We get this question often from developers and online content creators. About fifteen years ago placing exact match keywords in domain names (URLs) mattered. But Google soon grew tired of keyword stuffing that led to domains looking more like sentences. The final blow may have occurred back in 2007 when a website about a village named Llanfairpwllgwyngyll (for short) in Wales, increased its URL to 63-characters resulting in the unpronounceable mouthful llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.co.uk. And yet logic nags at you when coming up with URLs for a new website for your business, or even a new page or post. Is it possible that keywords in a URL help SEO? Yes, no, and maybe so. Let’s review.
What You Need to Know About Using Keywords When Creating New Websites, Pages, and Posts for Your Online Business
There Is a Google Algorithm That May Penalize Those Who Do
Using exact match domain names can actually backfire and get your website penalized by a Google algorithm aptly known as the Exact Match Domain (EMD) algorithm. When the algorithm initially dropped in 2012 there was a real and immediate change in Google Page 1 results for EMDs.
But before you dump any of your existing online properties, please note the caveats.
For one, this algorithm applies to domains versus individual web pages, so don’t worry about publishing an online white-paper, landing page, or blog post using strings of keywords that tell readers exactly what it is. In addition, the EMD algorithm applies to spammy domains, versus natural ones. For example, a website named “get-a-pay-day-loan-near-me.com” is at risk, whereas “realestate(city).com” is not. If your old or new URLs are not in violation of these terms then you have no cause for concern. That said, Google states that EMDs do not help gain rank, so if the URL looks bad from a reader perspective don’t force the issue.
But Did Google Just Admit That It Still Works?
Case closed, right? Not quite. Last week (March 15 2021) in a YouTube release (at 51:34) Google stated that while they do use keywords in a URL as a ranking factor, there is lightweight consideration prior to complete indexing of new content:
“So if this is the absolute first time we see this URL we don’t know how to classify its content, then we might use the words in the in the URL as something to help rank us better. But as soon as we’ve crawled and indexed the content there then we have a lot more information.” (John Mueller, Google)
There is a larger implication of this seemingly small announcement. It comes down to one very significant search engine ranking factor, the CTR (click-through-rate), which is the percentage of users that click on your website link in the search results. By improving your CTR, you can boost your rankings because Google takes these clicks as a signal that users are finding your content useful. The more clicks your result gets, the more likely your rank will sustain (or improve upon) its position on Google. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, so to speak. Therein lies the implication of Google’s recent admission. If keywords in URLs are considered before a new content release is fully indexed it may gain early rank. If in those early hours or even minutes your result is clicked (and clicked-often) it may absolutely hold its position. But this depends upon whether or not people are searching for the content around the time of publication. It can be an effective tactic for pages/posts that reference current events but not so much for generic content about a product or service.
There is a Positive Correlation Between CTR and Some EMDs
There have been numerous studies to show that CTRs may not only go up when content gains early rank, but may improve when using EMDs in URLs. This is more true for local SEO with limited competition.
This relationship is pretty logical. Searchers are drawn to the three elements in a given search engine result – the URL, title tag, and meta-description. When they are tied together through consistent keywords searchers gain more trust that the result has what they are looking for, and will click-through to learn more. Can Google honestly say that someone searching for real estate in their city won’t appreciate a search result with a domain of “realestate(their city).com”? When such a domain is consistent with the title tag and meta-description it’s a forgone conclusion.
Go Ahead if You Play By the Rules
So you have Google’s EMD algorithm hanging over your head, yet Google has admitted to some effectiveness prior to content indexing. And then there are the studies indicating a positive correlation between CTRs and EMDs.
This may seems confusing, but if you read everything above closely the answer is clear. Follow the protocol below and you’ll not only avoid an algorithm penalty you may even enjoy a higher CTR (and customer/client conversion):
- EMDs are acceptable (but not required) when natural to your business (i.e. www.[city]realestate.com).
- EMDs are acceptable (but not required) when under 16-characters maximum (not counting the www. or .com)
- EMDs are less risky for non-spammy businesses, but very risky for spammy businesses (i.e. payday loans, gambling, cash for junk, etc.).
- EMDs are acceptable when searchers can easily understand the meaning of a string of words that are placed together without dashes or underscores (characters in domain names are bad for SEO).
- Keywords in URLs are absolutely suggested for product/service landing pages and blog posts that come from a permissible domain name (i.e. example.com/blog/how-to-sell-your-house-fast/)
In the end, establishing your website’s ongoing URL structure is best left to experts. Contact Strategis Consulting Group today to schedule a FREE consultation.