Domain Names Impact SEO (not just in the obvious way)
Date: May 31, 2017 Written by Chris Zuiker from MediaOptions.com
Getting ranked on the first page of Google for your search term is priceless.
I think you will agree with me when I say that SEO is critical to any company’s success online.
So then…SEO is King, right?
Well, sort of….
If you understand these key elements of how your domain name impacts your branding and SEO you could increase your traffic by 40% or see 2x in your click-through rates.
When you deal with the quality of domains and the number of companies we contact you hear several reoccurring objections.
One common objection we hear is:
“My SEO team says domains don’t matter anymore”.
SEO has come a long way, and a good SEO team should be able to get your domain ranked above the competition.
This does not mean that branding is dead or domain names don’t matter.
It is actually the opposite when you look into the details of what makes SEO successful.
Your brand and domain name impacts every level of your company and culture. It is how you speak of business, how you introduce yourself, and email.
SEO is a major and crucial element to the success of any online business. The SEO team should help but not be driving significant branding decisions.
The skills of the SEO team and the branding team are different. This is kind of like saying when you are buying a building for your business/store, my accountant doesn’t think location matters anymore for my business. Your accountant is necessary but within their expertise.
If you let pure algorithms determine your branding strategy, you run serious mistakes of building your foundation on a weak brand which impacts conversion, positioning, and product expansion.
For example, Gusto rebranded from ZenPayroll because they needed a brand that would allow them to increase their product offerings. They also captured the direct brandable domain – Gusto.com. This decision actually hurt their short-term SEO however positioned them for long term growth (more on this later).
A great brand will increase you SEO because of how it captures authority, leadership and reinforces your brand.
Domains Names Impact SEO in several foundational ways.
Here are several of the ways that domains impact SEO in a positive way.
- Communicate leadership positioning
- Link building
- Building trust
- Ease of sharing
- Avoiding confusion with other brands
- Connecting with consumer intent
Why are domains important to SEO?
Domain names impact SEO however not always in an obvious way.
Too often SEO experts get stuck on the algorithm side of SEO and forget the human element of SEO and impact from building a great brand.
Your domain needs to match your brand. The closer your domain is to your brand the exponential impact to your marketing and positioning. It communicates power with your marketing. This is because we have come to expect top companies to own exact match, premium, and category defining domains.
What are the key elements of SEO?
Let’s look at what a few SEO masters have to say.
Here is how Neil Patel defines Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
“Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your online content so that a search engine likes to show it as a top result for searches of a particular keyword.” Neil Patel
Here are some of the basic SEO strategies that Neil writes about – (my recap)
- Produce quality content
- Make sure people want your content through keyword research
- Post often to keep the content fresh
- Make sure your content is optimized for the search engines (titles, meta data, etc…)
- Get backlinks and lots of them
If you are looking for more information, I would recommend checking out this summit from Neil and many top experts in SEO.
Brian Dean is the master at backlinks and understanding their importance on impacting your sites SEO.
His key Takeaway was that links from a diverse group of domains are vital for SEO. He found the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor.
They also found that longer content that covered a topic in depth outperformed content that was shallow.
How your brand/domain connects with your content will play a determining factor in generating backlinks.
Your content needs to be authentic and connect with your audience.
Acquiring backlinks is an important part of every SEO strategy.
Having an authoritative domain and brand will impact your ability to get links.
Links are easier to get when you brand communicates authority and consumer intent. Think how much easier it is to get links with Sand.com versus DebbiesSandCompany.com.
Short brandable domains are highly valued for this very reason. For example, Fly.com recently sold for $2.8M in April 2017.
It is kind of like how when you look in your inbox and see an email from someone saying they are from your bank but using a super spamy email address (very creepy).
The shorter the domain or closer to your brand the more trust we put into link. We think this way because there are so many scams and viruses today. It is just how we protect ourselves online.
SEO implies that you have a link to share and keywords are a major element of ranking and connecting to intent.
SEO supports a great brand by getting the message out to drive traffic. The strong the brand, authority, and leadership of the company the easier SEO become.
I am sure this comment is going to upset quite a few people, but you lose trust points the longer the domain and further from your brand (outside of category defining domains). The .com domain instills the most trust because of how widely used it is today. This is why .com domains will sell for 90% over other extensions – like the .net TLD.
Key Takeaway: Do domain names impact SEO? Yes, domain names impact SEO however not always in the obvious way. Strong brands are easier to promote which helps with your backlink strategy. SEO experts that focus on the human element of SEO and impact from building a great brand will increase conversion. Your domain name is inseparable from your brand because of the influence of our online world.
