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SEO Best Practices: Is Your Domain Name a Problem?

posted by Michael Epps Utley Michael Epps Utley
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When doing business online, domains define your territory and serve as a signpost for search engines. Just like the content on your web pages, domain names themselves should be optimized for SEO, and to improve your user experience (UX).

Here are some common domain name problems we recommend avoiding, along with plenty of ways to strategically use domain names to improve search rankings while making a stronger impression on customers and leads.

Is Your Domain Name Problematic?

If you're not sure where your SEO strategy is going wrong, perhaps your domain name is confusing users and search engine bots alike. When auditing websites, we've found the most SEO and UX issues with domains that are:

  • Too Short: Abbreviating or shortening names within your domain name may seem like a good idea, but it can lead to issues. For example, if you're in manufacturing, "MFG" is a nice shorthand for internal communications or discussions with vendors or partners. But using "jonesmfg" instead of "jonesmanufacturing" in your domain name means missing opportunities for keyword use, branding, and name recognition. That's why it's best to avoid abbreviating domain names. We recommend including your full company name, service name, or product name whenever possible for more consistent branding and stronger SEO.

  • Hyphenated: Hyphens can seem to make domain URLs easier to read, but hyphenating creates other problems. It's harder for people to remember hyphens in a URL, which can hurt your organic reach and lower engagement. Plus, hyphenating means you run the risk of people typing in the wrong URL and getting an error page instead of being directed to one of your landing pages or service pages.

  • Using Subdomains Instead of Subdirectories: As you continue building out your website and expanding your content marketing, you'll need to create more URLs within your domain. SEO experts recommend using sub-folders and subdirectories (i.e. www.yourwebsite.com/blog/ ) rather than subdomains (i.e. www.blog.yourwebsite.com). That's because search engines keep different metrics for domains than they do for subdomains. So sticking with subdirectories/subfolders rather than adding new subdomains means bots will read all your content as coming from within the same site to avoid any ranking or SEO hiccups. The exception where subdomains are recommended is when creating language-specific websites. (i.e., en.yourwebsite.com for the English version of the website).

  • Content Migration Issues: Moving domains can mean your SEO and site performance take a hit without a comprehensive and proactive approach. When your webmaster needs to move one domain to another, be sure they're setting up the redirects on a page-to-page basis, so all sub-folders and deep content pages are redirected to corresponding sub-folders and deep content pages on the new domain. During the content migration process, avoid redirecting all pages from one domain to the homepage of another domain. Taking these steps will keep your site functional and prevent loss of content.

If you suspect these common pitfalls are causing problems for your website rankings, have a talk with your webmaster and your marketing team about how to streamline and unify site naming and URL creating conventions going forward.

Does Your Domain Need a Geographic Identifier?

A geographic identifier is anything in your domain name that specifies a particular location or geographic area. While this isn't an SEO best practice for a national or international company, it's a solid choice if your business has a distinct local focus and is looking to make local SEO improvements.

"BobsMusicShopNashville" is going to help Bob get better rankings over time in local searches and will help people who live near Bob find his business more readily. "BobsMusicShop" might get Bob a lot of "hits" or website traffic, but many won't be viable leads to help him grow his business. It's important to note geographic identifiers are only recommended if your business intends to stay localized long term.

Do Older Domains Negatively Impact Ranking?

The short answer: nope. According to Matt Cutts at Google, "No search engine has ever confirmed that they use length of registration as a factor in scoring. If a company is asserting that as a fact, that would be troubling."

You should have no hesitation around renewing your domain, especially if it's your primary domain. After all, you're keeping it long-term, and it's more convenient to auto-renew your domain to prevent domain expiration, website crashes, and loss of leads and business.

Bottom line: Google and other search engines don't care how long your domain has been registered. It's more important to ensure your site is being regularly crawled by search engine bots, so you know your domain is being ranked and indexed on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

What Domain SEO Opportunities Are You Missing?

Improving domain name SEO is more than correcting problems. It's also about recognizing opportunities. If you're:

  • Rebranding

  • Launching New Products and Services (and Accompanying Pages)

  • Restructuring Your Website

You'll be creating lots of new pages. It's a great time to implement these domain name best practices so people know who you are, what you do, and what you have to offer your customers.

From GoEpps in Nashville, Tennessee

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