How Domain Names and Extensions Impact Your Website’s SEO

It’s the ultimate question when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Does the domain and extension have an impact on my website’s Search Engine Result Page (SERP)? Depending upon which expert you ask, the answer ranges from “Absolutely!” to “Meh, not much.” The truth is probably somewhere in between. Let’s take a more in depth look at how your choice of domain name and extension will impact whether you land on Google’s page one or 1,000.

Domains and Extension

Before we dive too deeply into the topic, it’s important that everyone be on the same page. When we refer to an extension, we mean a Top Level Domain (TLD), which is the part that comes at the end of the domain such as: .com; .net; .org; .edu. The domain name itself is the part you choose from your web hosting company and comes before the extension. An example would be the bolded part of www.MyAwesomeCompany.com. This is referred to as the Second Level Domain (SLD).

Second-Level Domain

It used to be that the words you used in your SLD had a great effect on where your website showed on Google’s SERP. These days, comments by the Google team and the opinion of SEO experts indicate that stuffing the domain with keywords is not as effective of a tactic as it used to be. In today’s SEO climate, consider putting a keyword closely associated with your business in the SLD as a market to attract the appropriate customers rather than an all-expense paid trip to the first page results. Matt Cutts, Google spokesman, had this to say on the topic:

“…we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains…we have been thinking about adjusting the mix…so that given two different domains it wouldn’t necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”

Having said that, there are legitimate factors to consider when choosing a SLD from your web hosting company, if not specifically for SEO, then at least for discoverability.

1. Despite Google’s claim they don’t give preference to keywords in domains, note how they’re still bolded in search results?

2. Google loves brands because searchers love brands. Always choose branding over keywords.

3. Keep it relevant to your niche or industry. Google doesn’t like incongruity in this area.

4. Keep it short, San Diego! One or two words is your best bet. Gone are the days when 17 keywords one after the other constituted a credible domain name.

The bottom line is to maintain congruity between your website content and domain choice. This makes Google like what you do and reward you with ever-higher SERP location.

Top-Level Domain

SEO experts have had a lot to ponder about this topic in recent years. Between 1985 and 2014 we only had 260 TLDs to choose from. Since 2014, the controlling body, ICANN, allowed the choices to expand up to 500, with rumors that number will swell to 900 in the coming years. While the .com extension still accounts for almost 75 percent of registered domains, does it provide an SEO boost to a website? According to our good friend at Google again, Matt Cutts, the search engine’s algorithm always has and always will rank websites by quality content regardless of whether it is a tried and true .com or upstart like .pizza. Yes, there really is a .pizza.

If you are looking for geographic specificity, there is no doubt that you should choose one of the country extensions if you can. For example, choose .uk for England or .ca for Canada. If your business focuses on a single country, rather than the entire globe, your website will vault past distant geographic domains or even generics like .com when a search phrase is typed in from the same country. For instance, when a Canadian searcher hits “enter”, he or she will be served with .ca results first.

The other area of focus when it comes to TLD choices is that Google likes it when you choose a specific industry now available with the latest extension addition. To continue with our .pizza example, do you think it makes sense to choose that extension if you happen to own a pizza joint? Google does and will reward you accordingly for the congruity. Your best bet is to secure a geographic or industry specific domain if available but also secure a .com counterpart of some sort. Facts don’t lie. On the open market, a .com extension is worth about 20 times what a .net or .org will bring.

Something to Ponder

Google’s ever-changing algorithm contains around 200 ranking factors, of which domain name is one. The bottom line is that no matter how much time and effort you spend tweaking that name to perfection, it will have only a small effect on SERP. Your website needs to be considered as a whole in order to find maximum success. The algorithm has become incredibly refined and no single factor, to the exclusion of all others, will help you ace your SEO.

While your choice of TLD or SLD should have no direct effect on where you land in search engine results, you still should pay attention to your choices. Google makes no secret of the fact that it’s all about user experience. Anything you can do to create a positive public perception will benefit your website’s eventual SERP. A keyword in a domain name can increase relevance and trust a user places on the website. That’s something that Google likes very much.

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