SEO

How Much Weight Do Keywords in the Domain Name Still Have (Poll)?

There is no denying the fact that keywords in the domain used to be a very powerful way to be the first in Google SERPs for those keywords. Well, don’t get me wrong, I am speaking  about:

  • exact match (if you happen to own “weightlossguide.com”, chances are it will be found in top 5 for this exact phrase without too much effort from your side);
  • .com domains (more often than not: sometimes it does work for .org or local TLDs but usually if those compete with .com domain, they will lose: see the second example here).

We have discussed this issue exactly one year ago, and many also noticed other search engines to look heavily at keywords in domain names.

However search engines are reported (or rather expected) to be putting less and less emphasis on keywords in domain names for two reasons:

  • this has been abused by spammers registering hundreds of “long-tail” domains to rank them for exact match;
  • today it is almost impossible to get hold of any “exact match” domains that wouldn’t be too long or pointless.

For the above reasons I almost stopped considering the tactic. But one thing brought me back to it.

I love screenshots and recently decided to collect most awesome ones I happen to come across in one place. For that reason I decided to register a domain funnyscreenshots.com and in just a few days (with absolutely no backlinks at that time by the way – I didn’t even expect it to get indexed so quickly) I noticed Google referrals for the exact match. I understand there is almost no competition but isn’t it too fast anyway?

freescreenshots How Much Weight Do Keywords in the Domain Name Still Have (Poll)?

So do you still think exact match in domain names is still (highly) important? Do you still use the tactic?

 How Much Weight Do Keywords in the Domain Name Still Have (Poll)?
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project, MyBlogGuest.com.
 How Much Weight Do Keywords in the Domain Name Still Have (Poll)?

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50 thoughts on “How Much Weight Do Keywords in the Domain Name Still Have (Poll)?

  1. This is an unfortunate article for you, Ann. Keywords have the same weight anywhere in the page URL according to numerous sources from within the search industry.

    It’s only SEOs who have insisted that domain names must have some special significance. That’s always been a myth. It’s the page URL that matters, not the domain name.

  2. @Michael – go ahead and register a new site and then create a page “funnyscreenshots.html” and then let me know how easily you get it to rank. It likely won’t just pop. ;-)

    Sure, keywords in the URL are important, but for new domains, I have seen the same as Ann. If the domain name has the exact match to the keyword, it tends to rank quickly–and often without links.

    For example, semvendor.com ranked #1 for “sem vendor” on day 1, but despite having semvendor.com/search-engine-marketing-leads.html, that page is not ranking for “search engine marketing leads”, yet! ;-)

  3. Michael, could you please quote those “numerous sources”?

    > That’s always been a myth.

    It was not a myth at all – a fair few moons ago weight of domain matches was much higher than whatever it is now, subdomains had different weights – this was obvious from spamming that dominated SERPs and search engines taking action to devalue such matches.

    Are they equal now? Maybe, but it seems logical that they would be different, albeit perhaps not by much unless they are reinforced by anchor text.

    Either way I doubt there is enough solid evidence to be categorical about it, different search engines have different algorithms.

  4. @Andy, exactly my point. I also updated the post stating that the site had absolutely no backlinks when Google started sending referrals – hence my surprised it was discovered, indexed and ranked so quickly.

  5. I did my own little ranking experiment a couple of months ago and one of the things that my results seemed to suggest was that keywords in the domain name/path seemed to have little or nothing to do with ranking.

  6. Great post! I agree with most (based on the current poll results) and I see this all the time!

    I don’t think it is that Google is giving less weight to keywords in a domain name, but they are giving more weight to other factors. So maybe people are seeing it less than a year or two ago. BUT it definitely still helps BIG TIME.

  7. In agreement with Andy and Ann about the ability of new keyword-focused domains to be indexed and rank quickly for their included domain keywords – observed numerous times.

    But Google’s favoring of keyword-focused domains extends past new sites. All things being equal, Google continues to give greater weight to domains with a (or “the”) search relevant keyword, compared to those that lack it. And it seems the weight of inbound links mirroring the domain keyword in anchors have a stronger-than-usual effect.

    I say “Google” specifically, but it applies to all search engines. MSN/Live/Bing shows often staggering favoritism to keywords in domain, elevating them above sites with more depth of content, better architecture and more inbound links.

    I’ve been increasingly baffled by the continued preference shown by the search engines toward keywords in domain, as it doesn’t necessarily mean *anything* about the topicality of the site. I can see the benefit in ranking brand-based keywords (I guess), though there’s similar mismatches between user intention and what the website delivers in terms of actual content.

    Let’s hope that if ICANN opens up more domain extensions the search engines according tweak this part of their algorithm, or it may be mayhem!

  8. I haven`t had the opportunity to play around much with buying domain names as all of my clients have always had their own domain names already.

    I have noticed though that having keywords anywhere in the URL does have a big impact. Check the top 20 Google results for a competitive keyword and you`ll notice the large majority of the sites will have that keyword in their URL.

    In most cases, having a domain name with the keywords isn`t that practical for a lot of clients as having their company name is more important for branding than having a keyword (since that keyword or phrase can just be added as a page anyways).

