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Is There Ranking Power In Keyword Domains?

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Is There Ranking Power In Keyword Domains?

Domain names with keywords in them are considered valuable for a variety of reasons, including a long-standing idea that they might be directly or indirectly helpful for ranking purposes.

Choosing a domain name is an important step for launching a website, so it’s important to make the right choice.

The choice of a domain name generally falls into three categories:

  1. Keyword domain.
  2. Word + keyword domain.
  3. Brand domain.

It is arguable which approach is best. What is not debatable is that it’s helpful to learn about the topic before making a decision.

Keyword Domains

A keyword domain is a domain name with keywords in it. An example can be Widgets.com.

Using a domain name with the keywords in it can provide the perception of authority.

Some companies own generic domain names and redirect them to their websites, for whatever reason.

For example, Coffee.com redirects to Peet’s Coffee, an artisanal coffee roasting company. That makes it easy for people to navigate to Peet’s.

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But, the downside of generic keyword domains is that “all of the good ones” are already registered and prohibitively expensive to pry off of a domainer.

There is also some internet history related to generic keyword domains.

There was a time when internet users typed the keywords of a product or service they wanted straight into the browser or search engine. This practice was called direct navigation.

Direct navigation resulted in significant ad revenues to those who owned those domains and “parked” them.

Parking the domain was setting it up so that the domain names showed ads and only ads.

The lucrative business of parked domains was helped by search engines of the time that ranked those parked domain names in the search results.

So, if someone typed a one-word query like [burgers], then Google might rank Burgers.com.

Then in 2011, Google reduced the search visibility of parked domains from the search results.

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So, is there ranking power to keyword domains? Not anymore, but John Mueller of Google has something to say about it, more on that below.

Word + Keyword Domain

That’s why the popular choice is to add a word to the domain name that helps to describe what a site visitor can expect on the site.

This results in domains like Cheap[name of product/service].com, [name of product/service]Reviews.com, Fast[name of product/service], and so on.

A word plus a keyword for a domain name is not a bad way to go.

Upside Of Word + Keyword Domain

The keyword instantly brands what the site is about, and the word tells the site visitor what to expect in terms of the user intent.

See also  Google's Digital Marketing Certificate Recommends Keyword Density Percentages

Searching for a review? Try [name of product/service]Reviews.com.

Downside Of Word + Keyword Domain

The downside of this approach is that it locks the website into providing a specific niche and can limit its ability to grow.

So, if you start out as [JoesCameraReviews], it’s going to be hard to transition that site to reviewing (or selling) other products.

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There are many sites with keywords in the domain that rank very well.

Branded Domain

A branded domain is a domain name that doesn’t necessarily have keywords in it.

Amazon, Zappos, and Etsy are examples of branded domains.

What’s great about a branded domain is that the brand name is that it doesn’t necessarily limit what the site can be about.

Many sites with branded domains have very little trouble ranking in the search results.

Google Offers Four Insights On Keyword Domains

In the course of answering a question in a recent Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller offered four insights on the ranking power of keyword domain names.

Four insights into Keyword Domains and Ranking:

  1. Keyword domains don’t rank faster.
  2. Keyword domains don’t automatically rank better.
  3. Keyword domains lost strong ranking influence years ago.
  4. Keyword domains ranked the same as branded domains.

1. Keyword Domains Don’t Have A Time Advantage

There is a belief that keyword domains are able to rank better faster than branded domains. But according to Google’s John Mueller, this is not the case.

There is a perceived advantage with obtaining keywords in links through the anchor text. This is something that’s been discussed for years. An argument can be made for and against.

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Unfortunately, John Mueller’s statement didn’t address this perceived advantage.

Here’s what John Mueller confirmed:

“…it takes time like any other new website… Obviously there are lots of websites out there that do rank for the keywords in their domain name. But they worked on this maybe for years and years…”

2. Keywords In Domains Don’t Rank Better

John Mueller was quite firm in asserting that keyword domains do not rank better than branded domains.

“…just because keywords are in a domain name doesn’t mean that it’ll automatically rank for those keywords.”

There is so much that goes into ranking, like content, user intent for that content as well as links. All of that likely takes significant precedence toward something like keywords in the domain.

While John Mueller didn’t specifically say keywords in the domain name are not a ranking signal, he did affirm that there is no dramatic benefit from having the keywords in the domain name. And that’s an important insight.

3. Keyword Domains Lost Influence Years Ago

John Mueller asserted that keyword domains lost influence years ago.