What makes a great brand?
Ok, so why are we talking about branding?
We are talking this because branding and domains are now inseparable. Great brands own their brand domain online (especially in the .com).
The first step for most brands today is to research and determine if the domain and trademark are available and in use for their category.
Most of us have the intuitive sense when we come across a great brand. This is because of how the brand interacts at all aspects (product, messaging, mission or 4 P’s…etc…) and touch points.
It is kind of like when you hear someone say…ahh what a great brand. It just works.
From a domain name point of view, your domain should almost go unnoticed because it should match your brand’s identity. Nobody sits around and say’s wow Amazon has a great domain. That is because Amazon has made their domain selection effortless by owning the exact domain in the (.com).
Side note, once a domain is connected to brand it becomes much more than just a domain. This is why the domain Cars.com was valued at $837M on their financial statements.
When a company’s domain does not match the brand, it creates dissonance in our minds.
There are lots of great resources on branding online. I picked these three to sum it up.
“The best brand names become a part of consumers’ vocabularies and synonymous with the items they represent…”
“A name is a moniker that a company is going to wear probably the longest of anything we develop,” says Sasha Stack, a partner at the Boston offices of brand-strategy and design firm Lippincott.
Hubpsot – What is brand identity?
A brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or service as distinct from those of other sellers,” according the American Marketing Association. Your brand identity is the representation of your company’s reputation through the conveyance of attributes, values, purpose, strengths, and passions.
It includes what your brand says, what its values are, how you communicate its concepts, and which emotions you want your customers to feel when they interact with your business. As Jeff Bezos says, “Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Delux.com – Six Reasons why strong brands are important to small businesses.
Beyond just a memorable logo, good branding increases the value of a company, provides employees with direction and motivation, and makes acquiring new customers easier.
A brand represents the sum of people’s perception of a company’s customer service, reputation, advertising, and logo.
Ways a strong brand impacts your business
- Branding Improves Recognition
- Branding Creates Trust
- Branding Supports Advertising
- Branding Builds Financial Value
- Branding Inspires Employees
- Branding Generates New Customers
Your domain is intimately associated with your brand. If they do not match it creates confusion and dilutes your brand online. The closer your brand is to your domain the exponential impact to your marketing.
The decision to own your exact match domain online needs to consider how it impacts the ROI on every single one of these branding elements.
Key Takeaway: Your companies domain name supports every foundational element of your business. Your domain name reinforces your strong brand. A premium domain can elevate your company overnight into a leadership position. A great brand compliments SEO making your links easier to share and build. Domain names impact SEO by creating and reinforcing strong brands.
How is your brand positioned against the competition?
In an earlier post I breakdown why traditional advice on brand ranking is wrong.
Today, a brand’s domain name is an essential element into the ranking process.
The first interaction with most brands is online and in search. It is kind of like when you are looking for a product, so you do a search and 10 companies show up stacked on top of each other.
Consumers now need to make quick split second decisions on which of these 10 companies are relevant. How do they do this in a category that could be unfamiliar to them?
Even if you are ranked on the first page of Google does your brand stand out and connect with the consumer’s intent. This will have an impact on your conversion.
Many times, a major differentiator on the search page is your brand and domain.
How can new companies cut through the competition to stand out?
Your domain name or brand is now a quick way to differentiate and move up the brand ladder
We are saturated with marketing messages today. Our brain needs to simplify these messages and is forced to make quick decisions.
Your domain, brand and product name do have an impact into how consumers rank you against the competition.
The good new is that the digital age has allowed small companies to take the big guys head-on.
Technology advances have made it easy for smaller startups to look like the category leaders.
Often when I am visiting websites in my marketing outreach, I am amazed at how similar they look. Most even use the same sitemap and similar copy. If you just looked at the top sites without brands, it would be almost impossible to differentiate companies in some verticals.
Domain names impact SEO by connecting with search intent.
Have you seen this study by VeriSign?
To help determine if there is a benefit to registering domain names that include keywords over those that do not, Verisign analyzed 11 million search query results from approximately 1.55 million search query sessions in the month of September 2015 from comScore’s U.S. consumer panel
Here is what they found:
- The domain names with keywords that overlapped with the search terms had a click-through rate almost two times higher than domain names without overlap.
- Internet search users are almost twice as likely to click on a domain name where the second level includes at least one of the keywords in their search query, compared to a domain name that does not include any of the keywords in their search query.
