If you own a website and are wondering how to get it ranked on the first page of Google, it’s important to understand how Google’s ranking algorithm works. Unfortunately, Google keeps this relatively secret. However, luckily for you, experts have been studying Google’s algorithm for years, ultimately creating a consensus on what strategies are most effective. These strategies make up what’s called search engine optimization, or SEO for short. If you’re new to SEO and want to get a better understanding of what it all means, checkout our article on SEO for Dummies. If you have a basic understanding of SEO and want to learn more about how Google’s algorithm works, read on.
Based on hundreds of studies conducted over the years, SEO experts have discovered over 200 ranking factors that Google’s algorithm takes into consideration when deciding where to rank your website in its search engine results pages for any particular search. We’ll break down all 200+ of these ranking factors in a later article, but for the purposes of this blog, we’ll focus on domain-level factors.
What The Heck is A Domain?
Domain-level factors are those ranking factors that are strictly related to your website’s domain. If you’re not as tech-savvy as some of us young folk, a domain is what you type into your browser to get to your website (i.e. mywebsite.com). Domains typically use a series of letters (often accompanied by numbers or hyphens) to spell out a particular word that is somehow related to your website, usually followed by “.com”. Special characters other than hyphens are typically not permitted for domain usage. Your website does not particularly live on your domain. Rather, your website lives on a web server, where it must be hosted. However, your website must be attached to a domain in order for people to find it.
How Your Website’s Domain Affects Your Ranking in Google
Now that you have an understanding of what domains are, let’s take a look at how your domain plays a role in how Google determines your website’s ranking.
- Domain Age – The age of your domain can have a slight impact on your website’s rankability. I’ve witnessed this first hand. Some of my clients have been sitting on their websites for 20-30 years and haven’t done a thing to them, but have a relatively high Domain Authority for a small business with virtually no SEO done to their website.
- Keyword Presence in Domains – Including keywords in your domain name can also have a slight impact on your rankings. Once again, I’ve seen some of my clients get a leg up over other websites, specifically for the keyword they want to rank for. However, I’ve also seen this have virtually zero effect on other websites, especially brand new websites with no SEO or domain history.
- Keyword Placement in Domains – Google not only considers keyword presence within a domain an important factor, it also considers where the keyword is placed within your domain just as important. For example, if you’re a divorce lawyer in New York, owning a website with the domain DivorceLawyerNewYork.com could be more advantageous than one with the domain WilliamsonDivorceLawyer.com. However, this isn’t always the case, as there are many other factors that Google considers when ranking a website.
- Keyword in Subdomains – If you have a subdomain, having a keyword present within the subdomain could also have a positive impact on your rankings, so long as it makes sense to do so. For example, if you own a franchise restaurant in multiple cities, each one of them with unique menu items and markets, it can be helpful to separate these into subdomains like LosAngeles.FranchiseRestaurant.com and NewYork.FranchiseRestaurant.com. This could be useful for maintaining centralized control over all of your restaurants but allowing each to serve its own unique market separately. Not to mention, it can help your customers find you more easily in Google.
- Domain Registration Length – Google takes into consideration the length of time that your domain has been registered to you. In fact, inconsistent domain ownership can actually hurt your website’s rankability. In the past, purchasing expired domain names with a high domain authority and repurposing it to create your own website was once a highly successful strategy. Some may argue that it still is; afterall, SEO’s still do this all the time. However, Google has recently been recognizing this blackhat strategy and has been cracking down on websites with such a volatile ownership history. Chances are, if your website has had various owners in the past few years, your website may be penalized by Google.
- Domain History – If you recently purchased a domain previously owned by someone else that Google flagged as spammy, Google may carry the penalty over to you, especially if a significant amount of other spammy websites are linking to your domain.
- WhoIs Information – WhoIs information essentially tells us who owns a website. Of course, it’s probably not in your best interest to display your full name and home address on your WhoIs info, but it’s important not to look like you’re hiding something. If your WhoIs data is private, this may tell Google that you’re up to something fishy, especially if they’ve caught on to other spammy tactics you might be using.
- TLD Extension – Your TLD (top-level domain) extension is the part of your domain that exists after the “dot”. In most cases, it’s “.com”. Some suggest that “.com” domains still have priority in Google over “.net” or “.org” domains. Nevertheless, these other TLDs are becoming increasingly popular, such as “.io” for software or tech websites. Of course, location matters as well. If you’re located in Australia for example, “.au” TLDs are quite common. For “.gov” and “.edu” TLDs, only accredited government agencies and education institutions (respectively) are eligible. In any case, Google takes our TLD into consideration when ranking your website. The TLDs listed above are common and have potential for high rankings in Google. Although Google claims they treat every TLD the same, TLDs like “.biz”, “.xyz” and “.men” are often associated with spammy websites.