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Picking a new domain name is exciting.

The slate is clean. The plans are made. The energy is high.

But if you choose the wrong website name, you could be in trouble. Tests show domain names do impact SEO. But how? Is there a wrong way and a right way to choose a domain name for maximum SEO?

Here’s what you need to know.

Don’t Pick an Exact-Match Domain

For SEO newbies, there is the temptation to pick an exact-match domain, or EMD.

What is an exact-match domain?

An exact-match domain is a domain name that includes the keyword phrase itself. Some people call them Keyword Domains

For example, let’s say your new business wanted to rank for the keyword “awesome cheap widgets”. If you chose an EMD, your website would look like this: www.awesomecheapwidgets.com

It sounds like a great strategy on the face of it. More keywords, more SEO, right?

Not exactly.

Back in the day—2012 to be exact—Google noticed that a lot of websites were trying to improve their SEO by choosing exact-match domains. Back then, if you wanted to rank for “cheap Nokia phones,” no problem! You would just buy the domain, www.cheapnokiaphones.com, for a few bucks, and presto! You would win first-page ranking.

No backlinks. No quality content. Just raw SEO power!

In response, Google dropped a bombshell. It was called the Exact Match Domain Update.

The EMD update crushed keyword domain websites in the rankings. Average ranking sunk to record lows.

Obviously, choosing an exact-match domain is a pretty bad idea. But that only tells you what you shouldn’t do.

What about the things should you do?

Use Your Brand Name as Your Domain Name

The safest and easiest solution is to use your brand name as your domain name. Why? Because your brand is how customers remember you. Much of your website traffic will come from navigational search.

What’s a navigational search?

A navigational search is a type of search query in which the user is trying to find your website.

If your brand name is CrunchBase, then users might use these navigational queries:

  • crunchbase
  • crunch base
  • crunchbase.com
  • crunchy base
  • cruncch bas (nobody’s perfect)
  • crunched base

Notice how my query, “crunched based,” still yielded the right website, complete with sitelinks.

How to Choose a Domain Name for Maximum SEO | SEJ

Of the three main types of queries, informational queries are most popular, followed by navigational queries.

When potential customers conduct searches like those above, they will most likely find your website. But there’s a more important reason why you should use your brand name as your domain name.

Brand signals.

What are brand signals?

Brand signals are any mention or occurrence of your business name or website on the web. They are an increasingly important means of improving your SEO.

In a sense, brand signals are broader than SEO. They have more to do with PR than they do with SEO.

Some SEOs dream of a day when backlinks don’t matter, and keywords are irrelevant. They dream of a day when the brand itself is the defining factor in determining search presence. We aren’t there yet, but brand signals are a step in that direction.

Here are some of the ways that businesses build brand signals:

How to Choose a Domain Name for Maximum SEO | SEJ

To build brand signals, you don’t just engage in SEO activities or content marketing alone. Instead, you engage in broad business-building activities.

  • You have actual employees who work for the company or brand.
  • You have a physical address and maybe even an office or two.
  • You have real contact information associated with verifiable phone numbers and real people answering the phone.
  • You have registered your business and organized it with the right authorities.
  • You have people searching for your brand
  • You have people talking about your brand

Even the big names at Google are declaring that brand signals are a way to differentiate low-quality websites from high-quality brands.

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How does this relate to SEO and your domain name? It has everything to do with it.

Your domain name should be your brand name, because that will become your most influential factor in having a high-ranking website.

What About Our Target Keywords?

To be completely frank, keywords don’t matter all that much anymore. Google and search engines will learn to associate your brand name with your keywords as your brand grows in popularity and as you continue to produce content.

Take Buffer, for example. Their brand name has nothing to do with their relevant keywords like “social media” and “sharing.” But what does Google do with that query? They bring up all of Buffer’s products, accounts, and information.

How to Choose a Domain Name for Maximum SEO | SEJ

What if your brand name is just an ordinary word, like a standard vocabulary word? Like, Apple? That isn’t a problem.

I don’t see any information about fruit on this page. Do you?

How to Choose a Domain Name for Maximum SEO | SEJ

Maybe you’re not a publicly traded multi-billion dollar juggernaut like Apple. That’s okay, though. Google can still measure brand signals and provide your brand with the search boost it needs.

Connectivity, for example, has a brand name that is basically a vocabulary word. But Google still gives them top rank. They even outrank Wikipedia.

How to Choose a Domain Name for Maximum SEO | SEJ

Your brand name matters more than your domain name. But your domain name should follow your brand name.

If you choose some made up word, that’s fine, too. Contently made up a word for their brand name.

How to Choose a Domain Name for Maximum SEO | SEJ

I made up a word for my brand name by mashing together two words.

How to Choose a Domain Name for Maximum SEO | SEJ

How to Choose a Domain Name for Maximum SEO | SEJ

What if My Brand Name Includes Keywords?

Is this a bad thing? No, it’s not.

A website that contains keywords, often called a PMD for partial match domain, doesn’t ruin your SEO. Here’s why:

Instead of just changing how domains impact ranking, Google is targeting spammy signals around EMDs and PMDs.

The problem with EMDs and PMDs isn’t just the keywords in the domains. It’s about a bunch of other spammy stuff, too. So, let’s say your business is “The Light Bulb Replacement Company.”

  • Your target keyword is “light bulb replacement.”
  • Your website is LightBulbReplacementCompany.com. (I know. It’s kind of long.)

As long as you have a decent site with great content and a nice user experience, you shouldn’t see a major negative impact.

If you’re starting from scratch, however, and you want to choose the best name for your brand, try not to choose a name brand that is an exact match for the keywords you are targeting.

In today’s era of digital search and machine learning algorithms, brand identity is absolutely vital. And it includes just about everything except keywords.

This article doesn’t tell you how to pick a brand name, but the two topics—brand names and domain names— are intertwined. For more information on the interplay between brand names and domain names, please check out these resources:

Choose a .com Extension

Your extension or TLD (top-level domain) matters. And the most common TLD today is .com.

There might be some good reasons to choose another TLD, but be careful. Some TLDs like .biz and .us are associated with spam.

Your TLD won’t have a direct negative impact on your ranking. However, choosing the wrong one could associate you with low-ranking websites. That could negatively impact your SEO.

The .com TLD is the simplest, safest, and easiest route to go. Other high-quality extensions are country extensions such as .co.uk.

Tips for Scoring the Best Domain Name

Finally, let me sum up this article with a quick rundown of some tips to remember:

  • Avoid numbers: When a person hears your domain, they might not know whether to spell the number or to use a numeral. For example, Number1Ranking.com could also be NumberOneRanking.com.
  • Avoid intentionally misspelling words: It may seem creative to use a misspelled word as your brand or domain name. Usually, this backfires. People have a hard enough time spelling as it is. Confusing things by misspelling a word on purpose just makes it worse.
  • Combining two or three words to form a longer word is okay: I seem to have a habit of doing this with my businesses — Quicksprout, Kissmetrics, HelloBar — but it seems to be working out okay. Make sure that your combined words won’t be misinterpreted. MensExchange.com could also be MenSexChange.com, so think twice.
  • Hyphens are generally a bad idea: It’s easy to forget when, where, and if to use hyphens in a domain name. Hyphens are fine for multi-word URLs deeper within the site. But they’re not so great for the actual domain name.
  • Shorter is better: Anything that starts getting longer than 15 characters is too long.

Ready to rock out with a killer domain name? Get brainstorming, and you’re sure to find something that nails it!