Keyword Domains (Benefits, Disadvantages, SEO, Top Picks)
There is an ongoing debate if a potential website owner should use a keyword domain or a brandable one. Keyword domains have positive and negative aspects. We will explore both and we will try to help you with your decision.
What Is a Keyword Domain?
A keyword domain contains keywords that describe specific products or services like hotels.com, sellbooks.com, and buycompanyname.com. In contrast, a brandable domain isn’t tied directly to a specific product or service such as twitter.com, google.com, or amazon.com.
Essentially , a domain is your online business name. It doesn’t need to match your real business name. By using a keyword domain an internet user can easily identify your industry, product or services. For example if you use chicagoplumbing.com the users know exactly your industry and your targeted area!
It is a quick way to introduce yourself on the web rather than using a domain without a specific meaning such as alabuzo.com. I did extensive research to see which of the top 500 sites use a keyword domain vs a brandable domain.
*For this analysis, I consider keyword domains the ones that clearly describe the company’s products, services, or industry.
*I excluded all the domains from the same company such as Google, so typically our sample contains less than 500 domains (418). I excluded many versions of Amazon, Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia. When I was 50-50 for a domain name, I considered it as a keyword domain.
The shocking part is that only 9% (39) are keyword domains and the rest 91% (379) are brandable domains! To be honest I didn’t expect these results myself too. I knew that brandable domains are on the rise but I thought that the difference would be smaller.
*If you see the table on mobile scroll next to each domain to find out its category (brandable or keyword)
Should My Domain Name Include Keywords?
A domain name that includes keywords provides a slight advantage on search rankings and memorability. Although, Google and other search engines decreased the importance of keyword domains over the last years. If you have the budget go for a short keyword domain otherwise brandable one will work just fine since your site’s content is the main factor for your online success.
The above statement maybe comes in contradiction with the survey I presented that clearly indicates a trend for brandable domains. The reason is that if you have a new website without a big brand established already, even the tiny advantage can help you.
So, let’s see in detail some of the advantages of a keyword domain, and then we will present the disadvantages too.
Keyword Domains Benefits
1.) An exact keyword match domain provides a slight advantage for the related searches. Google considers a lot of factors for ranking websites but if the websites are equal then you can win a higher position by having a keyword domain.
For example, if someone searches for a “Chicago plumber” then by having the domain name chicagoplumber.com you have a slight advantage comparing equal sites otherwise. Of course, you can’t create a crappy site with bad content and hope that you will rank well in the long term.
2.) You will probably have a better click-through rate on search engines. That means online visitors will likely visit your site when they see it on search results since they will consider it as relevant. For instance, if someone searches to buy a new car then the website cars.com will probably seem a good fit for his needs.
3.) You will receive some type-in traffic. This kind of traffic used to be a major thing some years ago. Nowadays most people visit a website via search engines like Google. However, some online users still prefer to visit sites by typing the domain on their browsers.
*Interesting fact: A decade ago earning substantial revenue from just parking (adding ads) on a domain name was a reasonable tactic. The domain was not receiving only type-in traffic but also traffic from search engines.
After various updates parking domains were removed from the first page of google for most searches since they don’t provide value to a user.
4.) Better performance in online advertising campaigns. If you decide to run a Facebook or google ads campaign and you are an unknown brand then having a keyword domain is a plus. People will assume that your site’s content is relevant and there are more chances to actually click on your ad.
Usually, a better click-through rate in this kind of campaign means a better position and a smaller cost per click. The platforms try to reward the best and relevant ads. Of course, your budget plays a big role but if you compete with similar budgets then your ads can be more successful.
Keyword Domains Disadvantages
1.) By choosing a keyword domain you limit yourself to potential industry expansions. Just imagine if Amazon was using sellbooks.com instead of amazon.com for the main domain. They would have a serious problem to expand on different industries.
Your domain should be versatile enough so you don’t limit yourself in a certain sub-niche. You would argue that I use a keyword domain too. Please consider that I registered my domain back in 2014 and at that time I thought it as a good idea to use a keyword domain.
If was starting a new website now I will probably choose a brandable domain instead or a shorter keyword domain.
2.) You might end up limiting your site even inside your industry. For instance, consider if you are using the domain chicagoplumbing.com or newyorkcardealership.com. What happens if you expand your services beyond a specific city or state?
Every user that sees your website and is based in a different city or state will not even bother to visit your site. So, your decision should incorporate those cases too. Even if you are a local business now you never know how things will evolve.
3.) Missing out other potential search queries. Targeting only a specific term with your domain might be a disadvantage for other queries. If you use the domain searchenginemarketingfim.com, you will have a slight advantage for “search engine marketing”. But what happens when someone search for “social media marketing”, the user will assume that this is not one of your expertise.
4.) Keyword domains are very expensive to get these days for the average individual. Especially commercial intent (finance, insurance, retail) keyword .com domains can cost some thousands of dollars or even millions (in rare cases)!
Does a Keyword In A Domain Name Help SEO?
Google says that having keywords in a domain name doesn’t provide a significant advantage since they consider more than 200 factors for their rankings. In reality, it seems that even now has an effect on google rankings.
*If you are interested to check all these factors you can read this blog from backlinko: https://backlinko.com/google-ranking-factors .
