Deciding on a Domain Name For SEO

Choosing a domain name is one of the first and one of the most important decisions business owners make for their new business. Email addresses, business cards, advertisements, and of course your website visitors, will all be connected with the domain name.

For this reason, a lot of preparation and research should be done when choosing a domain name. Many questions come up related to choosing the right domain name, especially questions specific to SEO. What will search engines like? Should I include keywords in my domain name? Is there a character length I should stick to? We’ll try to address all the most common SEO questions domain buyers have when it comes to deciding on the right domain name.

Stick With Your Brand Name

It may be alluring to choose a domain name that uses a bunch of keywords in the name. For example, let’s say your business “Lars Landscaping” provides landscaping services around Louisville, Kentucky. Domain names like larslanscaping.com and larslandscapinginc.com, which both include the keyword “landscaping” are okay, but it’s best to shy away from domains packed with keywords like louisvillelandscapingservices.com. In other words, your domain name should match or closely match your brand name.

While Google does put some weight into keywords in a domain name, to understand what the website is all about, it’s best to avoid keyword packed domain names for the long haul. Keyword packed domain names are becoming less and less relevant in search results, as the domains previously ranking were propped up solely by their domain names and not their reputations. Additionally, if your business is listed in only directories like Yelp and YellowPages, fixing citations can become a nightmare of a problem if you plan to buy up a domain name based on its keyword potential.

Pick any TLD you like, as long as it’s a .com

If you’ve done some domain research already, you’ve likely noticed that there are an unlimited number of Top Level Domain (TLD) extension options to choose from out there, such as .com, .org, .net, .plus, and even .photography. The list goes on and on. Which one should I choose for SEO?

TLDs are meant to categorize websites so people and bots like Google can get a sense of the content on a website before visiting it. That said, Google and other search engines have a strong bias towards displaying .com domain names over other TLDs for one simple reason: People trust .com websites more than other websites, so search engines abide to that preference. If you did a search for bee hive kits and two results showed up: honeyflow.com or honeyflow.co – which of the two would you click?

To use another example, I did a search for the first random ecommerce product that came to my head “ultimate Frisbee discs” and pulled the top 100 results. Here’s the breakdown of the TLDs:

  • .com – 80
  • .org – 10
  • .edu – 4
  • .net – 1
  • .biz – 1
  • .me – 1
  • .co.uk – 1
  • .com.au – 1
  • .com.my – 1

Character Length – Keep it Short

Character length is important when choosing a domain name, and in general the shorter the domain name the better. While there is a limit to how short you should make your domain name, most people struggle with keeping their domain name on the short side.

Search engines have a tendency of compressing or cutting off lengthy domain names, which does not look visually appealing in search results. Also, most websites depend on internal pages for critical non-branded traffic, and less room in search engine results pages means less space to display information about your internal pages.

As mentioned earlier, the domain name should be included in the brand name, but it’s best not to abbreviate the brand name for the sake of making it shorter.

While it’s difficult to pin down an ideal domain name length, a good rule of thumb is to keep it under 20 characters if possible with 25 characters being the max.

Evaluate the Backlink Profile

Nothing is worse than purchasing a domain name, putting in the time and effort of setting up the website, and then finding out from a SEO like us that the domain name has a ton of bad backlinks pointing to it. If a previous owner of the domain actively tried to manipulate search engine results, it could require some Google penalty recovery work to make the domain name favorable in the eyes of Google and other search engines again.

While there aren’t many free backlink checkers, some services like Majestic and Moz allow you to run a few reports for free or allow you to get a sense of the links (if any) pointing to the domain.

Use Bulk Domain Checkers

If you’re starting from scratch and are looking for a list of domain options to choose from, I would suggest using bulk domain checkers to find out what is available to purchase and at a reasonable price. This is particularly important if you are looking to buy a domain name in any already saturated industry where many good domains have already been snatched up. Godaddy.com has a great bulk domain checker tool that allows you to check the availability of up to 500 domains at a time.

To get a list of 500 domains to test, you can use use tools like Keyword Mixer to get various combinations of domain options. You can also use tools like DomainIt and NameMesh to get some domain idea options.

Take Your Time

Probably the most important tip I can give is to not rush the process and to take your time and do due diligence when choosing a domain name. It is one of the biggest and most important decisions you will make for your business and choosing a bad domain name can lead to many nagging SEO issues.

Here are some great additional SEO related resources to read through before choosing a domain name:

Michael Hall

Michael Hall is an Account Manager at Netvantage Marketing, which specializes in SEO, PPC and social media. Mike also runs our Chicago office.

2 Comments

Nick Stamoulis

I actually think it’s important to think about this in reverse. If you’re just starting a company, look into available domains first. You don’t want to pick a name and then realize that you can’t have a website domain to match!

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Mike

Good point Nick! Businesses starting from scratch probably should take that approach. It’s actually the process of how we chose our business name – netvantagemarketing.com

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