A company’s domain name is its address and identity online. It is one of the few tangible assets that anyone can own online and is therefore an important issue. So, when a domain name is said to be somehow connected to another crucial online phenomenon, SEO, you certainly have to pay attention.
You may have heard that using any of the newer domain extensions other than .com, .org, and .edu will affect your SEO negatively, but you have to wonder if that’s true. If the sentiment does indeed hold some truth, to what extent can you expect your SEO to be affected?
An experiment to prove that newer domains don’t hurt SEO
CEO of .xyz, Daniel Negari, decided to undertake his own research to find out if SEO is affected negatively by newer domain extensions. To begin with, he had an automobile manufacturer replace its .com domain with a .car one. At first, all search rankings were lost, but the domain rebounded eventually, regaining the number one spot for its own domain name.
How reliable is the case study?
While Negari’s experiment shows that a new domain name extension with a good web hosting can rank well, there are a number of limitations to this case study that must not be ignored. Firstly, this was only one instance and it would be a mistake to make generalizations based on the study’s results.
Also, the site was evaluated for ranking of its own name, which would clearly be much easier than ranking for a more competitive keyword. There is no telling how the company’s new domain would rank if analysed in light of whatever other keywords competitors were optimizing for.
While Negari’s study has its problems, it can be said that new domain extensions may not entirely be bad news and might indeed be worth a go. It would be nice to hear what the search engines think about them though.
What does Google say?
In 2012, Matt Cutt, former Head of Web Spam at Google, clarified that the new TLDs were not being ranked any differently than dot coms or dot orgs. Although Google didn’t seem intent on ranking new domain extensions differently, a number of events over the years seemed to paint a different picture.
When new domain extensions do better with SEO
One example of a new domain extension doing even better than a .com was the rapid success of coffee.club. It rose remarkably quickly for a new website and after its success was analyzed, it seemed possible that Google was actually treating new domain extensions as they would normal keywords. That meant businesses could get better results if they picked a domain extension that was also a major keyword they were optimizing for.
Google speaks again
Even after the coffee.club saga, Google continued to maintain that they were not treating new domain extensions differently. This time, it was John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, who updated Cutt’s post on Google+, restating that the company was ranking all TLDs equally. He even went further to explain in an article seven months later, that having a keyword in a TLD did not have any merits or demerits in search rankings.
He did add that Google used country code top-level domains to geo-target websites, so domains with TLDs could expect be at an advantage, as the website will most likely be more relevant in the targeted country.
What conclusions may be drawn from all of this?
It should be safe to say that there is no concrete reason to believe that newer domain extensions will not have any significant effect on SEO, whether negatively or positively. It must be noted that coffee.club did not suddenly sprout up overnight, solely because of its domain name or TLD. There was also the fact that the site had received massive coverage from several authoritative sites, because the owner had purchased the site for $100,000. One week is certainly a short time for a new website to rank number one, but there were likely other factors at work.
While it won’t exactly be realistic to expect the kind of success that coffee.club achieved, business owners can at least stop worrying about being affected negatively in terms of SEO, if they choose one of the newer domain extensions.
What might happen in the future?
In Negari’s case study, Jennifer Wolfe of Search Engine Watch highlighted a possible direction that Google may take in the future. She was of the opinion that users will get to a point where they prefer more relevant domains that are shorter. In the event of that happening, Google may make adjustments to its algorithm to ensure that such domains perform better than dot coms and dot orgs.
Is it possible to take advantage of different TLD’s for SEO?
Other than settling for one domain name using a new domain extension, there are a few ways in which people use or misuse domain names for the purpose of SEO, but do those methods work?
Artificial link building
Another method some people use is purchasing a website domain with their targeted keywords and linking them to their site. It may seem like a rational choice, since you want to rank higher faster, especially as getting natural links can take such a long time, but this is not the best approach. If it worked once, it won’t work anymore, because it is easy to see through. Even if Google or Bing do not catch on to you, the links won’t be of much use, because the fake site doesn’t have any authority of their own.
Bait and switch
Some people purchase a website address that resembles the competitor’s and then redirects it to their main site. Essentially, this is an attempt to intercept a competitor’s traffic. So, instead of the competitor’s .com domain, they may break up the competitor’s domain name into a new extension. For example, glitter hair.com may become glitter.hair.
The problem with this tactic is that there will likely be trademark issues to deal with. Also,
it’s not easy to rank a domain name without its own full dedicated website, hence you would only be wasting your resources. What gets a website to rank is its content and the links from other websites. It’s also likely that you will end up annoying or confusing any customer who somehow finds the phantom domain name.
There is no shortcut to achieving the search rankings you would like, except if you happen to be coffee.club. It takes time and effort to get on the first page of SERPs and the core of that is proving you are worth showing to the search engine’s users. If you try to use any deceptive means to get there, you will be penalized and only end up shooting yourself in the foot.
So, focus on SEO the ethical way and don’t worry too much about domain extensions, because they don’t really matter that much.