Domain Names: Are They Still Important For SEO?

Your domain name is incredibly important, both in terms of its SEO value and its ability to visually entice customers and prospective visitors onto your site.

As many as 6 million businesses all over the world are listed with Google Places, so it would make sense to assume that this number is actually much higher if you take into account all those that are yet to register with Google. Every online user can be counted as a potential customer, so it’s vital that online businesses optimise their sites for SEO.

In order to begin understanding how domain names are important for SEO, let’s start at the very beginning…

What is a domain name?

A domain name is the ID string that is used to define a website. They exist in order to allow computers, networks and other services to tell the difference between the many websites out there, and they include domain names such as .com, .info, .net and .org, as well as country-specific domains like .eu, .uk and .ru.

When creating a domain name you can either choose to be keyword or brand focused. This means you can either include keywords in your domain name or stick to a branded name which doesn’t include any keywords whatsoever.


What are the benefits of using a branded domain name?

Branded domains do come with some benefits, such as:

  • Branded domains can be easier to advertise, as they can stand out against the backdrop of keyword-focused domains.
  • They are also more memorable for customers. This means that, should a potential customer see an ad for your site, they can remember it and visit it later on without too much difficulty.
  • Brand domains can be better for long-term plans rather than short-term SEO opportunities. Some of the biggest and best sites out there are branded, such as Facebook, Twitter, eBay and so on.


What are the benefits of using a keyword-rich domain name?

Keyword domain names are also sometimes referred to as exact match domains. There are some definite pluses to using these domains, including:

  • Google had traditionally ranked exact match domain sites higher in SERPs than branded domains (keyword relevancy factor).
  • When linking to your site you can use the keywords used in your domain name, which can help you to rank higher for said keywords.
  • The keywords in your domain name can be your brand, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

It is important to take note that Google recently updated its algorithm to devalue poor quality sites using exact match domains (also known as the EMD update). In fact there was a time when (circa 2009) an exact match domain is all you needed to climb up the search rankings for a large number of keywords. This advantage was heavily exploited by affilate and internet marketers to build a plethora of low quality sites.


This EMD update significantly affected affiliate/niche websites that often target low competition keywords with easily available exact match domains. Examples of such keywords are “african mango” (a popular diet pill with a vast affiliate network) or “tinnitus miracle” (also one of the best selling information products on Clickbank claiming to help people suffering from the debilitating tinnitus ear condition).

If your site is of high quality and attracts a diverse pool of natural links, then this should have had a minimal impact on you.

Which is better for small businesses?

Small businesses can implement exact match or keyword domain names depending on their personal preferences. For instance, Flat Pack Houses, a UK based company specialising in customised timber frame for homes, chose to go down the route of switching to an exact match domain name and has seen great success as a result.

However, your choice of domain name won’t be the only thing affecting rankings, so it’s important that businesses follow these changes up with strong link building and PPC campaigns.

Google’s view

Google’s Matt Cutts has even answered the age-old question of whether branded or exact match domains in this short video.

Matt Cutts explains that they both have their advantages, so at the end of the day it really is up to you when deciding which route to follow. However, with Google’s constant algorithm updates you should ensure your content is unique and interesting and that your SEO methods are as white hat as possible to achieve higher, sustained rankings for your website.

Which side of the fence do you sit on concerning this debate?


  1. lukman hakim February 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    I still believe that EMD still has its power on SEO. And I am continuing doing this. EMD works for me. What I always do is to provide only high quality contents for that EMD website and leave unnatural backlink behavior.


    • Anshul February 21, 2013 at 11:40 am #

      Hi Lukman,

      Yep totally agree. EMD’s are still powerful except in situations described in the post where it can raise a red flag.


  2. Tyler Durden February 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Branding non-keyword domains takes a huge investment in multiple advertising channels and is not an option for most businesses. Keyword domains often match the keyword queries of searchers, and thus provide descriptive information that reinforces what the searcher is looking for. Moreover, good EMD keyword domains demonstrate that the owner was savvy enough to be the first person ‘to get it’ or had the business success to buy the keyword domain at a premium aftermarket price. how many people would ‘click’ on Facebook, Yahoo or Twitter before they became well-recognized household brands? People search for even these branded domains use EMD queries, thus Google can never eliminate an EMD from search results or the search engine would be considered “broken”. The alleged EMD update is a false signal claimed by Google to prevent spammers from continue exploiting an algorthym factor that can never be abandoned.


