Google’s John Mueller participated in a lively discussion on Mastodon about domain names and SEO.
His discussion began as a post about whether a dash (-) in the domain name is recommended or not.
The conversation naturally touched on the topic of keywords in the domain, with Mueller offering his opinion on that topic.
Keywords in Domain Names
Mueller was talking about dashes in domain names and ended with the statement that, “Your domain name is never going to make or break your SEO.”
And that’s the part that SEOs had something to say about.
This is what Mueller wrote:
“An #seo question from the X-Twitter world: In the domain name, is the use of dash ( – ) recommended or not?
– It’s fine
– Pick a domain name for your brand for the long run, don’t just collect keywords (the common reason for dashes). Build out a domain.
– For SEO, dashes are very minimally better in URLs than underscores. Don’t change your URLs for them tho. Don’t use spaces, commas, colons, etc in URLs.
– Your domain name is never going to make or break your SEO.”
Someone responded with their opinion that a domain name with a keyword in it was better than one that didn’t contain keywords.
That person posted:
“Domain will never make or break your SEO……however it will help if you get one which will match the main searches.
No dash better than dash but dash with the right keywords is better than no dash without good keyword
The person expressing their opinion made an interesting point about keywords in domains and click through rates in the search results pages (SERPs).
A site with the word “health” in the domain name would probably get better click through rates in the SERPs if the domain has the word “health” or “med” in the domain name than one with the word “mart” in it.
But then again, most major websites have brand name in their domains, not keywords, and they rank extraordinarily well.
Keyword in Domain Worth Less than on the Page
John Mueller answered:
“I don’t think either of those are the case.
From a branding or marketing POV, *maybe* (eg, if you have the URL in an offline ad, it can be easier to remember).
I would venture a guess that the SEO effect is less than the mention of the word on the page, and at that point, is that still worth focusing on?
(And yes, I know, I know, SEOs sometimes focus on the smallest things, but TBH that’s super-inefficient and gives a bad reputation.)”
There was a time over twenty years ago when keywords in the domain, keywords in title and keywords in the headings were important ranking factors.
But those days are long over.
Ranking factors aren’t what they used to be now that things like natural language processing, BERT and other technologies changed how sites are ranked.
Perception, What You Think You Know, and Facts
The person in the discussion, whether they knew it or not, alluded to the black box nature of Google’s algorithm.
A black box is, in computing, an algorithm where you can see what goes in and what comes out.
But what happens inside the box is unknown.
Because it’s unknowable, one cannot know with certainty what feature of the input was responsible for the output.
The person who responded to Mueller continued:
“This is most of the problem i feel.
We ‘think’ these things don’t affect it but we’re never quite sure.
In AdWords i can conclusively tell you it does affect ad ranking as i’ve seen it play out over 100s of accounts.
However i can only assume it does in SEO”
Someone else chimed in:
“hm, as long as keyword domains work, people will use them. Maybe Google can delete this bonus finally?”
The person who posted that comment perceived that there is a keyword in the domain bonus. Are they right or not right?
There have been huge advances in how search engines work today.
John Mueller’s answer addresses practical considerations of keywords and relevance.
“Do they really work though?
I think it’s a lot of “keyword in the domain” plus “there’s a lot of other SEO things we do” — and I don’t think you can separate out the effect of a word in a domain.
They can be cool for branding, they can be memorable, but I don’t think you get any measurable SEO bonus out of it.
(It would be totally weird to do that, anyone can buy a domain name; it’s not a sign of relevance.)”
Mueller’s comment about not being able to separate the effect of a keyword in a domain from any other factor underlines the reality that one cannot know what happens inside of a black box algorithm.
How does one measure something that cannot be measured? One can see the output but that doesn’t reveal what happened.
Mueller offers practical reasons why a keyword in the domain makes for a poor signal.
Read the entire Mastodon conversation here.
Featured image by Shutterstock/bodnar.photo