Taking the time to choose the right domain name for your website is very important. It’s not something you should do hastily or without considering all the background factors that make one domain name choice a star and another choice a dud. The influence that a domain name has on Google ranking has also changed a lot in the last few years, so updating your understanding of what the differences are might have a significant effect of your choice. Aside from reading my advice below, it’s possibly also wise to get some further insights from a professional SEO services provider before you make your final choice or a 30 minute consultation with us may be all you need.
DOMAIN NAMES CAN’T BE OWNED.
First thing’s first: You won’t own your domain name – you pay a license to use a domain name. In some instances you may be able to claim ‘the right to use’ a given domain name, depending on your company branding. The license for a domain name can usually be bought in time increments of anything upwards of a year. If you plan to use your domain name for a long time, I suggest you simply buy a long license period because you should stick with the same name throughout the life of your business anyway. Another person or business may buy a domain name that matches or is close to your business name in order to gain some advantage over you. You have legal recourse if that’s the case and you can lodge a claim in court. Click for more info.
WHICH DOMAIN NAME EXTENSION SHOULD YOU BUY?
There are many different domain name extensions. You will probably be familiar with a number of them, like .com, or .co.nz. Which one you select will have a significant impact on SEO for your website due to targeting preferences.
Domain extensions fall into two categories: 1) ccTLD =country code Top Level Domain and 2) gTLD =generic Top Level Domain. The country code TLD can only target the website to the country for which it is valid. In other words, if your audience / clientele is in New Zealand and you don’t plan to trade outside of that country, you should probably select a TLD that ends in ‘nz’. You’ll have many options within that set, like .net.nz, .co.nz, .kiwi.nz, .org.nz etc. To target Australia, you would use a .au ccTLD. If you choose a ccTLD, it doesn’t mean your website can’t show up in Google in other countries. It just means that you have pre-defined a ‘preference’ to target mainly the country to which it refers. It will be more difficult to gain rank outside that country.
On the flip side, if you want to target the globe and your business has no geographic boundary, you should select a gTLD like .com, .net, or even .kiwi. There are scores to choose from. gTLDs are not necessarily globally targeted. You can instruct Google and other search engines that you wish to target your gTLD to a specific country. This website is on a gTLD domain targeted at New Zealand. Ask an SEO services expert for advice if you’re not sure what’s best for your business. If using a gTLD targeted globally, you may lose some power to rank within your own country, so choose carefully.
CHOOSING THE NAME:
Your Company Name is a great place to start, but often company names bare no obvious relationship with what the company does or sells. There are many company names that do very well as domain names, but that’s usually because the company has made a name for itself using other marketing strategies, like television or radio advertising. These can lead to organic referred visits after searches for the company name. This is probably not the best choice for you if your company and your public brand are different. The SEO power of a company name is almost absolute. Unless your company name is something very common, it’s very likely that if your company is searched for, your website will appear in the top of search results.
Your Brand should probably be your top choice, but that advice may differ from business to business. The brand, by its nature, is something that is assumed will be publicly presented and advertised through many channels, not necessarily just online. Brand name domains are often great SEO tools to get lots of organic referrals, but this only works if people already know the brand and use a search engine, or simply type your domain name into their browser. But these are two very different things: The former means they have heard about your brand but need to search for you – it gets recorded in Google Analytics as a search referral. The latter means they don’t even need to search, they know the exact address already, and it’s recorded in Google Analytics as a direct entry.
If the brand is new, and you plan to gain traction on the web alone, you might need to think about other promotional strategies like buying paid search impressions via Google Adwords, at least until your brand starts picking up organic referrals.
Exact Match Domains are the third possible choice. EMDs are domain names that match against actual search queries being made in search engines. If someone searches for “cheap used cars” and you are in the business of selling low cost used cars, then this is an appropriate EMD for your business. EMDs used to be very powerful in gaining traffic from matched searches, but they no longer have the great power that they used to have. EMDs that are highly commercially focused now attract a slight starting penalty from search engines like Google. In other words, you may start your website with what will seem like a negative SEO effect until such time as you can prove your website is worthy of rank. If you plan to rely entirely on the commercial match of your EMD as your complete SEO strategy, then your site is likely to fail to gain any rank. Another problem you need to anticipate is that if you plan to sell something other than just low cost used cars, like boats for example, the domain name will have no SEO power for that.
EMDs provide the greatest SEO power when your website content also has strong organic SEO performance. So if you plan to select an EMD domain name, be prepared to invest time and effort in making your website content rich and highly optimised for search. You may need to hire an SEO services provider for help in making that possible, or to at least map out a workable SEO strategy for you.
Feature Matched domains are my final example. These are domains that are a little bit like brands because they need to become well known before they generate much in the way of organic referrals. An air conditioning company called ‘ABC Air Conditioning’ for example, might choose a domain name like keepcool.com. It’s not their company name, probably not their brand name and is not a commercial EMD. Instead, the name becomes their online sub-brand. Depending on what is selected, these might provide some SEO power in that they might match or partially match to commercial search phrases.
BUYING MORE THAN 1 DOMAIN NAME.