    • Anshul February 21, 2013 at 11:43 am #

      Hi Tyler, yep excellent point there. Some of the large travel sites are a good example where they mix a good brandname with keywords to achieve successful results. Smaller businesses with smaller investment budgets will probably have to rely on EMD’s with a good link profile for the foreseeable future.


      • James February 21, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

        I think you’ve both hit the nail on the head there. Building a Branded domain name easily becomes a big budget pursuit. Whether it’s worth the financial and the time investment to build a branded domain all depends on how reliant on Brand your business is. As Tyler said, how many people choose to “click” a brand before it becomes recognizable and trusted.

        EMD’s shouldn’t be an issue as the article says “your site is of high quality and attracts a diverse pool of natural links, then this should have had a minimal impact on you.”

        I think that the pursuit of non-keyword domains, for the time being is for those with an already established brand or thinking especially long term.


  3. Roger Weavers March 6, 2013 at 2:21 am #

    I would normally recommend a combination of brand and keyword for most websites, like Using an EMD allows your to optimise for only one phrase, these days you need to optimise your site for as many phrases as possible. It is certainly possible to rank just as well with a branded domain name, it may take a bit more effort but I believe it has it advantages in the long term.
    I think the only sites that got hit with the EMD update where spammy sites anyway so if you have an EMD domain with quality content this shouldn’t be a problem


  4. Gary @ RetailerDepot March 13, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    I use both branded and exact match domains as I feel they both have a place in internet marketing. I do agree that a branded domain would be best for the long term. Where as an exact match domain may not even be relevent in a few years. anybody?


  5. Tyler Durden March 13, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Gary, you think EMD domains “may not be relevant in a few years”, yet you use EMD domains? (e.i., RetailerDepot & How relevant are Eight Track Players (for the last few decades)? Is there a demand for repair of a device that had a short shelf-life four decades ago?

    You have the right to a speculative opinion, but you should read the opinions of experts with more substantive knowledge before voicing uninformed speculation. Good luck with your repair business; if that doesn’t work out maybe you could become a dinosuar veterinarian.


  6. Henry March 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Using a domain name that exactly matches the target keyword in my opinion a bit risky. Think about the long run, I have a hunch that someday Google will provide the latest updates which may endanger our website. Given this vulnerability exploited by marketers.


    • Anshul March 24, 2013 at 11:53 am #

      Excellent point Henry but I guess as long as search engines are around, there is always going to be some update businesses will need to adapt to and that’s teh reality.


  7. Tyler Durden March 24, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Henry & Anshul,

    How can it be risky to provide the only exclusive decriptor (domain name) that matches exactly what the searcher queried? There is a ‘click’ advantage based on searcher reinforcement (seeing the exact words he/she inputted), which will prove perpetual as analytics are factored into the algorthym… and search engine algorthyms must account for both keyword searches and specific brand name searches, thus EMDs must always be weighted heavily in the SERPS – it’s a mathematical fact. Rely on math, not hunches.


  8. Me & My Successfull Team (MMST) April 3, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Now I am able to build Links for Niche Sites.

    Google still loves links; that much is undisputed. However, the question of how to build links or whether to “build” any links at all is always debatable.
    For example, I have never “built” a single link to; however, I have thousands of links pointing to my site. All of the links have come naturally because others linked to the site on their own based on the quality of my content or for other reasons. This is what I recommend doing for a true long term “Authority” site that you might be working on.
    However, when building a niche site, like the one in my Niche Site Project, I most certainly build links. The purpose of my niche sites is to perform exceptional keyword research, provide valuable and useful content to readers, and then to rank in Google. This usually requires some link building.For example


  9. Justin Cooke August 14, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

    We took a hit back when the “EMD Update” hit last year, but I think it had more to do with an overall picture as to how our sites were built rather than the particular domain they were using. We’ve adjusted a bit and are still buying exact match domains and it seems to be working out well. There’s still value with exact match, although balancing whether to use keywords or a branded domain is definitely a choice you need to consider. 🙂


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