The world of search engine optimization can be very contentious, with radically opposing views on what the right approach is for your website to climb to the top of search results. With Google continuously evolving its ranking algorithms, it can be anyone’s guess as to what the right approach is at any given time. This debate can often be triggered before a website is even created, with aspiring website creators wondering if they should be finding a domain name that contains their future site’s main keywords.
The importance of domain name keywords has changed dramatically over time as search engine algorithms have evolved. While there certainly are benefits of having targeted words in your domain, they are not as important as they once were for SEO. In some cases, they can even hurt your search rankings if implemented incorrectly.
There was once a time when search engines were much more trusting of websites. Don’t get me wrong, search algorithms were still incredibly complex, but they used different logic to determine what a relevant site was for a given search. It would oftentimes look something like this:
You search for ‘buy bicycle for city commute’
Google finds ‘citybicyclestore.com’
Google puts ‘citybicyclestore.com’ at the top of your search results partially because the domain name is very relevant to your search criteria.
Of course, many other factors would play into this logic, notably the content that is on citybicyclestore.com as well as any inbound links that site had from other websites. Nevertheless, the domain name played an important contributing factor as well.
Once people caught on to these ranking factors, many would optimize their sites purely for search engines rather than humans. This led to many long domain names trying to cram every relevant keyword that was available. People would then game the system by overloading their websites with keywords and buying links from other sites that were doing the exact same thing, which made for a pretty bad experience for people just looking to find some quality information.
This led Google to rethink what factors were important for a search. It seems obvious now, but they realized that a relevant domain name plus keywords on a website does not equate to a relevant website. Instead, they began focusing more on determining whether the content on a site was actually valuable to real people and not just for search engines.
Think about the last five websites you visited. Chances are that they weren’t overly long and filled with keywords, but rather were a short and brand-focused name. Even this website is called hover.com and not something like easilyfindandbuydomainnames.com.
This is because Google realized how people were gaming the system and began taking measures to correct this. Here’s a video from esteemed Google engineer Matt Cutts, who was the head of their web spam team at the time:
As Cutts explains, the key to having a well-ranking website has become less about having certain keywords in the right places and more about having great content that people actually want. Keywords are of course still very important, but they are not the only thing your site needs to be focused on. In fact, cramming your site with keywords can actually have a negative impact.
Just think about it: the reason why domain names exist in the first place is to make web addresses easier for humans. Instead of having a URL like 188.8.131.52, a domain name lets you register something that people will actually be able to remember. This is why you should avoid getting trapped into focusing 100% on search engines and take into account how humans will read your domain name when seeing it in search results or as a link on a website.
Keywords have gotten a pretty bad rap in this article so far, but don’t throw away your keyword strategy just yet! While it’s not a necessity to have keywords in your domain, it can still be beneficial if you are able to find one. This is because of backlinks and, more specifically, the anchor text used in those backlinks.
Let’s say your lava lamp store’s domain name is totallavalamp.com. Any time another website links to your website, it will likely look something like this:
“I really wanted a yellow and green lava lamp, and the only place I could find it online was at Total Lava Lamp.”
This is incredibly beneficial for SEO because your targeted keyword is being used often in backlinks to your website, which is a strong indicator for search engines that your site has something to do with lava lamps. The more sites that do this, the more of an indicator it will be what niche your website serves. This is much easier to do when your domain name has your keyword in it, as opposed to something like the60sstore.com which says nothing about lava lamps specifically.
That being said, only take this approach if you are able to find a domain that can incorporate a keyword in a way that is still brandable; otherwise, you’ll quickly fall into the trap of having a really long domain packed with keywords that just sounds spammy. Ultimately, the most important thing for your domain name is having something that people will remember and like. As long as your site has great content that they’ll want to come back to again and again, the search engines will eventually follow.