A domain is like your virtual moniker; a unique, human-readable address of your site that tells online users who you are where to find you.
Domains are made up of three parts: the top-level domain, a domain name, and an optional subdomain.
Your domain is the first impression users have of your site. It’s a distinct and crucial feature of your online presence. In fact, your domain is an essential part of establishing your brand, which is why it needs to be chosen carefully and optimized with best SEO practices.
Let’s briefly review these domain elements, along with a few others, and see how they can affect your search ranking:
Top-level domain (TLD)
Sometimes referred to as a domain suffix or an extension, TLD appears at the end of the domain name and exists in various forms like:
There are thousands of other possible TLDs that you can choose from, like .data, .graphics, .book, or even country and region code TLDS, such as .us, .uk, .ca.
It’s not recommended for SEO-conscious webmasters to purchase low-quality TLDs, like .info, .biz, .name, etc because they’re less commonly known and may receive substantially less traffic compared to widely known domains like .com. Moreover, unfamiliar TLDs may even be associated with spammy behavior by search engines.
1. Domain Name
Did you know that there was a time when a website’s domain name had a huge impact on its search engine ranking?
However, back in 2012, Google realized that a domain name alone, without supporting quality elements, is not enough to rank.
The problem came from Exact Match Domains (AKA Keyword Domains) that exactly matched the keywords the site wanted to compete for. For example, if a site wanted to rank for the term “best donuts in New York,” an exact domain match would be something like “best-donuts-in-newyork.com.”
For years this was a cheap way for webmasters to get traffic, but now Google has closed this loophole.
However, this doesn’t imply that domain names aren’t an important factor in SEO; there are other smarter, SEO-friendly ways in which you can optimize your site’s domain name to get the best bang for your buck.
Let’s look at some of them:
Leverage Branding In Your Domain Name
Google utilizes ‘brand signals’ to determine a website’s authority. Branding creates distinction in an otherwise over-crowded cyber space and that is exactly what you need to stand out.
Brand names indicate your site’s level of credibility, so don’t be afraid of using your brand name in your domain name. This is how internet users will find, remember, identify, and share your business online.
Also, make sure you’re consistent with your domain name; it can help you grow a strong and memorable brand.
It Should Be Easy To Read
When optimizing sites for search engines, webmasters often overlook the importance of making on-page elements human-friendly.
An accessible, easy-to-read domain contributes largely to a positive user experience, which in turn, translates into successful outcomes for your site.
A good domain name is:
Memorable domain names are also valuable for word-of-mouth advertising. So, stay away from domain names that include unusual spelling, number, non-standard characters, or are longer than about 15 characters.
Search engines’ growing reliance on usability and accessibility means that the easier your domain is to read for humans, the more valuable it is for search engines.
Use Broad Keywords Naturally
“Keyword” is often the buzzword when it comes to SEO-related conversion—there’s no denying that. But, you need to be crafty, creative, and not to mention careful, when incorporating keywords in your domain name.
As mentioned earlier, stay away from “keyword-targeted” or “keyword-rich” domain names. One might think that they carry weight as a ranking factor, but Google associates keyword-dense domain names with low-quality sites.
Think about amazon.com or apple.com; these domain names aren’t stuffed with any keywords related to their business, instead, they’re well-branded.
However, if your business isn’t well-branded, you can benefit from smartly-used keywords to help users understand what they can expect when they navigate your site. SEO tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can help you find keywords that are important for your business.
You can further use a keyword ranking tool, like RankGenie, to keep a track of how well your keywords are ranking across multiple regions and devices, and make informed decisions to further optimize them.
If a domain name has two words, a lot of webmasters separate the words with a hyphen to improve readability: www.host-site.com.
However, keep in mind that hyphens correlates with spammy behavior and even decreases the domain name’s memorability.
Subdomains make up the third level of your domain’s hierarchy and form a larger part of your top-level domain.
Subdomains are placed in front of the root domain and are separated from the domain name using a period. Some examples of subdomains are:
- shop. examplehost.com
Both are subdomains of the “examplehost.com” root domain. A webmaster is free to create any subdomain under a root domain.