  9. Thanks for writing this post, Ann.

    I was thinking about it some days ago. It’s so common to see keyword-based domains on top ranking. I would like to say that on Brazil, it is even more visible – maybe cause we do not have the same ammount of domains.

    And yes , I do believe that a keyword on the domain name will rank better then a keyword on the request URI.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, and have decided that regardless of the use or weighting of domain keywords as a factor, it is still useful to do it. I have come to this conclusion because people naturally tend to use your site’s name and/or URL for anchor text in backlinks.

    I know your experimental test specifically excluded backlinks, but over time this backlinking tendency alone warrants some consideration.

  11. Ann, good topic, excellent poll. I am surprised more e-businesses (affiliates in particular) are not taking advantage of the SE love towards keyword-rich domains.

  12. The discussions that take place in “seo world” never cease to amaze me. Thanks for publishing yet another article that demonstrates the state of the SEOsphere, and prompts additional insightful commentary from your SEO readership.

  13. This poll will be interesting to watch. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

    I may be biased a little, since I am a generic domain investor, but SEO also had a factor in this due to seeing exact match terms holding high ranks. I think people have also come to “trust” a great .com domain also, which clearly helps traffic from SE’s.

    Another thing often overlooked is Direct Navigation and the power of it. Candy.com get’s nearly 10K monthly uniques according to Compete.com and was never advertised nor indexed very well due to it’s parked page. I would bet the majority of that traffic was direct navigation. Since it was just sold for $3M, that indexing will change greatly with full development and the traffic will show it as well.

    Although SE traffic is important, direct navigation is nice as well with no need to depend on SEO or SE’s.

  14. Ann, great post. I agree that keyword-rich domain names tend to rank better. We’ve done this and tested the results and I believe that it’s very clear. Also, keyword-rich domain names can be used to help another website rank better for that term. That’s another experiment that we’ve done and had work.

  15. Great post, and good experiment as well.

    I think the keywords in domain will always work, mostly because it makes perfect sense.

    If you are looking for “magnolias flowers” and there is a domain named “magnolias-flowers.com”, what do you think is more likely this site is about?

    The other issue is, A LOT of users writes the domain name in the Google toolbar instead of in the address bar. I’ve seen this with most of my clients when they want to show you a site. They don’t use bookmars, they don’t use history, they just search for the domain name. So, if Google wants to show pertinent results, they have to show the domain wich uses this terms…

  16. I say yes it does work. I can’t see how the search engines can discontinue the bonus of having an exact match domain name. If someone searches for “company name”, to provide a good “user experience” the result should show companyname.com in my opinion.

  17. @Michael

    Unfortunately, your entire comment is incorrect. Irregardless of whatever “sources” you mention but neglect to cite I would challenge you to just go ahead and give it a try.

    Buy some exact match keyword .com domain names and then give them a couple of weeks and you will likely see them ranking on page 1 for their target keyword.

    This only makes perfect sense if you think about it. If you are looking for “vitamins” then what domain could potentially sound more relevant than “vitamins.com”? “cars” -> “cars.com”, “insurance” -> “insurance.com”. To say that this is not true is to neglect the mounds of data surrounding type in traffic (i.e. most Internet users think that the best place to find “cars” is to type directly in “cars.com” into their URL bar.

    If a search engine’s goal is to really give the user what they want then it only makes sense to show the exact match keyword .com domain name on the first page (i.e. because so many people will in fact even directly navigate to that URL site unseen expecting the site to be what they want).

  18. Great Article, Ann

    You have written exactly the same thing for which i’ve got ranking. My site name is webdesigningindia.in and i’m coming on top 10 for the keyword web designing india which is my domain keyword. But as you say you didn’t have backlinks and then also you are coming on top but that doesn’t happen with me. Actually i’ve build backlinks and to do all off page optimization works after that only my result came.

    So I don’t know why google favours with your keyword but not mine.

  19. Good article, Ann.

    Related experiment:

    My .net url for my name ranks #1, ahead of the .com. Now, considering I’m a SEO, and he’s a psychic, that should probably be the case (and he shoulda seen it coming). Before the site had any links, it did not make it to Page 1 based on name strength (keeping in mind it’s a .net, reinforcing your point). The amount of work it took it make it #1 overall, however, was far less because the url still had mattleonard in it.

    I believe your results are 100% correct and a good domain name is a very helpful ranking factor.

  20. My favorite example of this : google “eric schmidt” (CEO of google) and take a close look at result #5 http://ericschmidt.com/ – private register, no metadata, and questionable YAHOO email. Should rank poorly via Quality metric but – exact-match trumps all. FTW!

  21. THere isnt even a google profile for Eric Schmidt at the bottom!

    So the question is –

    a- someone squatting CEO of Google name and google unable to filter out mismatch

    b- It IS Schmidt’s page but he never updated it from his yahoo email.

    c- CEO of google never bothered to check/fix his own name in SERPS?

    Either explanation seems quite awful.

