Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is as much an art as it is a science. It is no secret that the underbelly of Google’s search algorithms is a closely guarded secret. There are so many factors that contribute to a website’s search engine ranking; it is impossible to say that one top-level domain is definitively “the best.” An article published by Google states that all generic TLDs, from the popular newcomer .xyz to the tried and true .com, are treated “overall” the same by its search algorithms.
That considered, your choice of TLD can still affect your search rankings. Depending on the availability of your secondary-level domain and your target geography, you may be able to nail down which TLD is best for SEO in your case. If you are struggling with all the factors that go into domain names and domain name extensions, we are here to help. Choosing a domain name is never easy, but with a little guidance and advice, you’ll be able to select the best name for your company’s website.
Secondary-level domain availability is the main thing to consider when determining the best top-level domain for your search engine optimization. While this may seem contradictory at first, it actually makes sense. Say, for example, you have an awesome new web app called “Example.” Example.io is a much better choice for your domain than MyAwesomeNewWebApp.com.
Google has been around for over two decades. In its efforts to provide the best search results possible, it has added several important, documented changes to its algorithms. A 2003 patent application states, “Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. For example, domains can be renewed up to a period of 10 years. Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith.” In other words, Google considers domains with longer registration periods as more likely to be legitimate than those with shorter registration periods.
Bear in mind that different top-level domain names have different costs associated with their registrations. Be sure to choose a domain that you can afford to register “for several years in advance.”
Location, Location, Location
If you are targeting a specific country or region, you should be able to find a top-level domain specific to your target audience. This will help your international SEO strategy and hopefully improve your domain authority and click-through rates in the long run. For example, if you are a healthcare IT provider that solely provides services in Canada, a .ca domain will indicate to search engine algorithms and potential customers that you are a Canadian company.
Even if you have a generic TLD, you can still target by geographic location in Google search results by using Google’s International Targeting Report. But only do this if your website or business is in fact region-specific. For example, setting your site’s geography to France for a French-language site with an international audience will negatively impact the amount of traffic your site receives from searching.
Geography, coupled with regional TLDs or an International Targeting Report, is the only domain-related factor that Google says impacts its search engine rankings. While Google is notoriously secretive about how their ranking algorithms operate, they do provide some insight into their inner workings.
One of the main things that Google consistently stresses in their mountains of generally vague and sometimes unhelpful support articles is that you should not attempt to deceive anyone into visiting your website through Google. Just because terms like “food” and “restaurant” have high search volumes does not mean you should use SoftwareDevelopment.food for your software development blog.
High rankings in Google search results come from more than just domains and keywords. While these are easy to implement and do play some role in how a domain ranks, links to your website from other quality, reputable websites (commonly known as “backlinks”) play a far more important role. They have become a hot topic in recent years, and are fundamental to how Google Search operates.
The first prototype of Google was published along with an academic paper titled The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. The paper was authored by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, published by Stanford University, and presented at the 1998 Seventh International World Wide Web Conference at Southern Cross University in Brisbane, Australia. Subjectivity was of interest to Google from the beginning. As stated in the paper, “The citation (link) graph of the web is an important resource that has largely gone unused in existing web search engines. We have created maps containing as many as 518 million of these hyperlinks, a significant sample of the total. These maps allow rapid calculation of a web page’s “PageRank”, an objective measure of its citation importance that corresponds well with people’s subjective idea of importance. . . PageRank can be thought of as a model of user behavior.”
The 1998 paper also notes the importance of location data to Google search results. “[Google] has location information for all hits and so it makes extensive use of proximity in search … We also plan to support user context (like the user’s location).”
In March 2005, Google purchased analytics software firm Urchin. You may have sometimes noticed the parameters utm_source, utm_medium, or utm_campaign in a URL. The “utm” portion of those parameters stands for “Urchin Traffic Monitor.” One of Urchin’s products, Urchin On Demand, would eventually become Google Analytics.
As usual, Google is intentionally vague about how data such as that collected from Google Analytics affects SEO. They do however state the following: “Beyond simple keyword matching, we use aggregated and anonymized interaction data to assess whether search results are relevant to queries. We transform that data into signals that help our machine-learned systems better estimate relevance.” Aggregated and anonymized interaction data is colloquially summarized as “bounce rate.” If a site has a high bounce rate, it means that users do not stay on that site for a long time and vice versa. You want to have a low bounce rate because Google interprets that as a sign of relevancy. Higher relevance means higher search rankings. This intuitively makes sense. If a user clicks on a search result and then quickly moves on, it could be an indicator that the result was not relevant to the user’s search query.
Search engines have evolved significantly since Google’s first prototype was released in 1998, but the objective of search engines has remained the same: return relevant results. Relevance is subjective, and many key innovations in search engines, including Google’s groundbreaking PageRank, relate to algorithmically quantifying that subjective relevance. Thus, if you are trying to follow SEO best practices, it’s important to know that the best TLD for SEO and your ranking factor is also subjective. Select a TLD that you can afford to register for several years and that is not geographically tied to a region other than your target audience, and trust your gut.