Most businesses understand the importance of — and the general idea behind — search engine optimization, the practice of getting a website URL to appear at the top of a search results page in order to make it easier for customers to find and use a business. But the deeper into the mechanics of SEO you get, the less clear best practices become. This is especially true of domain SEO keyword practices — using keywords in website domain names in hopes of improving search ranking. Many businesses share questions about the impact keywords have on a company's search engine rankings, whether including a keyword in a website domain name is necessary for better rankings, and how to choose a domain name for SEO.
To find the answer the company HigherVisibility conducted a domain SEO study and found some interesting facts. They first hypothesized that the importance of keywords in domain names for SEO differs depending on industry. Then, using WordStream, they identified the top 10 keywords for 10 major industries. From there, a variety of search engine optimization tools were used to analyze the URLs and top page results across industries. The industries the domain SEO study included were business, credit cards, debt, email software, food and beverage, government and trade, hotel, plumbing, software and weight loss. The study found that 63 percent of the top page results were for websites that included keywords in their URLs. The study also found that when broken down by industry, some fields are more likely than others to include keywords when constructing website domain names. Some of the most significant results came from the following:
As you can see, the research showed that including a keyword in a website domain name has a widespread and positive impact on search engine optimization. If you're in an industry where most companies are including keywords in domain names, then it's probably in your best interest to follow suit. Likewise, if you're in a field like email software, where less than half of companies are using keywords in their domain names, it might not be as important.
There was once a time when search engines were much more trusting of websites. Don't get me wrong, search algorithms were still incredibly complex, but they used different logic to determine what a relevant site was for a given search. Once people caught on to these ranking factors, many would optimize their sites purely for search engines rather than humans. This led to many long domain names trying to cram every relevant keyword that was available. People would then game the system by overloading their websites with keywords and buying links from other sites that were doing the exact same thing, which made for a pretty bad experience for people just looking to find some quality information. This led Google to rethink what factors were important for a search. It seems obvious now, but they realized that a relevant domain name plus keywords on a website does not equate to a relevant website. Instead, they began focusing more on determining whether the content on a site was actually valuable to real people and not just for search engines.
While it's not a necessity to have keywords in your domain, it can still be beneficial if you are able to find one. This is because of backlinks and, more specifically, the anchor text used in those backlinks. Let's say your lava lamp store's domain name is totallavalamp.com. Any time another website links to your website, it will likely look something like this: "I really wanted a yellow and green lava lamp, and the only place I could find it online was at Total Lava Lamp." This is incredibly beneficial for SEO because your targeted keyword is being used often in backlinks to your website, which is a strong indicator for search engines that your site has something to do with lava lamps. The more sites that do this, the more of an indicator it will be what niche your website serves. That being said, only take this approach if you are able to find a domain that can incorporate a keyword in a way that is still brandable; otherwise, you'll quickly fall into the trap of having a really long domain packed with keywords that just sounds spammy.
While it may be true that search engines take into account keywords in your domain name, it's important to consider how much traffic that will really get you in the long run. At the time of this writing, domain names have become quite sparse, and the odds of registering a domain name that also has high search volume for its keywords is slim. Google owns the majority of the search engine market, with Bing and Yahoo trailing far behind. From our in-depth research of the effect of domain-name keywords on search engine rankings, we've learned that in general, search engines do credit you for the keywords in your domain name, but that's primarily so your customers can find you (ie. by the name of your business). However, more important is the competitiveness of those keywords. A very generic, competitive keyword domain name, such as chocolate.com, will still be very difficult to rank for. In other words, not everyone searching for “chocolate” will see your website as the #1 result. It takes lots of work to get any website, regardless of keywords, to the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for competitive, highly searched for keyword phrases.