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There is no doubt that carefully selecting a domain(s) can make a difference to a website. There are not just SEO factors to consider, there is also trust by the customer, branding etc. A few different reasons for selecting a domain may be;

  • Making it memorable
  • Linking the domain to your company name
  • Making to relevant to the products or services you sell
  • Making it industry relevant
  • Not making it too obscure
  • Making it difficult to copy
  • Making it optimisable
  • Securing the domain before your competitors
  • Making it easy to market

That said, how important is it to choose a keyword relevant domain name? How much should you go out of your way to purchase an old domain, or multiple domains across several TLDs linked to your keywords?

Most website and SEO guides claim that the choice of domain for purely SEO purposes is an important one, however few, if any, go into any detail as to what value that might be. SEO MOZ ranking places the value at “60% valuable” compared to other factors, and 3rd overall behind keyword use and title tag relevance. Another website claims a domain name is 25% of the equation. Again, though, this does not give us any real quantification of the importance of having a domain the same as your target keyword. There are a swag of websites claiming that purchasing a keyword relevant domain should be the first thing you do. Yet, how much of a difference is it going to make if you don’t manage to get your domain, but still optimise your website well?

There are so many factors to consider when looking at why a search engine ranks one page higher than another. Not only do you have page based optimisation, there are also site based factors to take into account. For this excersize we came up with a simple methodology. We took a look at 6 random keyword terms, Insulation, blu ray players, pilates classes, handbags, mp3 and consulting. We then looked at top 30 ranked websites in Google and grouped them into either having the keyword in their domain, or not. The difference in average rank between the two groups is our value. We did not remove wikipedia, government websites or news website from our ranking.

Using this method, if keyword relevant domains were seen as valuable or more valuable to search engines than title tags and content they would appear, on average, in a higher position than those without. For instance, if the value of relevant domains was high, then those optimised well and with a relevant domain should appear higher than those with just the relevant domain.

You can download the raw data of our findings here.

Obviously there are some issues with our methodology. To name a few things, there were only 3 domains containing “pilates” and some keywords (eg:insulation) are heavily populated by news and wikipedia articles.

Based on these inital results, on average, websites with a keyword relevant domain rank no better than those without.  For the 6 keywords we looked at, the number 1 spot was taken in 3 instances by websites without the keyword in the domain. Even if you look at the top 3 places websites appear, non-keyword relevant domains still appear higher up. In every instance of analysis, having a keyword relevant domain does not guarantee a website will feature higher in Google.

There could be many reasons for these results, for instance website owners could have purchased the domain, and then carried out very little SEO. The domains could also have been punished by Google for some unknown reason. In the future, we may have to carry out the exercise on a wider range of keywords, across hundreds of websites and analyse the SEO factors for each website. However, on the face of it, keyword relevant domain names are low on the list of priorities where search ranking is concerned.

For pure search ranking purposes, there are more efficient ways to optimise your website than buying a keyword relevant domain name.

We are not discounting the importance of one or many domains for other reasons, such as those listed above. We certainly recommend purchasing a domain, if available, to ensure your competitors don’t beat you to the punch. However, optimising the content on your website, building quality backlinks and building content should be priorities when spending time and money on your website.

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