  22. I recently tried this with a web site for a home for sale in a specific subdivision. The technique works! The site is only three weeks old and ranks #1 on Google for these specific key words

  23. After I came up with my company name, Trezora, I had to decide if I wanted to add any keywords for the domain name. I did not want to have a long name and, more importantly, I did not want my domain name to dictate my future business direction. After 4 years of building the site and working on backlinks, good content, articles, etc., Trezora now ranks #1 for “glass jewelry” in Google (as well as many other key words), even above other domain names with the words either “glass” or “jewelry” in their domain names. Now Yahoo, is a different story. It puts a great deal of emphasis on keywords in the domain name / URL. For the search “glass jewelry” we rank #5 but with an internal page called http://www.trezora.com/dichroic_glass.html

    I am still have we did not call our site “Trezora Glass” because one day we may choose to add non-glass items.

    Mendy

  24. I’ve got to agree with Michael Martinez, apart from his first sentence, few in SEO have done as much testing as him or have as deep an understanding of SEO – with a staunchly onsite bent.
    Regarding Ann’s post, I think it’s good we return to elements of SEO we tend to take for granted – it’s only through posts such as this that we have the discussion.
    Thank you.
    And if I may use the comment section inappropriately…
    Michael, when are you going to blog again? I miss your posts, SEO is less fun without the deeper side you shone light on…

  25. @ Tickets and M of Tick’s
    A quick backlink check shows that at least one person at the BBC thinks it’s the real deal (along with other relatively reliable sources) which – whether correct, or not – must count for something from a ranking perspsective; so, no to it being anything like conclusive proof FTW!
    :)

  26. This is an unfortunate comment for you, Michael.

    A search query exactly matching a domain can be viewed by the search engine (and rightly so) as navigational intent. Therefore, exactly matching your domain to the keyword you would like to rank for is an important factor towards ranking highly for that specific term.

    I cannot speak as to the discounts for domains with non .com or a dash between keywords. I registered http://www.google-wave.us as an experiment on this. Considering the enormous traffic potential for the exact search on this term, it could be worth a shot.

    If anyone would like to contribute to this experiment/project, please ping me on Twitter @thorsview

  27. whether correct, or not – must count for something from a ranking perspsective; so, no to it being anything like conclusive proof FTW!

  28. Google gives weight to keyword-centric domains, because usability tests by Google have shown that people find them useful and prefer them.

    Any search engine optimizer with even a little bit of experience building and testing sites knows that keyword-centric domains rock…and as Ann suggested, still rock.

    Keyword-centric domains continue to be a part of how I choose domains, as they should be for anyone else who is building content and affiliate sites.

  29. When the keyword and the domain name is an exact match, google usually give the domain more value in terms of ranking. This has been there for a long time.

    These keywords are often treated as “Navigational Keywords” …Google feels that people are actually trying to go to that particular website by typing in the ‘exact keyphrase’.

  30. i know in my niche that the use of the town name in the domain is pretty darn important if you want to rank anywhere in the top few pages for most of the important keywords.

    i have no idea how it is in the rest of the world but a keyword/kw phrase in the domain has always impressed me as being what i would call of moderate importance in ranking. meaning somewhere in the top 5-7 ranking factors, give or take a few haha. and of course this varies by search engine too

  31. There are lost of top ranking domain which are not even using any keyword in the domain name. There are lots of other factors involved.

    But I guess having the keyword as your domain name can do no harm

    Regards

  32. I’d like to add a fact here … You be the judge …

    Last year I purchased … floridasearchengineoptimization.org … and launched the site as a WP install … to just sit and age a while …

    I’ve yet to add a single page or link to the site …

    If you Google “Florida Search Engine Optimization” …

    You’ll find it around number 40 or so out of 1.2 ~ 1.5 mill results …

    HTH

  33. I’m struggling to decide whether I should include a keyword/phrase in my domain name so I can rank quickly…..my competition’s PR is 5-6……so

    **Should I use the keyword/phrase in domain name and then build high pr backlinks…..

    what’s the consensus?

  34. Great Post. Name is still very important in the URL we have seen it time and time again with our clients as well. It also matters where the term is from what we have seen. When using a long tail domain the closer the keyword is to the front the better.

  35. It seems hit or miss, and I’m not quite sure why.

    I did a test of my own and registered miamidolphinsposters.com around a month ago and am not even indexed on any of the big search engines for the term “miami dolphins posters”.

  36. The keyword in the domain name is very important, once you will have a boost because it’s your name, brand. In the second place you have the boost indirectly by gaining backlinks with the exact match keyword. Good article.

  37. Thanks so much for the posts. I was wondering if you did not include keywords in your url but then purchased a url with keywords and did a 301 re-direct to your main url…would this be beneficial?

  38. Ann great post, and it is very important and it should be one of the first things to consider when launching a website. You should always look for a domain that is available that represents what you do or what you offer. It can help gain traction quick.

    @ Edward Beckett your site with nothing on it now holds the 5th position since you commented 6 months ago..

    Also, with Google Caffeine coming out I see this being even more important in the beta testing.

  39. Hi Ann,

    really great post, we are active in the german market. It’s like you told us, generic domains rank easier on Site 1. We have several generic domains and alywas we saw a very quick and good ranking by Google.