In this article, I’m going to look at a few factors that should be considered when purchasing a domain name. The key focus of this article is to provide useful information on how your domain name, including how the domain name extension is going to affect your search engine ranking. We will also give you a few useful tips for choosing a perfect domain name for your website that fit in with your marketing strategy.
To understand this a little better, we’ll start by taking a look at the anatomy of a domain:
A website address is made of four main components, the prefix, the subdomain, name and extension. The last two combined make the domain name. There are minor variations to these in use on other websites, however for the purpose of this article I want to ensure consistent referencing of these parts.
How do I choose a domain name?
When you start up a new business, one of the first things you will likely do is jump on a “domain registrar’s” website such as Gandi.net. A domain name registrar is just the name given to a company that looks after the reservation. On domain registrar site, you can search for and register a domain that reflects your business name. Simply enter your domain in the search bar, and hit search. After that you’ll get a list that shows all of the domains that match your search query.
A top level domain is the end part of your domain name, including .com, .net, .co.uk, .au.com and many more.
Whilst searching for a domain name, many of the top level domains (TLD) like .com, .org or .net will already be taken, and you may have to revert to a country code top level domain (ccTLD) such as .uk, .co.uk – both for the United Kingdom. Other options will include specialised TLDs such as .photography .newyork or .memorial which are geared towards specific kinds of sites.
A few other tips for choosing your domain name:
- Keep it short.
- Make it memorable
- Choose a name that is easy to pronounce.
- Be original to help people remember it
- Avoid complicated domain names
- Avoid words that can be spelt incorrectly
- Wider usage – for example email addresses and anchor text
- Don’t use words that could be misinterpreted
A question we frequently get asked about is adding hyphens to domain names. We generally advise against this for a couple of reasons. Many people generally consider hyphenated domains to be “spammy”. This decreases their trust in the domain (your website) and they are less likely to interact further with it. In turn search engines will not look favourably on websites that provide negative user experiences.
What Domain Name Extension is Best?
As we already explained in the previous section the domain name extension is the prefix to your domain name.
Dotcom domains are usually the go to when people begin searching for a domain. Everyone recognises .com domains, and most global corporations use them. As of February 2019, there are 137 million registered dotcoms. Given the choice between .com and .co.uk, which top level domain (TLD) extension is better for long term success?
Country code top level domains (ccTLD) allow you to focus your traffic on specific areas or countries, so has the upperhand for local SEO. ccTLDs also instil confidence in the website visitor, particularly when local time, currencies and language are in use. Unless our client is operating overseas as well as in the UK, or they already own a domain with good domain authority, we generally advise them to stick with .co.uk domain name extensions.
With an ever increasing number of TLDs, it’s becoming easier to find something that matches your company name. These days photographers can choose .photography, .photos, or perhaps .digital as the domain name extension. But how much does this actually matter, and what impact does this have on your website’s success in attracting organic traffic?
Branded Domain Names
Put simply, a branded domain is a domain that includes the organisation, person or company that holds the domain name. An example of this is nescafe.com, where the brand name is preceded by a domain name extension – in this case .com. Choosing a domain name that exactly reflects the name of the business is called an Exact Match Domain or EMD for short.
Every business needs branded keyword search queries to display their website in search results. If someone had a service that was the same as your company name, you would want your website appearing higher as your brand name is more relevant and important than their service.
Acquiring a branded domain is probably the most important factor to consider when purchasing a domain name. We recommend buying an exact match domain (EMD) should you have the option to do so.
Exact Match Domains
So what exactly is an exact match domain?
An exact match domain (EMD) is when your domain exactly matches your brand or keyword. For example our business name is Yellow Moose – the exact match domain for us is yellowmoose.co.uk. These days search engines are clever, and they have more than enough knowledge to separate words without the need for hyphens, and besides: hyphenated domain names may be a negative SEO ranking factor as previously explained.
The use of EMDs has been emphasised since Google’s EMD Update in 2012. The aim of this was to prevent poor quality sites from ranking well purely since they have keywords in their domain name.
Let’s say you want to create a new company photographing business owners in Milton Keynes and are looking to purchase photographs-of-bussiness-owners-in-milton-keynes.com. There are several issues with choosing this domain name. It does mention the keywords and gives a very clear idea about what the site would be about, but are visitors going to be expecting a high quality site? It’s unlikely.
First of all, it’s far too long; the vast majority of domains contain between 7 and 17 characters, so it’s a good idea to follow suit. Secondly, the hyphenation is not necessary and could potentially harm the search engine results position. Last, but not least – spammy EMDs will not build trust with potential website visitors.
For SEO purposes, exact match domains carry the brand name, or potential keywords used in search terms. These are powerful signals for search engines, however cramming keywords into a domain or hyphenating the domain name is likely to have the opposite effect to that desired.
Partial Match Domains
What is a partial match domain?
A partial match domain (PMD) is a domain that contains the keywords or brand name, amongst other components, in the URL. The best example of this can be found when you create a social media account, or a citation account and the keywords or brand name are located at the end. For example: https://www.yell.com/biz/photography-mk-buckingham-9691753/ is a Yell.com directory listing for PhotographyMK. The partial match can be found in the middle of the URL as photography-mk. Often you do not have control over these, as they are generated upon account creation; but if you can – make sure to include the necessary brand name.
One of our clients, S4A Sports allows us to demonstrate the importance of partial match domains. The domain name of their website is s4asports.co.uk, with the domain being s4asports and the domain name extension being a ccTLD (.co.uk). It’s important here that we have separated the domain name extension from the domain name for the next step.
Let’s now take a look at S4A Sports social media accounts:
As you can see, the Facebook and Twitter domains are partial matches as they contain the same words as the website’s domain. The Instagram account on the other hand has an underscore between s4a and sports, meaning it is not as precise a match. This becomes important when we investigate the links between EMDs and PMDs.
Try running a Google search query for ‘s4a sports’ and analysing the results. At the time of writing their website came up number one as expected. Their Facebook page came up as the third result and their Twitter account comes up at number 13, with the Instagram account displaying at number 22. Let’s try this search query again with ‘s4a_sports’. Surprisingly, Facebook and Twitter come in at positions 7 and 8 respectively, despite not matching the exact search query and Instagram at number 14.
We are able to see that the URLs that rank the highest do not contain any additional characters except the company name. Having tested this on several other companies, we have come to a general consensus that using an underscore or hyphen actually decreases the potential of getting pages to appear in search results.
Top Consideration for Choosing a Domain Name
In summary of this article, we can conclude there are four top points to consider when purchasing a domain name :
- To match domains in search results, you are best using an exact match domain that is branded. This will ensure you come up highly for people specifically trying to find your company or organisation.
- Choose a domain that people will easily remember that is a maximum of 20 characters in length.
- Use a relevant TLD extension for global operations and a ccTLD for localised services.
- Combine the powerful SEO signals generated by branded social media and citation URLs to use partial match domains where possible to bolster your search engine presence.
As with all SEO activities, we’d love to hear about your own experiences and trials related to choosing domain names with EMDs and PMDs in mind.