I met an old friend last week who happened to be starting a business, and planning to create a website for it. She started asking me stuff like “what domain name I should use?” “should I go for a .com or .net or should I try .business?”
Truth is, it got me pondering about what the best domain names and extensions to use and how these will impact the site’s SEO.
If you have the same questions, then this article is for you.
What is the Difference Between TLD and SLD?
To avoid confusion, let’s have a clear understanding first of some of the terms that will be mentioned in this post.
TLD – Top Level Domain is the main domain name around the web. Today, we have tons of TLDs to choose from but very few of them rank well globally. The main TLDs that rank well globally are: .com, .org, .net
SLD – Second Level domain is the domain name that we usually purchase at Godaddy or Namecheap. For this site’s URL, seo-hacker is the SLD. To highlight it further, this is the SLD: https://seo-hacker.com
How do I choose my SLD?
One of the hardest things in life is to name stuff – name a business, name a newborn child, name a car, and yes even coming up with your domain name, not to mention the fact that most of the names that you have in mind are already taken.
For others, the concern does not just lie with the availability of the name, but how it will affect the SEO and business in general.
For that, take these considerations when thinking of your SLD.
1. Target your keyword
While placing your keyword in your domain name doesn’t boost rankings (not how it used to be), it’s still helpful to do this for relevancy signal. If you notice, Google and other search engines still bold keywords appearing in domain names.
2. Use your brand name
There are cases in which the brand is not the keyword. There are companies who are lucky enough to have the brand name as the target keyword, or the target keyword as the brand name, but for some names where it’s really not possible: choose brand over keywords.
The truth is Google values branding more than keywords.
“Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is clearly hard-wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away.” -Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman
3. Make it relevant
It’s important that your domain name communicates the right message. People will have a better understanding of what your website or business is all about by making your domain name relevant to your niche or industry.
4. Keep it short
According to a study, the average length of top 50 most popular websites have 6 characters in their domain name.
So, one or two words is good enough for a domain name.
How to choose the best TLD?
From 1985 to 2013 the number of TLD extensions only grew to 260, but just last year, it drastically expanded to almost 500, and foresee to grow to more than 900 in the coming years.
With tons of available extensions, it’s hard to identify which one to use.
To guide you with choosing the best TLD, take these tips into considerations.
1. Target location
If you are targeting a specific location, let’s say the United Kingdom, then using an extension (or geographic suffix) “.co.uk. is the best thing to do.
Having a geo-specific extension will help you rank for specific countries where people are inclined to choose local link – Google will also give out local results.
It’s also recommended that when you’re targeting a specific location that you make your TLD geo-specific, than just putting the location on your SLD or Website Name. Because Google may not see you targeting a specific location (even if the location is in the website’s name) if you’re using generic top level domains (gTLDs) such as .com or .org.
2. Industry specific
With so many TLDs available, you can even make your domain name industry specific. For example, if you’re a marketing company, you can use .marketing. If it’s a food blog, you can use .food.
The good thing about this is that people, as well as search engines, will have a better understanding of what your industry is all about, that’s why you also have to be careful when using an industry specific extension. Be sure of what your industry is, there’s no turning back once you choose that particular extension – you can’t be a food blog today, and decide months later that your industry is handicrafts and still use the .food extension.
3. The .com extension is still widely used
75% of all websites are using .com, and is 20 times more valuable than their .net and .org counterparts.
So aside from using a geo-specific or industry specific extension, it is highly recommended to always buy a .com counterpart.
If these tips still aren’t enough, I’ve written a more in-depth guide on Choosing the Perfect Top Level Domain.
How do Domain Names and Extensions Affect SEO
Now, the real question is how these will affect SEO.
There are about 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm, and domain name is only one of them; thus it has very little to no effect with the site’s SEO. However, having a well thought SLD and TLD will definitely help in many ways.
1. Reputation management
If you have a good domain name, meaning relevant and properly spelled, your reputation and authority will definitely increase.
Also, getting all the counterparts of your domain name will help protect your company from a possible reputation damage, such as when someone buys other extensions for your company such as .sucks, and .bad.
2. Relevancy signal
As I mentioned earlier, even if putting your target keyword on your SLD or even choosing industry specific TLD will not help with boosting your rankings, search engines can still use it for relevancy signal by bolding keywords that appear on domain names.
3. Reach the right audience
Using a geo-specific extension will help you reach the right audience. Especially now that Google is improving its local search.
Experiment and Results
I’ve had this experiment in mind for quite a while now where we change our business website’s domain name to a catchier and more unique tone. If you didn’t know, our old business website’s domain name sa seo-hacker.net. This lead to some complications with the recent Google Diversity Update and we also experienced my blog (seo-hacker.com) competing with the business site. So, I made the executive decision to change our business website’s domain name. From seo-hacker.net, it became seohacker.services. A more apt and unique name compared to before and here are the effects for the keywords we were ranking for:
As you can see from the graph, during the start of our transition to a new domain name, all our rankings went down. We expected this to happen though since it’s common to lose rankings when migrating to a new domain, and we technically migrated to a new domain even if we only changed our domain name.
Fortunately, after the redirects, GSC migration, and proper indexing finished, we slowly recovered our old rankings and they have been consistent ever since.
This isn’t a success story by any means. I just wanted to show you that aside from wins and losses, there are domain name changes where everything goes back to normal after a period of volatility. This serves as a reminder to all webmasters and SEOs that when you happen to migrate to a new site or totally change your domain name, you can’t be lax about it since you might just lose everything you’ve worked hard to achieve.
As Google’s Matt Cutts explained, they will continue to rank the most relevant results regardless of the domain name and extension. It pays to have a domain name that will strongly represent what your blog or company is all about.
Pick the best domain name for you, and optimize it by doing proper SEO and content creation, and I’m sure everything will be just fine!
Have you tried using the new extensions such as .technology, .software, .coffee (and 300 other more)? Did you find using these helpful to your site’s SEO? Share us your findings by commenting below!