Last year we began working with a client in the sports equipment space who was trying to rank for an incredibly competitive keyword (over 30,000 monthly searches). They had done all the right things:
- Created a long-form page with high-quality information answering all of the users’ queries
- Used target keywords frequently throughout the page
- Built a large number of high-quality links to the page
- Expanded their internal links to the target page
Yet they were still falling short. After performing an evaluation to ensure there were no gaping holes in their strategy, it became apparent that there was one major obstacle impeding their growth: the #1 site they were trying to outrank had the target keyword in their domain name.
If you’re in this situation and wondering what to do, all hope is not lost! Read on to learn how we helped our client overcome this frustrating SEO obstacle.
But first, a little background on how Google interprets keyword-rich domain names.
Is keyword usage in your domain name a ranking factor?
John Mueller has stated that Google does not take into account keywords in the domain name when assigning rank:
“There’s no secret (or public) SEO-bonus for having your keywords in the domain name.”
And while it may be true that keyword usage in domain names is not a direct ranking factor, it’s important to note that much of what comes from Google’s talking heads is geared towards “de-gaming” SEO, but often contradicts what we see in reality (i.e., lots of keyword-rich domain names outranking qualitatively superior sites).
One likely reason why keyword-rich domains have been effective for SEO is that any branded anchor text used to link back to these sites would contain the target keyword. Anchor text has long been a ranking signal, though Google can penalize sites that attempt to overuse exact- match anchor text.
In many scenarios, prioritizing keyword-rich domains in the search engine results pages (SERPs) actually makes sense, especially when the keyword could also be a brand name. For example, some searches for the keyword “apple” might be performed by people looking for information about the fruit; however, the majority likely have navigational intent and are looking to upgrade to the latest iPhone at apple.com (which is why the entire SERP for this keyword is dominated by Apple Inc. material).
How to outrank competitors who have a keyword-rich domain name
By building high-quality backlinks to their site over the course of a year, we helped our client achieve the #1 ranking for their most valuable search term.
If a lot of authoritative websites are linking to your site, this tells Google that your content is important, increasing the likelihood that they will promote you in the SERPs for the target keyword.
In 2022, backlinks continue to remain a strong ranking signal. Therefore, we recommend link building regardless of your competitive circumstances–but it can be especially effective when the competition is using crafty strategies to game the algorithm.
Should I choose a keyword-rich domain name?
We generally advise against making tactical decisions like these with the sole aim of improving search performance. The algorithm is ever-changing and will likely become more discerning when evaluating keyword-rich domain names.
It’s best to choose a domain name that will stand the test of time and allow for expansion of your offerings (imagine Steve Jobs choosing the name “Computers Inc.” instead of Apple). In other words, select a memorable domain name that captures the spirit of your brand, not just one that benefits SEO.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that keyword-rich domains are still a ranking factor in 2022. By building a strong link profile, you can give your site the best chance of outranking competitors with keyword-optimized domains.