What about the impact on a brand owning their perfect domain?
James Iles at NamePros.com did an interview with the founder of Hive.com. They initially launched with the domain HiveTeams.com because the major domain extensions with Hive were taken.
In early 2016 they were successful in purchasing the domain Hive.com.
When asked if purchasing Hive.com was a good investment for his company here is what he said.
“I believe that a credible domain name is absolutely critical to success, especially for a B2B business. It was a top priority for us. We saw a 40% increase in traffic immediately after securing our preferred domain.” John Furneaux – CEO
Next time someone says your domain doesn’t matter bring up this example with Hive.com.
Here are several other case studies on why startups chose to acquire the exact match domain for their brand.
Kiwi purchased Kiwi.com
Kiwi.com rebranded from SkyPicker. Here is the founder of Kiwi.com had to say about why they chose Kiwi.com.
NP: How did you choose the domain Kiwi.com? Did you have specific requirements when choosing a new name?
Oliver: The main requirements were to find a simple, short and memorable name. There are only a few words with the same pronunciation, spelling, and meaning in most global languages, and kiwi is one of them. This simplicity gives us the opportunity to grow globally with very recognizable name and premium .com domain.
Tuff & Needle – purchased TN.com
The founders of Tuff & Needle acquired a super rare two letter .com domain TN.com. Here is what they had to say about this acquisition.
NP: Why, ultimately did you decide to acquire TN.com?
TN: The team at Tuft & Needle loves the simplicity of TN.com. It’s short and memorable, making it extremely easy to mention in a conversation and to memorize after seeing it just once.
John Rampton has been named Entrepreneur Magazine’s top 50 online influencers in the world and to the top 10 most influential PPC experts in the world.
He purchased the domain DUE.com (along with the social media handles) because he saw the potential and impact it would have on his business.
You can view the entire interview at Domain Sherpa.
He purchased DUE.com for $130,000 USD.
QUOTE: “…I really like short, one word domains. You can’t beat them. A person’s perception in their mind of Due versus Duenow, to Google, it’s all the same, to a person coming to your site, it’s a lot more brand perception and a lot more credibility instantly.”
Google Ventures is another place to look for examples of great brands that made it bigtime.
Notice that an overwhelming majority of the Google Venture investments own their exact brand domain in the (.com).
Acquiring the perfect domain for your brand is a foundation element of branding.
Here are several of their investments.
If your are wondering how to value your domain, read this post.
Key Takeaway: Domain names impact SEO by increasing the click through rates and connecting with consumer intent. When you own the exact match domain for your brand, it can have a significant impact on your traffic. Your domain is an important element in positioning your brand against the competition. Great brands own their exact match domain online.
What happens when another brand owns your brand online?
Paul Graham at Y Combinator recommends that you acquire the .com for your brand. Don’t even mess around with another brand.
It is rare even to have the opportunity to acquire your brand domain online because of the global demand for quality domains.
Businesses need to seriously consider the marketing ramifications from not owning their brand domain.
If another brand owns your domain online, this can make it substantially harder to differentiate yourself online.
Your domain by default becomes how you communicate your company because of how online is now dominating how we access information.
If you need to add words onto your brand how does this impact how you speak about your brand?
How many times will you need to say, don’t go to Example.com we are MyExample.com. This creates confusion to your message, especially if the premium domain has a larger marketing budget and drowns out your message.
Email security is also at risk when you add words to your domain (more on this in a different post).
Key Takeaway: Domain names impact SEO by ensuring you control your brand and the message online. If you have the opportunity to acquire your perfect domain this needs to be seriously considered. Although you may be doing well with a domain that is an offshoot of your brand’s domain think about the ramifications if another company acquires it and controls the dominant message. Rebranding can be very expensive.
SEO, branding and your domain name selection are intertwined at a level that most don’t think about.
Domain names impact SEO results but at a much deeper and strategic level than just the basics of Google’s ranking algorithm.
Your brand’s positioning is impacted in a negative way when there is incongruence with your domain name. Adding words or letters to your brand may save you money in the short term however it comes at a significant risk and long term marketing cost to educate your customer.
Does your company now need to speak of themselves at MyExample.com or GetExample.com to avoid sending traffic to Example.com. Every dollar you spend could have a halo impact on the competition.
Supply and demand on a global scale means that your perfect domain will not be around forever. Although you passed on it does not mean there is not value in your domain.
There is a risk to your business if another brand controls the dominate positioning for your brand online.