Google’s on-domain name selection: branding via keywords

In a recent episode of the Search Off The Record podcast, Google’s Search Relations team, made up of John Mueller, Gary Illyes and Martin Splitt, addressed a topic often debated among website owners and SEO professionals: the impact of keywords in domain names on search engine rankings.

The keyword controversy

The discussion started with Mueller asking, “Now coming to the domain names, should I put keywords in my domain name or should I choose a trademark?” Illyes responded with a laugh, indicating the answer wasn’t easy.

“From a Google perspective or a search perspective… Well, I can’t tell if it’s a search perspective. But from Google’s and Steve’s point of view, I don’t think it matters,” Illyes explained.

The user’s perspective

Illyes explained that while the presence of keywords does not necessarily affect search engine rankings, it could affect user behavior.

“For example, if I want to take a passport photo, there are weird websites that cater to every type of photo. And then you have walletphoto.com. And it’s more likely that as a user, I’ll click on Passportphotos.com for some reason,” Illyes explained.

The role of hyphens and exact-match domains

When Splitt asked if the presence of hyphens in a domain name or in exact match domains would make a difference, Illyes replied:

“Everything in the URL can be technically manipulated by the website owner. So we probably don’t want to give that kind of input too much weight. That means it might not help ranking as much as people think.”

In other words, from a search engine perspective, it doesn’t matter if there is a hyphen in the domain name.

However, Illyes added that from a user experience perspective, it “is probably more readable to hyphenate the domain name.”

Looking beyond keywords: The branding perspective

As the conversation focused on the long-term implications of domain name choices, Mueller recommended focusing more on brand than keywords.

He explained: “Your site will likely evolve over time. And you could be selling potato peelers now, but maybe a year from now you’ll be selling avocado peelers. And if your website is bestpotatopeeler2023.com, it would be awkward to start selling avocado peelers.”

Ultimately, the Google Search Relations team suggests that incorporating keywords into domain names should be a business decision, not an SEO strategy.

Mueller emphasized, “You should think long-term because changing your domain name is always a hassle. And you want to keep it for as long as possible.”

For more information on best practices for choosing domain names, watch the full episode of the Google Podcast.


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