It is true that a keyword domain name doesn’t have the same effect on search rankings as in the past. Google staff have publicly stated that fact many times. Let’s see the most important statements during the last years.
The former head of spam Matt Cutts tweeted back in 2012:
Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.Matt Cutts
Here is the tweet and all of the responses: Matt’s tweet
In a google hangout live stream back in 2015 John Mueller Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google says:
But rather that this is something that a lot of people have abused in the past where they ‘ll take hundreds of domains that match the keywords that they’re trying to target and just put low quality junk on those pages. And in the past, maybe they get through and they get those into search and they get those ranking as well.John Mueller Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google
If you want to watch this hangout please check after 38:20 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqK1e6ekjME
Back in 2016 Gary Illyes an employee of Google mentioned:
there is no inherent problem with EMDs (exact match domains). The problem is when it’s combined with other spam tacticsGary Illyes
Here you can check all the responses for this tweet:
In 2018 John Mueller again mentions keyword domains in another google hangout.
In a lot of cases especially if you’re in a competitive market if your domain is essentially a combination of your keywords then it’s going to be hard to even rank for your domain name because of someone’s searching for those keywords. They’ll be in this big competitive field where lots of other people are trying to rank for those keywords as well so that’s something where like if you were to roll back time and say well I can choose between this keyword type domain name and something that’s more of a brand or personal thing then I generally tend to recommend more like yourself and not your keywords that also makes it easier for you to expand over time.John Mueller Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google
Here is the video i refer about:
As it seems Google is targeting more the spam sites that use a keyword domain. An exact match domain is not a reason for a Google penalty itself. They also encourage us to shift more towards brandable domains. My assumption is that the next years google will decrease even more the affect of keyword domains on search rankings.
Google’s algorithm is leaning towards semantic search instead of keywords search. The concept here is that Google tries to understand the user’s intent instead of focusing on specific keywords. Google has a lot of data on previous searches and can identify intent for many searches.
For instance, if someone types coffee Google assumes from previous data that probably wants the closest coffee place near to him. Another example can be if someone makes a typo on his search, Google knows that the user probably wants results for the correct version of the word.
Let’s see how things stand right now with keyword domains. I will run a small experiment and check how many keyword domains will show up for 10 specific search queries.
I use Incognito mode on Google Chrome and a VPN so I have the same results as a USA-based user. I also don’t consider the ads and I am only focused on organic (they rank without paying) search rankings.
Search query 1: How to buy an auto insurance
Search query 2: transfer money online
Search query 3: The best hat for the sun
Search query 4: buy a ski mask
Search query 5: how to create a logo
Search query 6: hire an engineer
Search query 7: hire a driver
Search query 8: how to build a pc
Search query 9: book a hotel
Search query 10: where to learn a language online
So, here are my conclusions from that small experiment:
1.) A keyword domain provides a small boost on rankings but it is not the main factor.
2.) It is not enough boost to help you climb in number 1 on google rankings by itself.
3.) When your site is competing against big reputation sites like Amazon, it would be very hard to outrank them only with your domain keywords even for specific search terms.
4.) The better approach is to actually focus on building a great brand that offers good products, services, and online content. For instance, coolibar.com ranks over Amazon for the term “the best hat for the sun”. Even if Amazon is a much bigger site, coolibar is specifically a brand related to sun-protection products.
We can see here that even if coolibar.com domain doesn’t include either hat or sun, it can rank really well. Google evaluates all the content of the site and how relevant is to the user’s search term or intent.
5.) If you decide to use a keyword domain it would be nice if you could find some generic keyword that covers a big spectrum of your industry. For example, hotels.com seems a nice choice since it covers a big industry.
Another example within a smaller budget is to include your industry’s main keyword but to choose a brandable domain. For example, you could use a domain such as greenhotels.com.
Top Keywords To Use For A Domain
Here is a list of keywords you can mix and they are popular terms in domains names:
Go, Get, Join, Buy, Love, Say, Stay, Fly, Run, Try, Hello, Hey
The, That, All, Into, In, A, On, Up
General, Global, New, Super, Fast, Strong, Expert, Premier, Mr, Ms, High, Ready, Red, Green, Blue, Black, Pure, Ultra, Instant, Online, Luxury, Social, Express, Swift, Wise, Next, Clean
King, Queen, Genius, Hq, Pro, School, Tips, Site, Guru, Champion, Ninja, Captain, Expert, Star, Giant, Rocket, Sun, Lab, Inc, Group, LLC, Mode, Hunter, Shield, Site, App, Center, Hub, Solutions, Bit, Stack, Mode, Vibe, Mode, Lab, Spark, Data, Intelligence, Pay, Rise, Home, Fashion, Travel, Fit, Fitness, IQ, Hemp, Grow, Care, Logic, Style, Leaf
I hope my post was helpful and if it was, please share on social media! It would be a huge help for me! As far as your domain selection concerned focus more on your site’s content, marketing efforts, and providing good user experience.
As long as you are comfortable with your domain (keyword or brandable), you can forget that part and move on to more important things. Just choose a domain that is not a trademarked brand, it doesn’t have a bad meaning directly or indirectly and it is broad enough for your goals.