Two common subdomain choices include:
Subdomains like these also result in canonicalization errors (we’ll discuss what canonicalization is at length below).
Keep it to a single subdomain: Using www or non-www domain has no bearing in SEO, but make sure to choose one format and use it consistently.
Favor subdirectories over subdomains: Although Google has stated that content in subdirectories and subdomains are treated almost equally, it’s still recommended to place content in subfolders rather than subdomains.
For instance, use www.examplehost.com/blog instead of blog.examplehost.com. An exception to this is a language-specific version of a site, like “en.examplehost.com” used for an English version of a site.
In layman terms, protocols aid the internet function; they enable connections and data transfer between two points on a network.
The “HTTP” (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is most commonly used, but now every website is advised to switch to “HTTPS” (Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol) in order to allow secure transactions and authorization.
Why You Should Switch To HTTPS
You’ll need an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to activate the HTTPS protocol.
Google Favors SSL
The importance of using HTTPS is apparent from the fact that Google confirmed HTTPS as a ranking signal in 2014. This means that not switching to HTTPS can affect your website credibility and search engine rankings.
What’s more, a research from 2016 that analyzed 1 million search results found that HTTPS correlates with higher ranking on Google’s first page results.
Browsers Add a “Not Secure” Warning
Further emphasizing the importance of delivering a secure user experience, in 2016, Google reported that it will add a “Not Secure” warning in the address bar for sites that still run on HTTP.
If you thought this was bad news, Google Chrome’s 57 release makes it even worse by adding an in-form warning that appears directly below the fields. This is significantly more noticeable to the end users, making it clear NOT to submit confidential information to insecure pages—especially e-commerce websites.
It’s Safer For Your Visitors
A reason why Google stresses on the importance of switching to HTTPS is because HTTPS protects users’ data over unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. Without HTTPS, anyone on the same network as you can “packet sniff” and discover sensitive information about your users.
HTTPS also ensures that the users are connecting to an authentic version of the site. This is important because launching a fake version of a website is a common phishing tactic. The good news is that there will be no loss of “link juice” when you switch to HTTPS because Google counts the inbound links pointing to both HTTP and HTTPS versions of the web page.
4. Canonical Tag
Canonical tag is another important domain element that you need to keep in mind when optimizing your site.
A canonical tag (rel=”canonical”) is an HTML snippet code that tells search engines that certain URLs are actually the same.
For instance, sometimes you have multiple versions of the same piece of content/products at different URLs. A canonical tag tells search engines which version is the main or ‘preferred’ version, and thus, should be indexed.
So, by using canonical URLs, you can have multiple versions of the same content on your site, without it harming your rankings.
<link rel=”canonical” href=https://examplehost.com/guide-to-diy-seo />
^The preferred version can be found at this URL.
The rel=canonical tag here indicates that the web page on which this tag appears should be treated as a duplicate of the specified URL.
Setting Canonical URLS
Large-scale duplication can dilute your ranking ability, and canonicalization can help you control your duplicate content.
Let’s look at an example of using the canonical tag:
All the above URLs might look the same to a human but every single URL represents a unique page to web crawler.
So in this case, you would apply rel=canonical as follows:
- Pick one of the pages as a canonical version. This can be the one with the most visitors or links.
- Then add a link rel=canonical on the non-canonical page, specifying the preferred URL.
So, if you choose the “example.com” link, the <head> section of the other pages would look like this:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://example.com/” />
This way links to both the URLs would count as a single version. The purpose is to redirect the user without actually redirecting them.
Why Are Canonical Tags Important For SEO?
Canonical tags tell Google:
- Which version to index
- Which version to rank for relevant queries
- Whether you want to consolidate “link equity” on a single page, or split it between multiple pages
Moreover, too much duplicate content also impacts your “crawl budget.” This means that Google crawlers end up wasting time crawling different versions of the same page instead of the important content on your site.
Canonical Tags vs. 301 Redirects
Webmasters are always confused about the difference between 301 redirects and canonical tags.
A 301 redirect on Page A–>Page B, will take users automatically to Page B without allowing them to visit Page A.
However adding a canonical tag from Page A–>Page B tells search engines that Page B is canonical, but still allows users to visit both the URLs. So, when using canonical tags, make sure it matches the desired outcome.
