Do keywords in TLDs really matter

18th September 2018


Sam Jefferies Nominet

Sam Jefferies
Search Marketing Lead

In the early days of the internet, keyword-rich domain names were a valuable part of many an SEO strategy. Companies would register multitudes of domain names containing their keywords, for example buykeyword.co.uk or insurekeyword.com. These are known as exact match domain names (EMDs).

When someone searched for “buy keyword“, these sites would appear at the top of the search results. For a long time this worked well, but then things changed.

Google moves EMD goalposts

There were so many EMDs registered that after a while it was nearly impossible to register a meaningful domain name.

In 2012 Google introduced a new algorithm that endeavoured to stop EMDs appearing if they pointed to low quality sites. The search giant was intent on preventing these sites appearing above higher quality sites competing in the same spaces.

Google states that it no longer places any positive weight on EMDs, although arguments still rage among SEO specialists as to whether this is really true.

New TLDS

In 2012, mainly to address the crowded namespace problem, global internet regulator ICANN began accepting applications for a batch of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to join the existing ones such as .com, .uk and .org.

The new domains that were applied for fell broadly into three categories:

  • brand names e.g. .gucci, .bentley
  • regions and cities e.g. .london, .paris, .wales, .quebec
  • generic terms e.g. .sport, .cabs, .loan

ICANN plans to hold another round of applications for new gTLDs soon, although the exact date hasn’t yet been released.

Would it be a good time to get a keyword-related TLD? If your business were operating in Manchester, for example, would www.cheapcarsin.manchester or www.airporttaxi.manchester put you top of the pile when people searched for those things?

SEO impact

In pure SEO terms, the answer is probably no.

It has been confirmed a number of times by Google analyst John Mueller, among others, that there is no benefit in search ranking terms to having keywords in a domain name, regardless of whether they are in the top-level part or not.

Having said that, there is evidence that EMDs can be of value if they contain your brand or a relevant keyword, but more in terms of conversion than search results positioning.

The importance of conversions

Keywords can work on consumers’ psychology, with eyes drawn to the domain names in a search engine results list that include the terms they were looking for. The use of key words in the domain could make them more likely to click on your ad or listing.

For example, a case study by digital agency Globe Runner showed that .diamonds worked well in pay-per-click campaigns against a .com domain name, and the clicks were a lot cheaper too. There are over 2,500 domains registered to .diamonds, so it is clearly recognised as an effective option for those in the diamond trade.

It is also worth being aware that Google does respond to the way people behave, changing algorithms to deliver what it believes to be the best search results. If Google’s analysis shows that people are drawn more to gTLDs containing keywords then SEO benefits may emerge over time.

Find out more

To examine the wider context of .brands and SEO, the benefits and potential, download our white paper.