Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about ranking benefits of using the keywords in the domain name. Mueller confirmed that there’s no SEO bonus for keywords in the domain and listed reasons why not to use keyword-based domains.
Mueller lists valid reasons why keywords in domains don’t provide a ranking bonus and why choosing those kinds of domains can backfire. However there are still (non-SEO) related reasons why keywords in domains may still be a valid choice.
Keywords in Domain Name
There are many reasons why some SEOs recommend using a keyword in the domain. Some say that when someone links to you with just the bare URL, the keyword will act like an anchor text and influence Google’s rankings.
But John Mueller has already explained that Google knows the difference between a bare URL and an anchor text and that Google will not use the keywords in a bare URL.
Others say that keywords in the domain helps SEO because keywords help Google understand what the site is about. But his recent answer in Reddit discredits that idea.
There was a time when Google ranked exact match domains, including parked domains. But that exact match domain effect was dampened many years ago to reduce the impact.
Yet there may be some valid non-SEO reasons why a keyword-based domain might be desirable.
How Would Google Rank Keyword-Based Domains?
The person on Reddit asked how Google would rank various keyword-based domains.
“How would Google rank the following domains: web-design.com, web.design, web-design.net?”
Google’s John Mueller offered his insight into how Google handles keywords in domains.
“No difference. Also no difference if you used sabertoothed-hedgehog.com. “
Pick a Domain Name For the Long Term
Mueller next suggested that it might make sense to pick up a domain that could outlast a change in focus.
A good example of this is Amazon. Amazon started as an online book seller and was able to transition to selling nearly everything because its domain name was non-specific to books.
Many of the very first SEO agencies started as web design companies. When they eventually transitioned away from web design toward SEO they also had to change their domain names as well.
Another example is how trends change so what sounds trendy at the time, like adding the word “media” to the end of an SEO company name, can sound tired or cliched a few years later.
John Mueller advised to pick a domain name that can survive a change in the business model and trends.
He continued his answer:
“Pick a domain name you can build on for the long run.
Maybe you’re doing web-design now, but what will you do in 5, 10 years?
Pick something that lets you grow, or go with a domain name that’s more like a brand which you can build out & which people can find you with directly (that would be my recommendation).”
Future Proof Your Business
Mueller next explained how it can be a big hassle to change a domain name or restructure a site because the focus of the site grew.
Some sites begin by focusing on one topic and that’s fine. But it’s always a good idea to give oneself room to grow.
For example, a TV rating website might have a hard time transitioning to becoming known as a soundbar reviewing website if they have the words TV and Review in their domain name.
Mueller explains why choosing a domain that can grow with your website is a good idea.
“Creating separate sites for sub-business-ideas is a hassle, merging sites is a bigger hassle, moving domains is a hassle.
All of these things take a lot of time, some money, and more. Go with something you want to keep for longer, which gives you room.”
Keyword Domains Have No SEO Bonus
Mueller next turned to explaining how there is no SEO bonus for using a keyword-based domain name.
“There’s no secret (or public) SEO-bonus for having your keywords in the domain name.
(and for those coming with “but there are keyword domains ranking well” — of course, you can also rank well with a domain that has keywords in it.
But you can rank well with other domain names too, and a domain won’t rank well just because it has keywords in it.)”
Could a Keyword Domain Be Worthwhile?
We know that keywords in a domain name can limit the scope of a domain in the future and locks that business into focusing on one topic.
However in my experience, having a keyword in the domain could help conversions and that’s something that can be tested using A/B tests and PPC to identify which domain name performs best.
A general keyword could be useful as well.
A keyword in the domain can signal to a potential visitor that your site has what they’re looking for.
None of the above two reasons are directly related to SEO at this time. But they are valid reasons why one may consider a keyword-based domain.
But those kinds of considerations have to be balanced out by the advice that John Mueller shared and the understanding that a keyword-based domain could limit business growth.
John Mueller emphasized the following points:
- No ranking bonus for keywords in domains
- Keyword-based domains can limit your business growth
- Pivoting to a new domain is a huge hassle
- Choose a domain that has the potential to grow
Ideally, when starting a business, the idea of eventually expanding to other products should be in the business plan.
So even if you start as a pillow company, giving the domain name a brand type name will help keep the door open to the potential to grow the business into so much more than just a pillow ecommerce website.
Read the Reddit Discussion
How would Google rank the following domains: web-design.com, web.design, web-design.net? Assume people google “web design”.