Here is what John Mueller stated:

“…just because keywords are in a domain name doesn’t mean that it’ll automatically rank for those keywords. And that’s something that’s been the case for a really, really long time.”

This may be a reference to an algorithm update from 2011 (official Google announcement here).

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In late 2011, Google updated its algorithm to add a classifier to remove parked domains from the search results.

A quote from Google’s algorithm update announcement:

“This is a new algorithm for automatically detecting parked domains. Parked domains are placeholder sites with little unique content for our users and are often filled only with ads.

In most cases, we prefer not to show them.”

Nevertheless, the idea that keyword domains were better than brand domains continued in the search industry, even though Google was no longer giving a boost to parked keyword domains.

An argument can be made that there is a minimal signal. But there is nothing to lend support to that theory.

It’s been a long time since any search engine has published research that included keywords in domains as any kind of signal.

We’re living in a time when keywords in headings (H1, H2) have diminished ranking weight.

Current algorithms no longer give extra weight to title tags. This we know, and it calls into question the idea that Google continues to give a direct ranking bonus to a keyword in a domain name.

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4. Keyword Domains Ranked The Same As Branded Domains

This is another statement that contradicts the idea that keywords in a domain name have a ranking benefit.

John Mueller points out that the keywords in a domain are unrelated to their current ranking:

John Mueller’s statement on keywords in domains:

“…it’s kind of normal that they would rank for those keywords and that they happen to have them in their domain name is kind of unrelated to their current ranking.”

Mueller clearly notes that having the keywords in the domain name is unrelated to their ranking.

Research A Domain Name Before Using It

It’s always a good idea to research a domain name to see if it was previously registered and how it was used.

There are rare cases where a domain that was used to spam can become stuck in a Google algorithm loop, causing it to become banned for a month, getting released for a few days then banned all over again, preventing the site from ranking higher than the second page of the search results.

For more information on the legacy domain penalty, read Google Algorithm Bug Puts Sites In Weird Limbo State.

SEO Advantage Of Keyword Domains

There are many advantages to having a keyword in a domain name. But an SEO advantage is not necessarily one of the advantages, as Mueller makes clear.

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“…that they happen to have them in their domain name is kind of unrelated to their current ranking.”

Stand Out With Your Domain

It may be a good idea to choose a domain that stands out. This can be with a keyword or it could be with a brand name.

Former Googler Matt Cutts recommended in a webmaster help video in 2011 that choosing a domain name that stands out can be a good idea in certain situations.

Matt Cutts advised:

“For example, if you have 15 sites about Android and they all have Android, Android, Android, Android, it’s going to be a little hard to remember, to rise above the noise, to rise above the din.

Whereas, if you have something that’s a little more brandable, then people are going to remember that. They’re going to be able to come back to it. Even sites like TechCrunch, nothing in there says tech news.”

Takeaway On Domain Names

There are pros and cons to the different kinds of domain names to use for a website.

If the business wants to leave wiggle room to grow to encompass a wider topic, then a domain name that is less committed to a topic or even a brand name is appropriate.

Of course, one can start out with a narrow-topic domain name and change it in the future. But that can result in other sites changing their mind about linking to the site and fans of the site losing interest.

So, the best advice may be for the business to consider what it wants to accomplish now, what impression it wants to make to site visitors, what story the domain name communicates to the visitor, and also how well the domain name fits into the future of the business.

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On the question of ranking, it’s clear that there is no direct keyword-based ranking benefit to a domain name, which makes selecting one a little easier.

Watch John Mueller discuss domain names at the 21:50 minute mark:

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How Should You Optimize Your Content?

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How Should You Optimize Your Content?

People turn to Google for just about everything these days.

Whether it’s to buy something, learn about something in-depth, get a quick answer, or simply pass the time, Google is the primary stream of information for the vast majority of people living with an internet connection.

To be precise, Google makes up 92.19% of the search engine market share.

The constant quest of SEO professionals is to get their content matched up with the search queries it answers.

But how has this task changed over time?

While there can be books written on this subject, the general consensus is that search queries are becoming longer, more specific, and conversational.

In many cases, a portion of this shift can likely be attributed to the rise of voice search.

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A lot of what we are seeing is a growing importance on optimizing for questions and semantically related keywords.

So what exactly does this all mean?

And what are the best strategies when you’re down in the trenches of SEO?

Let’s discuss.

Questions & Semantic Search

Since the Google Hummingbird Update in 2013, Google has been on a steady path toward providing more personalized and useful search results.

