04 Aug Google on Ranking Power of Keyword Domains
Google’s John Mueller settled a long running debate as to whether keywords in the domain name matter. He also provided four insights about choosing domain names and ranking.
History of Keyword versus Branded Domains
A keyword domain is a domain name with keywords in it (example, BuyWidgets.com). A branded domain is a domain name without the keywords in it (example, Amazon.com).
There was a time when Internet users typed the name of a product or service they wanted. This was called Direct Navigation. This earned 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 search engines helped the keyword domain industry by ranking those parked domain names in the search results. Then in 2011 Google removed parked domains from the search results. The parked domain industry suffered after Google updated its algorithm to remove parked domains. More on this in section 3 below.
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 in the ranking power of keyword domain names.
Four Insights into Keyword Domains and Ranking
- Keywords domains don’t have a time advantage
- Keyword domains don’t rank better
- Keywords lost ranking influence years ago
- 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.
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). In late 2011 Google updated their algorithm to introduced a classifier to remove parked domains from the search results.
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 in to question the idea that Google continues to give a direct ranking bonus to a keyword in a domain name.
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.”
He does hedge his statement with the phrase “kind of.” In my opinion, he may be alluding to the fact that the keyword in the domain might influence a searcher to choose that site to click to because of the perception that the site specializes in a topic. So in that sense, the keywords may influence the rankings, especially if users show evidence that they are satisfied with that website.
Unfortunately, John Mueller didn’t elaborate on this point.