The myth of using keyword-rich domains for SEO purposes has been perpetuated for way too long, and quite frankly I'm tired of seeing it written about as if it's an all-important SEO factor.

See for Yourself

Perform some searches in any spidering search engine and sure, you may very well find keyword-rich domains in the top spots. But upon closer inspection, you'll see that the same keywords are also in the Title tags of those sites. Title tags *are* very important to high rankings; I daresay that they're as important as body copy. Many see the keyword-rich domain name, and assume that's what is causing the high ranking. Yet it's much more likely that the high ranking is a direct result of the Title tag and/or the body text, along with the other usual SEO suspects.

Look at the Links

And let's not forget about off-the-page criteria. The reason why some sites are in the top of the results isn't always readily apparent by just looking at the site in question. Some rank highly simply because there are keywords in the hyperlinks pointing to the site. Google is especially susceptible to this phenomenon, which has been dubbed "Google Bombing" in the Web Blog world. If enough sites link to a site using the specific keyword phrase in the hyperlink, it can have a dramatic effect on rankings. David Gallagher recently interviewed me for his Business 2.0 article entitled "Top of the Heap," where he wrote about his quest to become the number-one site in Google for the phrase "David Gallagher." All he did was ask everyone who read his Web Blog to link to his site using his name in the hyperlink. Once the "Google Dance" for that month was finished, he was number one! And no, his site does not have "David Gallagher" in the domain name. (As an aside, the sites he was up against were fan sites for the actor David Gallagher from the TV show "Seventh Heaven." You can read David's article -- and my quotes -- in the July 2002 Business 2.0 print magazine.)

What About Directories?

With directories such as Yahoo!, it may appear as if keywords in the domain name make a big difference to rankings. After all, the directories are not spidering the words on your pages and don't have much to go on to determine your position. But you know what? My very unscientific research shows that in actuality, keywords in the Yahoo! title are the more likely reason for top rankings. Remember, those that purchase keyword-rich domain names very often name their site the same thing as their domain name, and submit that phrase to Yahoo! as their title. For instance, a site with the domain of would probably be titled, "Keyword Domains R Us." As with the spidering engines, the words in the title are likely to be what's boosting those sites in the Yahoo! results, not the domain name.

What the Engines Say

Just to be sure I wasn't leading you down the wrong path, I asked Tom Wilde, General Manager of Search Services at Lycos, if domain names factored into their ranking algorithm. He told me that they are a factor in the Lycos algorithm, but since they're so open to being abused, they're a very small factor. He confirmed that the Title tag and the body text copy were given much more weight than the domain name. However, for those of you who just don't feel comfortable unless you have keywords in your domain name, Tom did tell me that using a hyphen between the keywords would be your best bet for getting them recognized as separate words.

Don't Worry About It

Since I've optimized hundreds of sites without ever purchasing keyword-rich domain names (and always get high rankings), I'm sticking with my "don't worry about it" stance! Like the Meta keyword tag, domain names are definitely not something to obsess over. I recommend purchasing the domain names that work best for branding reasons. To me, name makes a whole lot more sense than, no matter how you slice it!
June 27, 2002

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ,, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

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