“Can your domain name affect SEO?” is an important question to ask, since a domain name is often both your company brand name, and the way that people find you online. Thus, it is important to consider the implications of your brand name as part of your company’s search engine optimization strategy.

Picking a domain name based only on its value as a search term isn’t advisable. If your domain name is “MensClothing.com” (a real site that redirects to “mensapparel.com”), the name is pretty generic. In fact, in 2012 Google specifically started looking for ‘Exact Match Domains’ with keyword names, to find ones that don’t have great content. You may get random hits from people typing a generic name looking for clothing, but it is not the same as “BrooksBrothers.com” – a well known high end clothing company that has built brand equity and affinity over time. Instead, it is better to focus on building a brand (rather than just focusing on SEO). There are many good guides, like this one from Inc.com, for how to build a brand.

Past the brand name aspect, the way that search engines like Google, Bing, and others find your website when someone searches for a term have many factors. These algorithms are complex and change over time, however, there are some simple steps you can take to optimize your domain choice and take advantage of search engine optimization to benefit your site.  Let’s look at a few things that are important:

Reputation

Do people write about your site on other sites? Do you get links back to your site from other websites and social media platforms? Do you, in building your site, link to reputable content? There are many other aspects, but building up your reputation and having quality content will help more than having a generic name.

Pick the right domain

According to Desi Matlock, Website Consultant:

“Domain names should try to include a single clear and overreaching topic-related keyword, without losing brevity or watering down branding. First, you do this to make it crystal clear to the average searcher, as well as the search engines, what you do. For search engines, having your topic laid out at the domain level can’t hurt unless you intend to branch out into other topics, in which case your topic can be stated elsewhere in the URL than the domain name. Second, including a keyword in the domain improves the number of mentions of your keyword in the data associated with your links, since it’s part of your name. It’s less important to do than it used to be, but it doesn’t hurt. Also consider whether you can pull off a brief one-off word that explains what you do. This can be impossible with industry-specific or complex products and services. If you can’t include a keyword without hitting roughly 20 characters, then don’t. You may have a tougher time getting keywords into your link text without a keyword in the domain name, but you also won’t lose simplicity and memorability, which are critical.”

She also notes the exception to including a topical keyword is if you don’t have a single, clear, and over-reaching product or service. Don’t limit yourself if you have multiple products or services under your brand.

Having Multiple Domain Names point to the same site

According to research by AFNIC, the company that runs the .FR (France) domain, if you’re creating multiple sites, you’re going against the notion of building a reputation with lots of content on one site. You also run the risk of being found to be a “spam network” – not good for your reputation either. If you have multiple domain names (to purchase mis-spellings or nicknames of your business), you can make this work, as long as you avoid being found by a search engine to be creating “duplicate content.” Matlock notes that owning variations on your name, and domains in other TLDs are a buffer all businesses need against fraud or abuse.

What About the Country-Code Domains?

There are many choices in domains today. New domains are being released every week, such as .Club or .Photo. There are also country-code related domains, such as .IT for Italy. Google specifically treats some Country Code domains as generic, such as “.tv” or “.io” – meaning that the content won’t be associated with Tuvalu or the British Indian Ocean region. But if you registered a .IT domain, it might (or might not) be associated with Italy.

What do the New Generic Top Level Domains do for search?

Will a .Photo domain, for example, help you in search if you’re a photographer? Google engineer Matt Cutts has stated that, “I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either.” So, that is the current Google position. We don’t know what other search engines are doing or will do, or if Google will reconsider this in the future.

But, if you’re a photographer, and taking great photos, and having a .photo domain helps you brand and market, there’s no penalty. You may also be able to get a “better” name in some of the new domains if your favorite .com name was previously taken. If you’re changing your name, find one of the many excellent guides to moving your domain without losing your search engine ranking. Or better yet, hire a reputable SEO firm to help you.
Bottom Line

Matlock notes that the new domains are a challenge to a public (and search engines) used to putting “.Com” behind everything. The new TLDs have an uphill battle on both the brand recognition front and the search front to prove their worth. Many are spending millions to increase awareness, as .CO did previously. The jury is still out on what the final result will be. Don’t be afraid to try the new domains, and consider having multiple (properly redirected) domains to ensure people AND search engines find you for the right reasons.