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by Stephen Logan on 25th October 2010
Just why are domain names still so important and how can they help to propel you to the top of Google, even in competitive markets?
Your domain name says a lot about you. It is your online identity. Whatever it is, your website is built around that simple word, term or phrase. Any URL you create will always contain your domain.
Just look at sex.com. During its troubled history it has been at the centre of ownership disputes, court cases and bankruptcy proceedings. But last week it was announced that another anonymous bidder had snagged it for a mere $13 million [see: Sex.com internet domain name sold for $13m | BBC].
Having the right domain is clearly still big business.
Perhaps somewhat providentially, SEOmoz released some interesting statistics relating to the performance of domain names within SERPs in the very same week [see: Are Exact Match Domains Too Powerful? Is Their Time Limited?]. They discovered that Google were favouring domains containing the term being searched for in almost a third of all first page results. Not a massive shock.
So for example if you had a domain with ‘Workplace Safety’ in the title, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll appear in the top 10 for that search term. In fact you can test it. If you type in ‘workplace safety’ the top answer is…yep, www.workplacesafetyadvice.co.uk (we have no affiliation with this site, it is just an example).
This is a site with 64 backlinks. It has a respectable, but far from sensational, PageRank of 4 [see: Has Google's Toolbar PageRank Been Shelved (and Should We Care)?] It only has one paragraph of unique content on the homepage. It was first registered 2 years and 10 months ago.
Despite all this, it is currently outranking the Government’s official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) site, Wikipedia, Directgov and a whole host of other workplace safety related domains. In terms of the traditional SEO school of thought, this just isn’t possible.
But that is to discount the Google Vince update and various other brand orientated (domain name) updates in the past year or so [see: Big Brands Benefit from Latest Update]. It’s not just Google though, on both Yahoo and Bing, workplacesafetyadvice.co.uk came top. In fact only Ask Jeeves returned anything different, with HSE coming in first. They are all benefiting exact match domains.
There is logic to this brand bias. If you search for a company, you don’t want to be left scrolling through numerous results to find their homepage. It reflects badly on the business and the search engine.
To rectify any such issues, Google has simply added weight to the brand name. Obviously it won’t be able to identify exactly what that is in most cases, so it will use the information it has available to it – such as keywords, H1 tags and the domain of course. So if you’re called Workplace Safety Advice and have included that phrase in all content, Meta and titles as well as your domain, Google will identify this as being your brand. Before you know it, you’re in top spot.
This creates a huge advantage for any site. However, it still doesn’t guarantee top spot. You’re not going to outrank Apple for their domain name, but a strong site with good history should be able to compete with a significantly weaker competitor with proper targeting. However, this earlier example shows just how difficult that can be.
One takeaway for every site is the need to ensure that the page title includes your primary keyword. You can’t change domain name, but you can at least do something about your URL string. That’s not withstanding your on-page content and Meta of course, every little helps.
But once again, this is an important reminder of just how valuable a domain name can be [see: What are Domain Names Really Worth?]. The reason companies pay thousands, even millions of pounds on a URL is exposure. If customers can remember your domain, they’ll keep coming back. If the search engines are prepared to rank you for it, you’ll attract new custom.