Are Domain Names a Google Ranking Factor?

Banner posing whether or not domain names are a ranking factor

What’s in a name?

As far as domains are concerned, possibly quite a bit. But will an exact match domain name give your site a performance boost in Google Search?

Here is a closer look at the link between domain names and ranking factors.

Once upon a time, they were everywhere. Every domain we seemed to come across looked like www.fixyourpcinbradford.com or www.buystationeryinbulk.com. Those are (fictional) examples of what I’m referring to when I talk about exact match domains (or EMD’s).

They are domain names which strive to include the exact keyword phrases you think you need to rank for in SERPs. Many people still have strong feelings about them, despite Google’s own Matt Cutts (come back, Matt!) stating almost a decade ago that “exact-match” domains are not a ranking factor.

So now we can safely put that myth to bed right? However it is worth taking a closer look at how your domain name can impact search results.

Put aside those false claims from within (and without) the SEO industry and save yourself a world of confusion by reading on...

Domain names and their Links to Ranking

It is something most of us in the SEO industry have heard time and again; exact match domains have the potential to generate credibility fast.

They’re one of the best investments a business can make.

They give you an instant, competitive edge over others in your industry...

There was a time when all the above were completely relevant points, remember back in 2003 when The Hotels.com domain was sold for $11 million? That’s all the proof you need.

That same thinking saw an avalanche of domains containing pertinent keywords, to make the most of that mythical (?) ranking boost.

It’s time for some facts.

Domain Names & Ranking Factors: The Hard Evidence

It is still a topic that most people in the industry have an opinion on but every so often, information surfaces that goes beyond online chatter, from those who know.

Ten years ago now, fellow SEO Bill Slawski went through Google’s exact match domain patent with a fine-tooth comb and unearthed what is still considered genuinely insightful data, along with the possibility that, according to the patent, keywords in domains may well help them to perform better.

That very same year, Matt Cutts weighed in on behalf of Google itself in a Webmaster Hangout, stating that:

“Now if you’re still on the fence, let me just give you a bit of colour, we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains, and some people have complained that we’re giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains.

And so we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn’t necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”

From this we can clearly see that, a decade ago in 2011, domain names definitely had an impact on rankings.

But things never stand still in the world of SEO and the following year, Matt pressed ‘send’ on a Tweet telling us that, if not done correctly, then low-quality EMDs will have a negative impact.

Fast-forward to today (or 2020 to be more precise) and the rhetoric is different again, as John Mueller proved in a #AskGoogleWebmasters episode addressing this very issue:

“Just because a website has a keyword in its domain name doesn’t mean that it’s more relevant than others for that keyword. In short, you don’t need to put keywords in the domain name.”

For today’s SEOs It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

How important are Exact Match Domains today?

They aren’t, from the standpoint of ranking factors, but like many things in our industry, that statement comes with an exception. If you are correctly evaluating the goals for your domain name and navigational search (see my guide to user intent) is considered to be important, then if users are searching for your specific domain, as opposed to typing it directly into the address bar or opening the site using bookmarks then your domain name may help that domain rank for that query...

Confused? Need more information around domains and SEO?

Get in touch, I’d love to hear your thoughts.