When building a new website, the selection of your domain is very important. It’s the main way visitors will try to navigate to your site, and it plays a role in your search engine rankings. Choosing a domain name is relatively straightforward…or is it? We had the chance to chat with SEO Specialist Lindsay Kavanagh about domain names and her expert recommendations for businesses when trying to narrow down the perfect domain.

Choosing a domain name is not as easy as it seems. What advice can you offer to small business owners? What should they consider when choosing a domain name?

When in doubt, a branded domain is always best, especially if your company has an established reputation. Think about it, what domain are you more willing to instinctively trust, nike.com or runningsshoes.com? For 99% of companies, the right domain name is staring them right in the face, and it’s their own brand name.

As an SEO Specialist, you know the importance of keywords as well as anyone. What role, if any, should keywords play in domain names? What are the advantages of doing something other than the company name?

Keywords do play a role in domain names as they absolutely do have an effect on rankings. While a runningshoes.com won’t beat nike.com in search results for “running shoes,”chicagoshoestore.com will rank higher than Smith’s Shoe Store (with the domain smiths.com), all things being equal. In such a case with a non-descriptive brand name, it isn’t the worst idea to target a short but relevant domain like “chicagoshoes.com” if available. However, you do not want to place this above other priorities. After all, nobody wants to navigate to a site like cheap-running-shoes-for-women-in-chicago.net.  Using hyphens in domain names is also seen as spammy by users and bots, so it is best to avoid those.

Not.com domains have their value (seoplus+ is on a .ca domain, after all). Why should a company consider a not.com, and why not?

Our digital agency is based in Canada, and we have a .ca domain – so we can certainly vouch for the value of a not.com domain. I would suggest doing your research, however. Only a Canadian business or a Canadian business that operates in Canada should use a .ca TLD (top level domain) (the same applies for co.uk, .fr, .au etc.).  For tech start-ups and app developers .co is becoming quite prevalent but it may not be an appropriate domain for a bank or funeral home. Finally, a not.com domain is appropriate for short social links (ie: bit.ly). These are the only situations where I think it is appropriate and beneficial, otherwise stick with .com.

Do domain names really matter for SEO?

Domain names absolutely play a role in SEO, however user experience is and will remain the priority. Exact match domains do get priority, but not if the website hosted on the domain is spammy or fails to satisfy the user query – you will get penalized eventually. Not.com domains are often regarded as low-quality in the eyes of the search engines (excepting .gov and .edu, of course), which is why it’s advisable to stay away except for the reasons outlined in #3.

How much do domains cost, especially non-branded domains?

This is a tricky question because it can vary so much based on the competition in your area, but you should be willing to spend in accordance with how much you value the domain.

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Amanda Murray

Content Marketing Specialist at seoplus+
Amanda Murray is the Digital Coordinator and Content Marketing Manager at seoplus+. She has more than a decade of experience in writing in a variety of fields, including academia, business content, technical writing, and creative writing. Amanda helps business increase visibility, improve their online presence, and better express brand visions through the power of the written word.