There’s nothing to stop you from buying many different domain names, however, there is no SEO benefit to owning them, or even redirecting them to your website. Sometimes you can benefit from owning other domains and redirecting them to your website if: a) you want to do a special promotion and instead of advertising your landing page (which may be a very long URL) you tell people to visit the new domain name (a much shorter and easier to type URL) which you have redirected to the landing page, or b) you expect or have evidence of people miss-spelling or commonly miss-typing your actual domain name, so you purchase and redirect the miss-spellings or miss-types to your website.
When redirecting traffic from a domain name to your website, I strongly advise you to not use ‘cloaking’. This is when the new domain name ‘pretends’ to be the real website and people appear as if they are on a whole new website. This will have no positive SEO effect and may have a negative SEO effect on your actual website.
One area where I do advise you to buy other domain names is when you own a brand name domain which might be able to be claimed by others, and especially your competitors. In the example of the air conditioning company from above, no-one has the exclusive right to own ‘keepcool.com’, and unless that’s your registered brand, the next best way to protect your sub-brand is by buying the valid alternative ccTLDs or gTLDs that match. i.e. to protect this name buy: keepcool.co.nz, keepcool.net.nz, keepcool.kiwi.nz and so on. There is no SEO benefit to doing this. You should do so purely for brand protection.
DOMAIN NAME REGISTRARS.
There are many domain name providers (registrars) you can choose from, but the key in making the right choice has most to do with how much support you feel you will need in managing your domain. You’ll need to be familiar with actioning necessary changes when building a new website and making use of the domain name, so if you’re new to that, it’s best to select a registrar that includes tech support.
Here are a few registrars you might like to check out:
WWW OR NOT WWW?
The ‘www’ section of a web address (which stands for World Wide Web and denotes a ‘subdomain’) is an unnecessary element. You may notice that it’s not used for this website and functions perfectly without the ‘www’ in front. Usually, when a website is built, the owner will choose to use their domain name with or without this feature. The ‘www’ element provide absolutely no SEO benefit and may arguably provide a slight negative SEO value. Most websites will have a redirection in place for the ‘www’ version to push traffic to the non-‘www’ version, or vice versa. Ensure you do have this type of redirection for your site. Try putting “www.crankedseo.com” in your browser address window and observe what happens. All traffic is bounced to the non-‘www’ version. It’s possible to have a website on a non-‘www’ version of a domain name, and an entirely different website on the ‘www’ version of the same domain name.
If you are building a website to replace an old website that is using ‘www’ in the address, for continuity and best SEO I suggest you continue to use it. This is because any links that exist on the web (including in Google and Bing) will probably already be referring to the ‘www’ version. Changing it may lose you some rank, but you will probably eventually gain it back. Consider the short term loss against any possible long term gain of shedding the ‘www’ (which may be none).
No matter which you decide to use, ensure that Google is informed which version you want to have displayed in search results via Google Search Console. To do so, you must register and claim ownership of both versions of the site in Search Console to be able to set a display preference.
USING SUBDOMAINS OTHER THAN ‘WWW’:
If you have a website that uses different sets of pages for different regions or languages, an option is to build each language as a whole separate website in a subdomain of your root domain. For example, en.yourdomain.com, fr.yourdomian.com and de.yourdomain.com. In these examples, you’d use the ‘en’, ‘fr’ and ‘de’ instead of ‘www’. Each would be a self-standing website independent of the root domain: yourdomain.com and could be in English, French and German translations. The rank of one subdomain does not directly affect the rank of any other subdomain, or the root domain.
DASHED DOMAIN NAMES:
Some further notes about the formatting of your domain name: try to avoid the use of dashes (-) in your domain name. One is OK, if you really think it’s necessary, but two dashes tends to be associated with overly optimised EMDs or SEO techniques dating back several years now. There is some thought that Google sees dashes as a behaviour associated with spamming and will possibly regard your website as having a negative initial value. There is no need to use dashes to separate words in your domain name because search engines are very good at figuring out where one word starts and another ends. The dash as a word-break signal is not needed. Your website visitors may also forget to use the dash and not land on your site. For best SEO strength, I suggest you don’t use them.
USING SSL ENCRYPTION:
SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is a process by which your website and your visitor’s browser can communicate with each other through secure channels. The data, if intercepted, can’t be decoded by a third party. It’s typically used by banks to ensure their client’s information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Using SSL is an option you could consider for SEO purposes, because in 2014 Google announced that websites using SSL encryption were going to be deemed to be more trustworthy. This is likely because of two reasons: 1) people investing in SSL certificates are less likely to be scammers, and 2) The end user would feel more secure and therefore have a better perceived experience on your site.
Any website that handles financial transactions should have SSL anyway, but other websites that don’t handle such information can use SSL optionally. This website operates entirely in SSL with 128bit data encryption. The typical cost to add this to your website is between $80 and $300 per annum. You should make the decision about SSL before your website has become well established in search engines. If you choose to change to SSL from non-secure transmission after your site has already been live a while, you may lose some rank as a result, but you will most likely gain that back (and maybe a little more) after the change. If changing, you should perform a full site address migration using Google Search Console and also redirect your old site URLs to the new ones. The difference is in the ‘http://…’ part of your web address – it becomes ‘https://…’ instead. (https = hyper text transfer protocol – secure)