Mobile SEO

Google’s On Domain Name Selection: Branding Over Keywords


In a recent episode of the ‘Search Off The Record’ Podcast, Google’s Search Relations Team, composed of John Mueller, Gary Illyes, and Martin Splitt, weighed in on a topic often discussed among website owners and SEO practitioners: the impact of keywords in domain names on search engine rankings.

The Keyword Controversy

The discussion was initiated with Mueller asking, “Moving on to domain names, should I put keywords in my domain name, or should I pick a brand?” Illyes responded with a chuckle, indicating that the answer wasn’t simple.

“From Google’s perspective or Search perspective… Well, I can’t say if it’s a Search perspective. But from Google’s and Steve’s perspectives, I don’t think it matters,” Illyes stated.

The User’s Perspective

Illyes elaborated that while the presence of keywords may not necessarily impact search engine rankings, it could influence user behavior.

“For example, if I want to take a passport photo, I have the weird sites that will target any kind of photo. And then you have passportphoto.com. And I’m more likely to click on passportphotos.com for some reason as a user,” Illyes explained.

The Role Of Dashes & Exact Match Domains

When Splitt questioned whether the presence of dashes in a domain name or exact match domains would make a difference, Illyes responded:

“Anything that’s in the URL can be technically manipulated by the site owner. So we probably don’t want to put that much weight on that kind of input. Which means that in ranking, it might not help as much as people think it does.”

In other words, from a search engine perspective, whether a dash is present in the domain name doesn’t matter.

However, Illyes added that from a user experience perspective, “having the domain name with a dash is probably more readable.”

Looking Beyond Keywords: The Branding Perspective

As the conversation steered towards the long-term implications of choosing domain names, Mueller advised focusing more on the brand than the keywords.

He explained, “Your website will probably evolve over time. And you could be selling potato peelers now, but maybe you’re also selling avocado peelers in a year from now. And if your website is called bestpotatopeeler2023.com, starting to sell avocado peelers would be awkward.”

Ultimately, the Google Search Relations team suggests incorporating keywords in domain names should be a business decision rather than an SEO strategy.

As Mueller pointed out, “You should think long-term because changing your domain name is always a hassle. And you want to keep it for a long time if you can.”

For more on domain name selection best practices, check out the full episode of Google’s podcast.


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