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Picking a Domain Name When There's No SEO Bonus For Keyword-Based Domains

In a boost for digital agencies with names like "Tangarine Kangaroo" or "Excessive Aubergine", brands that took the name of a thing and just shoved "ly" or "ify" on the end, and former digital marketing CTOs who have decided to dump nearly all their domain names and put all their content on one site... Google has confirmed that there is no specific SEO bonus for keyword-based domains.

Yep, call your domain anything you want... it won't make a difference. Or will it?

What if you domain name matches the search?

The obvious problem with saying that keyword-based domains don't offer any SEO bonus is when it comes to Exact Match Domains (or "EMD"s). If I'm looking for a business called "Tangerine Kangaroo", I really want to find that business. I don't want pictures of orange marsupials.

The trick appears to be not to be too "spammy" with your EMD. tangerinekangaroo.com is OK. bestplumberscardiff.co.uk is not. The difference? User intent - matching what the user is searching for in a way that isn't trying to cram keywords into a domain (unless your business is actually called Best Plumbers and you happen to be in Cardiff, I suppose).

Search Engine Journal has a good article about this very topic, charting the success of Hotels.com and noting how this extremely popular site suffered after a Google update the impacted exact match domains and how this was eventually reversed.

Overall, it seems pretty clear that you can still benefit from including a keyword in your domain name as long as this matches your brand name and content. Like most things in SEO, consistency matters and doing anything "for the search engine" is generally a bad idea. Generally speaking, including the name of a town in your domain is now considered a particular spammy move, probably because of the huge numbers of these domains that were sold back in the late 90s/early 00s.

What if you're buying a domain today?

As a web-veteran, here's how a lot of businesses got their names if they were incepted after the advent of the Internet:

  1. "I've got a great idea"
  2. "What are you going to call it"
  3. "I'm going to call it Best Invention Ever"
  4. "... the .com of that is gone. And the .co.uk"
  5. "Oh right. OK, well... how about Most Amazing Invention Ever?"
  6. "... that's gone as well. Oh, there is a .biz domain for £50"
  7. "Hmm. OK, well, how about Tangarine Kangaroo?"
  8. "Yeah, that's available."
  9. "Buy it!"

I've been through this process myself quite a few times and had many clients fail to go through this and then be thunderstruck when they discover that the domain name for their Next Big Idea isn't available. I've also seen clients tie themselves in knots trying to squeeze a keyword into a brand that also has a domain name available.

The best advice I can give is to build a brand you believe in and then go hunting for the domain name. If you've stayed away from keywords then chances are good that you will still be able to find a domain name to match your brand (unless you went and called your next big idea "Amazon" or something).

"Amazon" is a great example of a brand name that everybody now knows and that, on first inspection, has nothing to do with where the company started - selling books.

Chris Lynch

Actually, when Amazon was founded, Jeff Bezos allegedly chose the name in part because it began with A and a lot of web directories were alphabetical at the time. So, maybe he was thinking about SEO a little!

Good news for "Christopher's Big SEO Experiment"

Why does this matter for me particularly right now? Well, I'm in the middle of a Big SEO Experiment, trashing a whole load of domains I've had for some time and redirecting all my traffic and links to one platform (this one). It's a pretty big risk from an SEO perspective as it means moving out of my various niche websites and into one "brand" that I am going to have to work hard to get Google to understand.

There are no keywords in my domain name - just my name, which is now effectively my brand. It's a far cry from domains like thetruthaboutseo.co.uk that I used to own.

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