You know when you enter a super vague query into Google and it somehow understands exactly what you’re getting at? Like when you are speaking to a close friend or family member?

This is semantic search.

A big aspect of Google’s semantic search capability is to pinpoint concepts and entities presented in question-based queries.

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When someone enters a question into Google – whether it be by text or voice – the semantic search capabilities work to understand the user’s intent with four key factors:

  • The user context.
  • Natural language processing (NLP).
  • Query stream context.
  • Entity identification.

What Types of Questions Does Google Answer?

Thanks to semantic search, Google has taken many steps toward a near-flawless ability to answer a plethora of questions. This is largely due to the developments in artificial intelligence, voice search, schema, NLP, etc.

Google generally answers three types of questions – as opposed to just providing links to the sites with the answers.

  • Direct answers
  • Short answers
  • Long answers

These answers are commonly placed in the Featured Snippet – also known as the “Google Answer Box” or “Position Zero.”

Let’s breakdown the specifics of each.

Direct Answer

Direct answer questions typically start with Who, What, Where, When, Best, Top, and sometimes Why.

These types of questions normally result in quick answers and are oftentimes linked to voice queries.

For example, if you enter a query like [When was Apple founded?], Google will use Hummingbird and semantic search to recognize the user intent to provide a direct answer. This answer would be April 1, 1976.

When was Apple Founded

Based on what Google’s algorithms decide is the most reliable source of information, the search engine will pull the answer from the content and display it in the Featured Snippet.

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Short Answer

Short answer questions generally start with words like Why and Can. But, given the context, they can also apply to What, Where, Who, etc.

See also  Are Relevance, Distance, & Prominence Google Ranking Factors?

These types of questions can generally be answered in a paragraph, of which is shown on the Featured Snippet.

Let’s ask Google [Why does the sun follow a circular path?]

Why does the sun follow a circular path?

Again, Google’s algorithms will decide which content has the most credible answer here (based on numerous factors), and provide the answer in the Featured Snippet accordingly.

Let’s do another one.

Here’s a query for “Can fish feel pain?”

Can fish feel pain?

As you can see, Google has provided a 4-5-line answer – drawing from the content it sees as the most credible.

Long Answer

The long answer queries typically get more into the weeds of procedures and processes.

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Most commonly, these long answers are matched up with How and Why queries.

Google only has so much space to work with in the Featured Snippet; it can’t list out an entire procedure from A to Z. Instead, it has to abbreviate with an outline.

For example, let’s search for [How to build a treehouse].

How to build a treehouse?

The intent of this question is to get a better understanding of what all factors into the process of building a treehouse. The intent is more or less surface level.

As a result, Google’s algorithms serve up the step-by-step process involved in this project. To get more in-depth, the user needs to click on the link.

Other common examples of long answer snippets relate to how-to guides, recipes, workout routines, etc.

Which Types of Answers Do You Provide?

Everyone wants to get their content proudly placed in the Featured Snippet (or somewhere prominent on Page 1).

Given how much real estate this answer box takes up on Google searches, the potential benefits of taking the spotlight here are huge!

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In order to get placed in the Google Answer Box, you first need to have a strong idea of which type of answer your particular piece of content provides, and which keywords attribute to it.

For instance, this online tire store recently published an article around the keyword “best tire brands” – optimized for the question, “what are the best tire brands?”

Best tire brands

If we look at the Featured Snippet for this query, we see a list of tire brands outlined in the content under H2 tags.

In addition to drawing traffic, the content provides avenues for the user to actually purchase the products.

With each piece of content you create, you should be asking, “what types of questions does this content answer?”

This should be an integral part of how you formulate the outline, as well as how it will funnel into the bigger picture (like generating conversions).

How to Pinpoint Trending Questions & Keywords

In the process of figuring out which type of answer(s) is ideal for your content, you need to identify the trending questions being asked and the search volumes behind them.

One tool you could use is the Ahrefs Questions feature in the keyword explorer.

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By entering in your focus keyword, you can get a big list of related questions to be factored into how you create the content.

In this hypothetical scenario, let’s say you are creating a piece of content for a CRM software.

See also  How Often Will Core Web Vitals Ranking Factor Be Calculated? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

Let’s look at the questions related to the keyword “CRM Software.”

CRM Software

Given what we found here, there are all kinds of questions to frame a piece of content around.

Now, a long, comprehensive piece of content could potentially work to answer all three major question types. However, for our purposes, we are going to focus on one.

Let’s say we want to create a piece of content that answers the short answer question [What does CRM software do].

What does CRM software do?

