New domains are everywhere. And yet nowhere.
You can buy a .boutique for your beauty salon, a .llp for your law firm or a .rip for your undertakers. Or if you’re one of ‘those’ social media consultants, there’s always .guru 😉
I jest, but with the explosion in top level domains (TLDs) I’ve had a couple of questions recently from people about how their websites do and would perform in Google searches on new or non-traditional domains. Of concern is that you rarely see new TLDs in search results.
Indeed, I’ve been wrestling with this very question myself recently given that I established this website on a .co domain. So I decided to ask some people in my network who are far more techy than me what they thought.
It’s said wryly that if you get seven SEO professionals in a room and ask them a question you’ll get seven different answers. Let’s test that, shall we?
I was interested in the relative merits of traditional TLDs over new TLDs, keyword-dense domain names, and whether you’re best changing things up.
With any SEO question there’s rarely black and white as there are so many variables, but the responses I’ve had make interesting reading. Let’s dig in…
Q1: There are now a whole raft of TLDs that someone can choose from when setting up a website. Purely from a search rankings perspective, do you believe that there is any difference between a traditional domain (eg .com) and a ‘new’ domain (eg .shop), and why?
There are two, or perhaps even three, sides to the answers to this question. Side one says there’s not any, or at least little, difference.
Richard Petersen, Search & Data Manager at Zazzle Media, kicks us off: “Google has stated that it does not prioritise one domain over another apart from geographical domains (for example, a .co.uk gives greater clarity as to what country is being targeted). But with Google’s position changing on a daily basis and with new domain names being released all the time, I would tend to try and own the .com and the .co.uk.”
This is an opinion backed up by Digital Marketing Consultant Anthony Shapley. He says: “From an SEO point of view the only difference is whether you want to target internationally or not. Google will not let you target the USA from a .co.uk, for example. But more generic addresses including .com and .net can target anywhere in the world. More obscure URLs such as .co and .io can be used internationally and, from what Google’s said, are all treated equally.”
Side two, however, has a differing opinion.
“I’ve not seen a .coffee outrank a .com unless it’s for a brand term. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen or won’t in future, but it’s certainly not today’s norm”, says Digital Marketer Andrew Burnett.
Founder of Transmute, Charlie Southwell, agrees: “New TLDs are pretty hard to rank, mainly because trust has not built up in them. Google implements changes to prevent spammers being able to buy the new domains and outrank others straight away, so it figures there isn’t the trust in those non-standard TLDs yet.”
And then there’s side three, which is somewhere in between the other two and revolves around trust. Essentially, there are questions over whether people are less likely to visit or, importantly, link to a non-traditional TLD.
“A .com or a .co.uk may be considered as a more trustworthy domain by some internet users, and so a site using one of these domains may get more click through’s from Google search results, in turn helping it get a better ranking”, explains Internet Marketer Nick Swan.
“It would be better to avoid low quality TLDs such as .biz, .info and .name as they can look spammy to users and effect click through rate from SERPs. The fact that .com and .co.uk are the most common would also affect direct traffic, as most users are conditioned to type .com or .co.uk automatically”, says Threepipe founder Jim Hawker.
“I know somebody with a .co domain and they never get emails from potential clients as the client always changes the domain to .co.uk or .com!”, says Stuart Marler, Digital Marketing Director at Retriever Digital.
Sort that lot out if you can…
Q2: Let’s say I run a business called Paul’s Tech that repairs sewing machines. All ‘sewing machine repair’ related standard TLDs are already in use. So all things being equal, am I better off setting up a website called paulstech.co.uk (my brand name on a standard TLD) or sewingmachinerepairs.shop (my top keyword on a non-standard TLD)?
The answers to this question are a bit more straightforward, although I have to admit that the response surprised me somewhat under the belief, as I was, that keywords in domains are a very good thing indeed.
“Keywords used in domain names do help in SEO, but Google is no longer rewarding higher rankings for inclusion”, explains Marler, clarifying with “…but try seeing any differences when searching keyword rich domains!”
“Gone are the days you would get an unfair ranking benefit for having the keyword in your domain”, says Petersen. “You can use whatever domain you want and, providing that you have good content and some relevant links, you will rank.”
“I’d personally always go with the brandname.co.uk over keyword.newTLD”, adds Burnett. “Perhaps that’s in part due to me being someone who helps brands build online presence, perhaps it’s due to the new TLDs not having as much trust among users yet.”
Shapley raises the white hat v black hat issue: “For a proper brand I’d use paulstech.co.uk as people will remember it, trust it and are familar with .co.uk extensions. But in terms of black hat campaigns the exact match domain will perform better as it lends itself to anchor text links being pushed in.”
“Google has an interesting video where it compares the two, and it comes down to whether you want a brandable domain that looks catchy, will stick in the user’s head and potentially increase direct and repeat traffic, or whether you want a keyword-rich domain that may have more trouble standing out from the crowd but could potentially rank better”, adds Hawker.
So that’s pretty clear then. Don’t worry about trying to squeeze your keywords into your domain name!
Q3: What about for existing websites? Let’s say I’ve had paulstech.io (with a new TLD) as my business website for a couple of years but also have techmachines.co.uk (unbranded but on a traditional TLD) pointing to it. The latter is five years old. Do I stand a better chance of ranking higher if I switch that around so that my website uses a standard domain extension?
Complex, huh? Well, not really in the eyes of our experts…
“According to Google they will both be treated the same. It would just be important that paulstech.io is appropriately geotargeted in the Google Search Console”, says Shapley.
“If everything else is the same, I don’t think you have a higher chance of ranking for the .co.uk”, says Swan. “Also, people will have been linking to paulstech.io and although you can 301 redirect, the hyperlink anchor text would no longer match the brand name, which would have an impact.”
“Why send people from one site to another? Neither they nor Google will be happy, so why double your efforts marketing one domain name for it only to point to another?”, points out Marler.
Hawker is equally as upfront: “Google treats all TLDs as equal. There would be a short-term rankings hit from making such a change, so it’d be a question about whether you’d prefer the more memorable brand domain or the potentially more rankable but more generic keyword domain.”
And to finish us off, Peterson says: “There is only one benefit I can see from certain domains and that’s their backlink profile and their age. The age adds credibility, which owning a new domain is harder to achieve. That said, I have seen five year plus .co.uk domains redirected to .design and keep their ranking. However, I’d avoid doing this unless for branding or licensing reasons.”
Summary: .com or .coffee?
So there you have it. What have we learned from this?
- Google treats all TLDs the same and does not prioritise one over another
- But new TLDs ARE more difficult to rank
- This is because trust has not yet built up in those domains from internet users, so backlinks and clicks are both likely to be lower, in turn affecting search rankings
- Google no longer considers keywords in domain names a valid SEO signal
- An exact match domain may help you rank better in the SERPs, but it is likely at the cost of brand recognition
- When it comes to domain-level ranking factors, of far more importance than the TLD you choose or are using are other things such as the backlink profile and age of the domain
All of which is to say, if you’re choosing a domain name, you’re probably better off sticking with a traditional TLD. But if you’re already running a website on a new TLD, you’re probably better off leaving it there.
If you need me I’ll be lying down in a darkened room…