Aaron Rosenthal

Search Engine Optimization: The SEO value (or lack thereof) of domain name keywords

March 25th, 2011

Search engines rank websites by attempting to determine their relevancy to the searched keyword phrase. It makes sense for a search engine to consider the keywords in a domain name as part of the equation to determine relevancy.

That said, the search engines place less weight on internal factors that can be influenced by the webmaster, and more weight on external factors such as links, authority, etc. So, while having the keyword present in the domain name is helpful, it is just one piece of the puzzle and there are many other elements to search engine optimization (SEO).

What $5 million buys you

Case in point, SEO.com. This website provides professional SEO services to clients and also contains lots of original content on the topic of SEO and other Internet marketing practices. According to Yahoo Site Explorer, it has more than 42,500 indexed pages and nearly 26,000 back links (excluding those from SEO.com).

The website is certainly topic specific to the keyword “SEO,” yet it isn’t the first result for the keyword “SEO” on Google or Binghoo (Bing/Yahoo). The websites ranking above it don’t have “SEO” anywhere in the URL.

Granted the websites that are ranked higher are Wikipedia and Google, but nonetheless, it helps illustrate an important point. While domain keywords may be helpful in outranking an otherwise equal website, they are not enough to place you at the top of the search results if your website is not otherwise considered more relevant.

Ranking third in Google for a keyword as broad and competitive as “SEO” is certainly nothing to be shy about and I have no doubt that the domain name is aiding them in this. However, keep in mind that SEO.com was not originally registered by the current owners; it was purchased at considerable expense, $5,000,000 to be exact (ref – Dotsauce.com). I do not know whether the potential SEO benefit was a consideration in this purchase price, but it is certainly something my company looks at with all domain acquisitions.

In the SEO.com example, the domain represents a single keyword phrase, “SEO,” but multiple keyword phrases can work just as well. That said, we see this make the most impact when the domain name matches the entire keyword phrase and does not contain connecting words or characters such as “The,” “A,” or dashes.


How much assistance does the domain name provide?

The SEO.com example helps illustrate that keywords in a domain can influence rankings. However, it does not help us understand how strong the influence is and how closely the search engines look at this.

In a recent analysis of several websites we own, I noticed something interesting with one of our websites. The site, CellPhoneNumber.com, is currently the first result in Google for the keyword phrase “cell phone number.” Rankings for this search phrase are not nearly as contested as “SEO,” nonetheless, I can see that the phrase receives roughly 246,000 local monthly searches according to Google’s keyword tool (note: this was using the “broad” match-type option. “Phrase” and “exact” match-types showed less monthly searches).

The interesting discovery with this ranking is we have done relatively little to optimize the website for this keyword phrase. While the phrase is present on the website, there are very few instances of sites linking to us using this phrase in the anchor text (an important factor in SEO).  Furthermore, a comparison of our site and the others ranking for this phrase show our site has fewer back links than many of the others.

This indicates that the domain may have a very strong impact on the rankings, but I can’t dismiss that there are other elements at work. For instance, this site has lots of unique content and much of it is relevant to those who are searching for the phrase “cell phone number.” The back links, while fewer than other sites, are also very relevant, another factor search engines pay close attention to. Given this, I cannot completely rule out that a site with identical content and links but a different domain name might still achieve the same ranking.

Quality content and relevant back links are still key in SEO. That said, a keyword specific domain can assist your rankings, and if you don’t own the domains of your strongest keywords, perhaps now is the time to look into acquiring them, before your competitors do.

Aaron Rosenthal, President, ThoughtProjects, is the former Director of Channels Research for MarketingExperiments, MarketingSherpa’s sister company.


Related Resources:

Domain names and their affect on SEO

Domain/Product Name Testing

Using Descriptive Domain Names & Page Descriptions

Free MarketingSherpa Inbound Marketing newsletter

Search Marketing: How to avoid and remove Google penalties (Members’ Library)

Photo attribution: MoneyBlogNewz

Categories: Search Marketing Tags: , , , , , , ,

  1. March 25th, 2011 at 04:04 | #1

    Every web site owner want to make rank in search engine,So SEO is helpful way to get more web site traffic and improve business position in the search engine.

  2. March 29th, 2011 at 00:47 | #2

    great article and for local SEO we have consistently seen the domain name play a much more relevant role in ranking. In the past year our group has ranked 12-15 sites for local B2B businesses very quickly by carefully choosing available domain names that contain their primary keywords.
    Sure being local providers vs. national providers means less competition but in some cases we have seen sites rank page one for Google within a week or two.

  3. April 2nd, 2011 at 14:00 | #3

    Much in a similar way, a search of “fast food” will pull up mcdonalds.com as 3rd. The words “fast food” are not in the domain name, nor is in ANYWHERE on the page itself…

  4. Kevin C Greene
    August 16th, 2011 at 15:48 | #4

    Keywords in the domain name seem to make a huge difference when it comes to local SEO marketing. I did an experiment for a friend of mine who owns a windshield repair business. I registered the url windshieldrepairmedfordoregon.com about a year ago. I built a very simple site using a free site builder. When someone types in those keywords the site comes up #1 on Google even above the Google Places listings. Experiment = success.

  5. August 14th, 2013 at 10:37 | #5

    It is true having keyword in domain name makes huge difference. I am very much agreed with Kevin. I have seen most the website are to on google just because they have keyword in domain. It also becomes difficult to defeat a website which have keyword in domain name. having keyword in domain will give an advantage for website to boost quickly in search engine.

  6. October 6th, 2013 at 14:12 | #6

    Nice article.Keywords in domain name not just makes diffrence but also increase the ranking position.

  7. March 4th, 2015 at 12:11 | #7

    From my experience, the keywords in a domain name can affect SEO, but as was indicated, the effect is small. The results can be seen more with keyword phrases that have low competition. But if someone with a different site does a better job at SEO and link-building, the site that relies only on the SEO power of the domain name will lose most of the time.

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