Buying a domain is like buying a used car. It may look new and pretty at first glance, but it’s better to give it a thorough check and look under the hood before making the final decision. The same goes for domains — to boost its chances of having SEO success, multiple parameters must be checked up on like age, history, authority, and name.
In this article, we will analyze which domain parameters can indeed affect its future optimization, and which ones won’t make any difference in terms of SEO.
So let’s find out what you need to keep in mind from the SEO perspective when choosing a domain, how to correctly evaluate domains “with history”, and what advice should be given to those who rack their brains when it comes to choosing among numerous keyword-packed domains.
1. It’s not the domain age that matters but the experience
The domain’s age does not directly affect SEO — if that were the case, everyone would be running around buying pre-aged domains to manipulate the search results.
It all seems pretty straightforward, but Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s web spam team, said that there isn’t really a huge difference between a 6-month-old and a 1-year-old domain. But what about a tiny little difference then? Well, let’s get this sorted out.
What we know as a fact is that new websites practically never get top ranking spots right after launch. Some SEO specialists call this phenomenon the Google Sandbox. It’s a filter that prevents newborn sites from ranking among the top results — usually it takes them from several weeks to several months to get out of it. Although Google claims there’s no such thing, experts tend to think that there are 3 reasons why new website rankings are delayed — they simply don’t have enough content, backlinks and user signals to be ranked high from the early days of creation. This is what we refer to as domain experience.
Long story short, there’s no point in striving to get a pre-aged domain in hopes that you’ll get some sort of special attention from Google for two reasons. First, even if Google takes the domain age into account, it’s definitely not an important ranking factor. Meaning, the site won’t occupy high SERP rankings simply because of its ripe old age. Second, if a young site doesn’t have high rankings from the very first days, it’s just because it’s lacking relevant content, natural backlinks and user signals.
2. Domain zones and levels are up to you
According to the latest statistics, about 43.59% of all domain names use the popular .com extension. That’s why all of the best names in this zone are already taken. If you’re unable to register your domain in this zone, consider .net, .org, .co, .biz or one of the new top-level domains.
Domain zones and levels play an important role when you’re dealing with a specific country. Google tends to prioritize regional domains such as .uk, .fr, .fi, etc. in the particular regions they belong to. Moreover, people used to give more credit to regional domains because they are more familiar and clear to them.
Also, some domain zones can have additional meaning through the combination of their letters — such regional zones as .tv (Tuvalu) or .fm (the Federated States of Micronesia). For instance, if your site is going to sell yoga video courses, yoga.tv could be a pretty cool option. Moreover, new top-level domain zones like .money can give your site creative branding opportunities and show good SEO results. In 2015, Google announced its own domain registrar Google Domains. In this service, you can register new top-level domains (TLD) such as .boutique, .catering, .coach, .florist, .coffee, .jewelry, .photography, .systems, etc. Note that Google treats new top-level domains like other general domains (.com & .org) — without any additional preferences or a special ranking attitude. But having a new TLD helps you stand out in the network by defining your niche. It’s also a great chance to deliver your message if you make a phrase out of it. For example: danis.cool, annlikes.to, iknow.how, lets.talk, and so on. If you are sure that this will succeed in your niche, you can purchase such a domain.
You might have heard of possible SEO boosts for such zones as .edu, .gov, .mil, but know that they can not be bought off-the-cuff and should only be used for their intended purposes — education, governmental or military needs respectively. I mean, can you imagine a footwear store with a .gov domain zone? That’s why search engines highly esteem such domains – you can’t just buy them, plus they require you to maintain a certain standard.
In a nutshell, Google doesn’t claim that the domain zone has a direct impact on rankings. If you plan on competing in the global market, register a top-level domain and make sure to take your niche (.com, .net, .org, .biz) into account. On top of that, in order to successfully promote a site in a certain country, we recommend registering a domain in the same country. The search giant tends to display “.fr” pages to users in France, and “.uk” pages in the UK. But don’t forget to provide the site with the properly configured language versions (if any).
3. Authority may be contradictory
Google doesn’t have anything like a website authority indicator or score. However, you can still evaluate the credibility of a domain by looking at such metrics as Moz DA (Domain Authority – website metric developed by Moz). This metric can help predict future website rankings by taking into account the total number of links, their quality, social media factors, mozRank, mozTrust, etc. If we draw a parallel, Google may use similar metrics to rank your website.
But don’t misunderstand this: Google itself does not use DA.
Moz DA ranges from 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest trust point. This score is logarithmic, which is why it’s so much easier to get a score between 20 and 30 than, for example, between 70 and 80.
You can check the website DA using Moz’s plugin or their Link Explorer tool. Alternatively, you can go for one of the dozens free online checkers or try SE Ranking Website Audit in case you want to see the DA metric along with other domain characteristics.
