Domains are the human-readable Internet addresses of websites.
In actuality, information is transferred over the internet through IP addresses (a string of numbers). But number sequences are hard to remember, so domains make it easier to access websites.
Domains are made up of two parts:
- Top-level domain: Also known as extension or domain suffix, this is found at the end of the domain and can provide a little information about the website. For example, .gov — government agencies; .edu — educational institutions; .org — non-profit organizations.
- Domain name: These are the second level in domain hierarchy and represent the actual IP address of the website, in letters. Domain names can be purchased from registrars.
Together, the top level domain (TLD) and domain name make up the root domain, more commonly known as the website address. You can have subdomains, and all pages on a given website can have the same root domain, but only one website can be assigned a particular root domain.
What you may be wondering is whether or not you can operate with more than one domain name and the resulting impact: domain SEO.
How to Choose a Domain Name
Determining your website’s domain name may be the hardest decision you’ll make before moving forward.
In the early days of domain SEO, people would purchase exact match domains (EMD) and that would be enough for their website to rank in relevant search. Since then, Google has tweaked its algorithm to combat these keyword stuffed EMDs.
Regardless, the end goal of search engine optimization is still the same: provide quality and relevant (up-to-date) answers to search queries. A good domain name that represents what your website is about can help with that, while increasing trust and click-through rates in the SERPs.
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Important Considerations for Choosing Domain Names
Make your Domain Name Easy to Remember
Do away with long domain names, as well as those with hyphens and too many numbers. Potential website visitors may be put off by them, or worse, not remember them at all.
The best gauge for a good URL? The easier it is for humans to read and understand, the better it is for search engines.
Good domains are ideally 15 characters or less and use the correct spelling of a word. If brand awareness is an important goal, your domain name should include brand signals (like your brand’s name).
Avoid Non-.com TLDs
.com is the most recognizable TLD, and should be your top priority when you purchase any domain. Other TLDs (such as .biz, .info, and .name) are less popular and receive less traffic because they have an association with spammy behavior.
However, if the .com you want isn't available, Moz suggests going for .net, .co, or a known ccTLD (country code top-level domain), such as .ca (Canada) or .us (USA).
When you purchase a domain, you’ll be given the option to buy additional domains. If you can, buy these domains so that you can prevent other people from getting them. You can then redirect these domains to your main website using instructions provided later in this article.
Make sure that your domain name isn't open to other interpretations.
Check for Trademarks and Social Handles
Once you’ve thought of some possible domain names, make a few final checks before purchasing any.
First, check if the name that you’ve picked is trademarked, so you can avoid legal trouble. At this point, you should also look into trademarking your brand name to avoid future copyright issues.
In the digital age, it’s also imperative to check if the name you've chosen is available on all social networks so that you can stay on-brand everywhere you’re present online. You can use Namevine to determine if your name has already been taken on social media.
Domain SEO: How to Set Up Multiple Domain Redirects
There are many potential reasons for using more than just one domain name:
- Covering your bases with multiple variations of your brand name.
- Going through a rebrand after initially setting up your website (leaving the old domain active so that people who still use it don’t get a 404 error).
- As an on-brand link shortener.
- To organize easy access to popular products/services. For example, iPhone.com redirects to the iPhone section of the Apple website.
In order to use multiple domains at the same time, you’ll have to set up redirects.
If you’re just getting started, ensure that all the domains are bought from the same registrar for an infinitely easier management process. It gets a little easier if your registrar is also your web host. However, if you have a separate web host, you must tell your registrar where to find the website by updating its nameservers so that they can update the DNS (domain name system).
There are two ways to point different URLs to the same website:
- Redirect the URL to the original website
- Create an alias for one of the URLs
Domain SEO: How to Create a Redirect
There are several types of redirects you can take advantage of, but for this purpose, you’ll focus on 301 redirects: a permanent redirect. A 301 redirect signifies that the original content is not located at a given URL anymore.
There are several ways that you can create a 301 redirect:
Using cPanel, go to the Domains section, and then click on the redirect button, or use the search bar to find that section. Once you're there, choose the 301 redirect and input the URL and its location before clicking “Add”.
Create a note on a text editor like Notepad with the words: ‘Redirect 301 / http://www.destinationURL.com/’. Save the file as .htaccess on the server hosting your website files. Create a backup before uploading the .htaccess file in case you accidentally break something!
If you're on WordPress and don’t want to mess around with the .htaccess file, you can use plugins to create 301 redirects. Some of the most popular options include Simple 301 Redirects and Redirection.
How to Creating an Alias (aka Parking a Domain)
You can create an alias using cPanel.
First, go to the Domains section, and then click on Aliases. When you're there, type the alias domain name in the text box and click Add Domain.
If there are issues (like using the wrong name servers), you’ll get an error message. If everything goes well, you’ll see a message that you’ve successfully created the alias.
To avoid name server issues, ensure that these are the same as your primary domain. Also, make sure you know what kind of server account you have, and if you have permission to create an alias.
Final Thoughts - Domain SEO: How to Manage Redirects & Aliases
Domains are the human-readable internet addresses of websites. Though you should spend time considering how your domain name can impact click-through from search, it’s important not to go for keyword-focused exact match domains (EMDs), which can trigger Google’s algorithm.
If possible, go with a .com domain as your primary domain name, alongside other related domain extensions (.net, .co, etc.) so that no one else can buy them up from under you. You can then use all of these domain names to redirect or create an alias back to your original website.
Maddy Osman creates engaging content with SEO best practices for marketing thought leaders and agencies that have their hands full with clients and projects. Learn more about her process and experience on her website, www.The-Blogsmith.com and read her latest articles on Twitter: @MaddyOsman.