5. Domain Age
Domain age tells you how old your domain is based on when it was registered. For example, if intel.com registered their domain in 1986, their domain age is 34 years in 2020.
The impact of domain age on search ranking is highly debated in the SEO world. Some experts say that it is an indirect ranking factor while others refute, saying it doesn’t hold importance.
Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, shed some light on the SEO debate responding to a tweet with a resounding “No, domain age helps nothing.”
No, domain age helps nothing.— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) July 5, 2019
However, this wasn’t enough to put the debate to bed since he didn’t give a real context as to the why. Plus, SEO experts have observed that older domains seem to rank better.
Our verdict on it?
While domain age is in no way a ranking factor, it can play a minor part as a damping factor, which means that it signals search engines if the website is spammy or illegitimate. The older the domain, the more likely it is deemed as a legitimate site.
Another reason why old domain may carry more weight is because they have an old backlink profile, which can signal the site as credible to the search engine.
Domain age doesn’t hurt, but it will also hardly help. So, if you come across an opportunity to register a short, niche-related catchy domain name, you might want to consider that over buying a previously owned (old) domain.
6. Hreflang Tag
The Hreflang tag is a technical solution for sites that serve similar content in multiple languages.
The hreflanf attribute tells Google which language you’re using on a particular page, so that the search engines serve results to visitors searching in that language.
(En-us targets English speakers in the U.S).
you were to create a Spanish-language version of your English homepage, you
The hreflang tag is used in the following situations:
- When you want to differentiate between regional variations of the same language. For instance for US and UK English, you’ll use en-us and en-gb respectively.
- When you want to serve content in different languages, such as de for German, fr for French.
- When you want to use a combination of regional variations and languages.
Global SEO Benefits of Hreflang
Improved User Experience
Hreflang adds a signal to the search engines on which language to serve the users based on their location and language preferences. This leads to fewer users bouncing back to the search results, which ultimately translates into higher rankings.
To be clear, the goal of hreflang isn’t to increase traffic but to present the right content to the right user.
Moreover, Google knowledge base states that even if you don’t specify the hreflang attribute, Google will find an alternative version of your page. However, it says that it’s best for webmasters to explicitly indicate the region or language specific pages.
Therefore, at its core, hereflang tag focuses on creating a great user experience.
Prevents Content Duplication
There is another reason why hreflang attributes are important: they prevent the problem of content duplication. For example, you can benefit from hreflang tag if you have the same content in English at different URLs for UK, US, and Australia, with the difference in the pages as small as a change in price and currency. Without the tag, Google may see it as duplicate content and choose a version to index.
7. Domain Authority
Domain authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score that indicates how well a domain should rank on SERPs.
DA is developed by Moz and the score or the “ranking strength” ranges from 0 to 100; higher the DA score, the better chance a domain has to rank, theoretically.
It’s important to mention here that Google does not use DA to determine search rankings and it has virtually no effect on SERPs.
DA is calculated by a number of factors, including:
- The inbound links from other sites to your web pages
- Inbound links to your sub domains
- Inbound links to your root domain
In a nut shell, it adds the total quantity of links pointing to your site and the number of unique domains.
Remember, DA is a competitive metric, and it shouldn’t be used as an absolute measure of your site’s estimated ranking strength. It simply helps webmasters audit how well their site is optimized based on their link profile. So, if you wish to improve DA, you can focus on your building your link profile.
Moreover, while keeping an eye on your Domain Authority score, make sure you’re focusing on creating quality content, improving the quality and usability of your website, among other things, which are actual Google ranking factors.
Furthermore, there are other backlink analysis tools, like RankGenie, that help you audit your web pages and figure out which external/internal links lead to low-quality sites or broken pages.
RankGenie allows you to see all your links in one place and gives you a consolidated SEO audit report, providing you with an insight on how you can improve your overall ranking.
When optimizing your website, you need to take multiple factors into account and one of them is your domain.
Even though your domain may not carry the same weight that it did years ago, it is definitely a unique feature of your online presence, and is associated with multiple elements that can provide a lot of value when optimized according to best SEO practices.
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