Now that we have the question, let’s look into the keywords that funnel into this answer.

What does CRM software do?

Think about it from a user’s standpoint who is at the beginning of the buyer’s journey.

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If someone wants to simply learn more about CRM software and what it does, what informational keywords and phrases would factor into the search?

Based on the keyword research above, this would likely involve terms and phrases like:

  • What is CRM
  • Customer relationship management
  • CRM meaning
  • CRM definition
  • CRM examples
  • Customer relationship
  • Relationship management

These are just a handful of the informational keywords and phrases that would ideally work to answer the overarching question.

Now, if there is transactional intent within this content, you are wise to include the following terms/phrases:

  • Best CRM
  • Best CRM tools
  • Best CRM for small business
  • CRM solutions
  • CRM pricing

When it comes to optimizing for questions and keywords, you need to have an idea of the users’ knowledge prior to looking at the content, what answers they want, and what they should do after consuming the content.

Ultimately, this forms the basis for how you conduct SEO research.

Ranking for Direct Answer Questions

Getting ranked for direct answer questions can be tough.

As with most SEO tactics, there are no laws, just theories.

Based on what we’ve found, getting ranked highly for direct answer questions involves the following common threads:

Get to the Point

Answer the question as early as possible within the content. If you can, try to do this in the first paragraph.

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List the Question Right out of the Gate

This helps Google tag your content appropriately.

Elaborate

After you answer the question bluntly, elaborate on it in the subsequent paragraphs. This helps to show Google that you are answering the question comprehensively.

Go the Extra Mile

This would commonly involve answering typical follow-up questions.

For instance, if you answered the question, “What is a lunar eclipse?” you could also include answers to questions like, “How often do lunar eclipses happen?” or “What is the difference between a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse?”

You want to show Google that you know the answer in as much detail as possible so you are seen as an expert source of information.

Ranking for Short Answer Questions

Getting ranked for short answer questions has a lot of similarities to the process of getting ranked for direct answer questions.

Much of what we’ve observed comes down to the formatting of the content.

Here are a couple of the biggest patterns we’ve noticed:

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Make the Language Super Easy to Read

Don’t produce a wall of text; break it up into paragraphs no more than 3-4 lines long. Also, try not to use an extensive amount of business jargon.

See also  Why Content Is Important for SEO

Keep in mind, a lot of short answer questions are from people at the beginning of the customer journey – they are simply looking for more information, not to be overwhelmed.

Integrate Questions into Your Header Tags

This should ideally look like a Q&A format.

For instance, the question, “What does a CRM software do?” could be an H2 tag near the beginning of the post which the subsequent content would then answer.

Ranking for Long Answer Questions

Ranking for long answer questions normally requires quite a few factors based on the depth of the content.

On a side note: If a topic could be better answered with a more visual piece of content, Google will probably serve a video. For example, if you search Google for [How to wash pillows] you are going to be met with a video.

How to wash pillows?

So, if you answer these types of long answer questions, you are smart to focus on a video strategy.

Back to getting ranked highly on long answer queries, we have found several patterns in how content ranks.

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Keep the Main Title Focused on the Question

You want your content to appear to be the most relevant to Google.

If you are working to answer the question of “how to create a content plan,” your content should (in some capacity) reflect this in the title.

How to create a content plan?

Provide a Step-By-Step Format

Headings in content created for these types of queries often times have certain steps outlined.

Here’s what comes up for the question, [how to do SEO audit].

How to do SEO audit?

If you look at the content written by Ahrefs, you’ll notice the header tags in the piece correspond directly with the steps listed in the Featured Snippet.

Use Images

Images make your content more user-friendly and engaging – two things that Google loves!

We’ve found that the best-performing content uses imagery to supplement the points being made and provide a more complete answer.

Link out to Reputable Sites

Google wants to reward sites that provide the most credible information, based on the search query.

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What makes credible information?

Credible sources.

For example, if you are writing a post on “how to buy a used car,” linking out to reputable auto websites like Consumer Reports, Edmonds, Cars.com, etc. would (ideally) add credibility to your piece.

Wrapping Up

It’s important to note that every situation is a little bit different and the process of optimizing content is not always apples-to-apples.

However, it’s clear that the SEO landscape has been shifting towards long-tail keywords and questions for some time now.

If you want to get your content ranked well (and stand a chance at getting placed in the featured snippet), you need to factor these into your content strategy.

Hopefully, this post has given you a good idea of where to start.

More Resources:

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Created by author, August 2019
In-Post Image: SEMrush

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