Another way to check this parameter — especially if you have a scope of domains — is to do it in our separate Parameters Checker. You can add as many domains as you need in one go and get DA metrics on each one of them.
However, these numbers should be used for an approximate assessment of the site and look at in comparison with other sites. Moreover, like any other metric, the DA can be manipulated, so do not be surprised if you see poor quality websites with a high domain authority rate. Always check as many domain characteristics as possible and don’t solely rely on authority metrics.
4. Domain history is a skeleton in the closet
Diving into the history of a domain will help you find out everything about its content at different points in time. Why should the domain’s past bother you? Because if you don’t know what you’re dealing with, it may have a negative outcome on your site’s karma.
Imagine that you want to buy a domain with history/trust/recognition. Or if you’re looking for a domain for a very new brand — perhaps this domain name was previously occupied by someone else and thus you should know how relevant it was to your niche.
Better check up on the domain’s history before completing the purchase. That way, you’ll minimize your chances of being surprised by any adult or forbidden content it could have had in the past.
Go to http://archive.org/web/web.php and enter the domain name you’re interested in. As a result, you will see what it looked like at a certain period of time.
Furthermore, it’s also worth checking the previous hosting provider (owner) and how often it was changed. Ultimately, you will know how stable the site was and how many hands it changed over the years.
Try to check the domain history for as many different dates as you can because you never know what skeletons you’ll find. If you notice redirects to other sites, subject changes or inappropriate content, this is enough grounds to decline the purchase.
5. Keywords are not always key
A domain name that precisely matches a search query is called an exact match domain (EMD). For example, if you want your site to be ranked for the keyword “best seo tool”, the EMD would be bestseotool.com. Accordingly, a partial match domain name (PMD) contains both the brand name and one of the targeted keywords.
For example, if you’re trying to rank for the keyword “Chicago pizza” any domain with “pizza” or “Chicago” in it would be a partial match domain. For example — “andrewpizza.com” or “chicagofood.com”.
But what’s better for SEO? Let’s dig a little deeper.
EMD and PMD pros:
- Users understand what they’ll find on the site simply by looking at the domain name.
- Higher CTR.
- Can get long-tail traffic and mentions with keywords.
EMD and PMD cons:
- EMDs can be classified as spam.
- Over-optimization of the anchor list.
- In some cases, they are difficult or very expensive to get (register/purchase).
- May hamper brand development.
In October 2012, Google introduced a new EMD filter that ensures low-quality domains don’t rise high in Google’s SERPs simply because they include the search terms in their names. The .com domain is less likely to fall under the Google EMD filter because search engines trust them more compared to others.
If you have high-quality content on your site, Google will not apply the filter just because it’s an EMD. Also, Google representatives told us lod and clear that keywords in the domain name don’t provide any additional preferences in the search results.
Make the decision based on your goals.
If you’re going to develop a brand, better use it’s name in the domain. Because if you don’t do it, someone else can take it and use it for their own purposes. Ignoring the brand name and focusing on the keywords may play a low-down trick on you. That way, your brand won’t get a mention without a link. Additionally, if you decide to expand the website product lines, your domain name may no longer correspond with its specifics. Moreover, people tend to remember brand names more easily than names with general keywords.
6. Names should tell stories
Basically, we’ve partially covered this topic in a previous section. But there are still important naming rules you’d better consider before deciding to buy a domain.
Its name should be easy to remember and spell. Keep it simple — avoid additional characters, numbers as they will complicate the name entry process for users and create additional opportunities for human errors. Moreover, double-dashed domains such as best-restaurant-texas or buy-car-in-usa associate with intentions to trick the search engines and get high rankings.
Also, try not to exceed the 15-character name length, shorter is always better.
Regarding the use of non-English symbols (cyrillic, hieroglyphs) in the domain name, John Mueller from Google said in a recent video that using non-English URLs for non-English websites is fine and that Google is able to crawl, index and rank them.
Here are a few more tips on domain-naming:
- Domain names should be easily written, not have double meaning and be associated with the area of your business.
- Do not use copyrighted words or phrases in domain names. Before registering a domain, check it through free services such as http://www.copyright.gov/records and http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks.
- You’re more than welcome to use the domain name generators available online. They allow you to easily mix and match keywords, add prefixes/suffixes, and, at the same time, immediately check which domains are still available. After you have a list of 3-5 domain ideas, ask your colleagues/friends which one is the most appealing.
Now it’s your turn
Getting the name right is half the battle.
And now that you know what to look out for in a domain name before buying it, it’s time to take action!
If you already managed to get a cool domain name, please share it with us! Was it a hard choice? What were your guiding principles for choosing it? Would you change it now that you’ve read this blog post?
Looking forward to hearing your story 🙂