com. This domain name isn’t brand-specific, but it clearly indicates what the company does, and it’s bound to capture traffic via searches for terms related to ‘DIY’.
Avoid numbers or special characters
Search engines like Google can comprehend and index content containing hyphens, so they arguably have no bearing on how well your site performs. But you can’t deny that hyphens, numbers and other special characters inevitably complicate a domain name, so they’re likely to reduce readability and customer memorability as a result.
Choose the right extension
While domain extensions can’t directly boost your rankings, choosing a suspect or unusual extension could hamper your performance. And if you’re going with a generic TLD rather than a ccTLD, it’s worth noting that .com is the most popular domain extension on the market.
That said, there are plenty of other trustworthy domain extensions out there which could be more suited to your project’s identity, like .org for charities and non-profits, or .shop for ecommerce sites. These extensions clearly signify the purpose of your project to search engines like Google too. A creditable domain extension is just as important as the domain name itself, and it can make all the difference to your potential customers.
Consider defensive domain registration
One tactic you can employ to indirectly improve your site’s organic traffic is defensive domain registration. This is when you purchase domain names which are almost (but not quite) identical to yours, to stop typosquatters from making themselves at home and stealing your valuable site visits.
Instead, you can register domain typos and use these “defensive domains” to redirect traffic to your actual website, which — at least in theory — prevents you from losing customers.
Now you know how to choose an SEO-friendly domain
These tips should help you choose an SEO-friendly domain name that does your project justice, so you can get registered and start your build with a clear identity for your website. Don’t forget — it’s also well worth checking out what kind of domain names your biggest competitors are using, and where they’re ranking in the SERP. This can help you get a sense of how different domains are positioned and received in the market.
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