Beyond the obvious fact that it is a good idea to have your own domain for a web site, can domains make a difference in how well you rank with the search engines? The answer is, sometimes. Search engines look at hundreds of details about a web site to determine how well it ranks for a given search term or phrase. The domain name represents one of those details it examines, and it turns out that it is one of the more important on-site details that search engines consider.

There are many factors that go into determining our search rankings. SEO professionals categorize them as on site and off site factors. Off-site factors are mainly backlinks to our site from other webpages and social media. On-site factors are those we can influence directly by changing things on our site. These include our domain name.

The content and organization considerations include the quality of the content, the originality of the content, how the content is linked together and how well organized the site is. These really cover thousands of small details, which taken individually are not that important to search engines, but in aggregate become very significant. However, the domain name is probably the most significant single detail that search engines look at.

There are a couple of things that search engines consider to be important about domains. The first of these is the top level domain, or domain extension. Top level domains are the part of the domain name that includes “.com”, “.org”, “.net”, “.info”, etc. Google has been known to penalize domains that have been heavily used for spammy-looking web site. Among those believed to be penalized by Google are the “.info”, “.me” and “.tv” top level domains. This does not mean that a site named “” will never rank well. It does mean, all things being equal, that the owner of that site will have to work harder and wait longer to see it on page one of the search results than the owner of “” or “”.

The stuff that goes after the dot in a domain name is not as important as the name itself. Your site targets an audience and it makes sense to use a term that is relevant to that audience as your domain name. If you run a golf school you would like to use or as your domain name because it just makes the most sense.

Most of those general terms are unavailable as domain names and ranking for them is virtually impossible (without investing A LOT of money) so usually a more defined and less competitive niche is selected. If you want to rank high for a term “red golf balls” a domain name is your best bet. The key here is to use the exact phrase you want to rank high for, this gives you an advantage against others in that niche. It is important though to do your research so that you do not try to rank for a keyword that has very few searches per month. If your exact domain name is not available you can go for but the no hyphen version is preferred. Alternatively you can add something – like Using these alternative versions comes with a risk though, someone who just hears your domain name can type it without hyphens or the “hq” at the end and go to your competitor’s site.

If you were looking for cut and dried truths that are absolute and well documented, then you should not be trying to get ranked with the search engines. Search engines do not document how their systems determine a web site’s rank. Just remember that of all the simple things you can do to help your web site, picking a good domain name from the start is probably the most important.

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