A couple weeks ago, a user on Reddit asked a question about how Google would rank various domains that contained search keywords.
“How would Google rank the following domains: web-design.com, web.design, web-design.net?”
Here’s what Google Search Advocate/Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller had to say:
“Also no difference if you used sabertoothed-hedgehog.com.”
This answer isn’t out of line with what Mueller’s been telling webmasters and search engine marketers for years. But some SEO people are treating it like it’s big news.
Rather than acting like this is some sort of brand new development, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to explain why having keywords in your domain name doesn’t matter anymore.
Yes. You could easily rank a new website with exact match keyword domains as “recently” as… twelve years ago.
If you wanted to dominate the search engine results in 2010, loading up your domain name with search terms was undeniably a viable—if short-sighted—SEO tactic.
This tactic was exploited to death, of course, and it made the experience of search engine users pretty terrible for a while.
So Google nerfed the effects of domain keywords pretty quickly.
Some marketers who achieved success with keyword-based domains in the past just don’t want to let go—or don’t want to update their strategies.
What about the Keyword Domains That Do Rank Well?
Correlation isn’t causation. Mueller continued his response on Reddit with the following:
“Of course, you can also rank well with a domain that has keywords in it. “
“But you can rank well with other domain names too, and a domain won’t rank well just because it has keywords in it.”
The answer to whether having keywords in the domain makes a difference in how that site is ranked today is still “no.”
A related question was asked back in 2020, and it’s a good one.
Does having a keyword in your TLD (Top Level Domain) contribute to your SEO?
For instance, does having a .horse domain mean that the algorithm will rank your website higher for a search about horses? All other things being equal?
According to Google, nope.
It’s an interesting question. But as Mueller points out, you can pretty much find the answer yourself by doing any search.
“Anecdotally you can see that by searching naturally for anything that interests you.
I’d venture a guess that the top results don’t have those keywords as a domain ending. Often it’s not even in the URL at all. That’s by design.”
That last part is interesting. “By design.”
It’s just vague enough to allow marketers to speculate that there could be negative ranking effects for those newer TLDs.
However, a little digging shows that Google doesn’t treat these domain extensions positively or negatively.
If we don’t see a lot of .university results when we search for a university, or a lot of .doctor sites showing up in the SERPs when we’re looking for a physician, there are plenty of other factors contributing to that: SEO, authority, proximity, domain age, trust signals, and so on.
(For the record: Official country code TLDs like .co.za, .co.uk, etc. are taken into account by Google based on the location of the person searching. But newer region-based TLDs, like .miami, .berlin, etc. don’t receive any “proximity bonus.”)
Does This Mean No Keywords Should Ever Be in a Domain Name?
No. At the end of the day, there are some valid, non-SEO-related reasons why you might want to use keywords in your company’s domain name.
It’s also possible that your brand name itself contains keywords; Google’s algorithm is smart enough to recognize this.
But if you want your site to rank—and why wouldn’t you?—you need to weigh those factors against Google’s own advice. And Google has been advising businesses to elect to use their brand names for their domains over keywords for years now.
Above all, if you do choose to go with a keyword domain name rather than your brand name—don’t expect to dupe the algorithm as you could 11+ years ago.
Should I Ever Go With a Keyword TLD?
In some instances, using one of the newer keyword-based TLDs when the .com isn’t available can make sense—when it coordinates perfectly with your brand name, for instance.
Make sure you’re selecting your TLD for the right reasons—and not expecting the keyword in the TLD to boost your rankings.
In general, there’s not much reason for a business to ever choose a non-.com TLD over .com—unless, of course, it’s been registered already.
While most of these keyword domain extensions have been around for a while now, we’re still in a time when a lot of people find unusual TLDs confusing.
Once you’ve explained to someone in person that they need to type in sabertoothed dot hedgehog and not sabertoothed dot hedgehog dot com to get to your company’s site, you may regret your decision—let alone entering the cliquey, notoriously cutthroat sabertoothed hedgehog industry in the first place.