The real reason why domain names don't matter anymore

Nov 30, 2011

Table of contents:

  1. Google’s constant evolving algorithm
  2. Google’s expansion into more than just search
  3. The mass growth of the Internet
  4. The effects of the advancements in search
  5. Examples

Inspired by the above tweet from Chris Sacca, I started to think about how domain names are becoming more a “nice to have” rather than a “got to have”. Sacca attributes this shift to three key areas, Twitter handles, search results and App Store names. Whilst Twitter handles and App Store names are very important, I believe the real key to the shift in importance from exact domain matches can be placed on the increasing sofistication of search results. Here’s why…

Google’s constant evolving algorithm

Once upon a time, exact domain matches were a big influence on search engine rankings. It is an obvious way to rank various websites all on the same subject. For example, for a key word phrase like “herbal tea” it is likely going to be the most relevant on a site with the URL of However, the cat and mouse game of Search Engine Optimisation has reduced the weighting placed on exact key word phrases in URLs. It is now easy to beat a domain with your exact key word phrase by having a far better quality website. The need to reduce the weighting of exact key word match URLs is an effort to prevent people from snapping up domain names to ensure they rank high despite a poor website.

The constant cat and mouse like game of Search Engine Optimisation has meant that there are many ways in which old assumptions have become less and less meaningful. Exact domain matches being just one of them.

Over the past couple of years, Google has expanded rapidly into a number of key areas, building on their wildly succesful search product. 3 of the key new areas of business are mobile, browser and operating systems.

When Google was first founded, one of their main goals was for the user to spend very little time actually on Google itself. This was in stark contrast to the likes of Yahoo, who’s buisness model revolved around keeping the user on site for as long as possible and monitising them with advertisements.

Google have continued with this strategy, constantly looking to shave off the amount of time a user actually spends searching. They have done this in a number of ways.

  1. Auto complete predicts what you are searching for, automatically loading the search results.
  2. Chrome introduced search right into the address bar, allowing users to search from any page without having to go to the Google homepage.
  3. Search is baked right into the Android and Chrome operating systems. A user can search straight from their start screen, without having to load up the Internet first.

These advancements in the user experience of search, as well as the big improvements and constant iteration of Google’s algorithm have been extremely important for a number of reasons. Firstly they have kept Google well in the lead in the Search Engine business, but more importantly, search is now often the first way to find a website because it is now so quick to do so.

The mass growth of the Internet

The Internet has seen an exponencial growth rate of the past couple of years. The number of websites the average user visits on a day to day basis is increasing and so the ability to manage bookmarks has quickly been outgrown. It is now also virtually impossible to buy a domain name for a common English word or phrase. Many people who are looking to register a domain name are forced to be creative with their selection, rather than pay the extortionate amount which is usually asked for from current holders.

So what are the real effects of Google’s advancements in technology and their core product? Here are the 2 biggest changes in the way we interact with the Internet.

  1. It is now possible to search straight from the address bar for a website. It is often much quicker to type in a key word phrase and click on the top result, than it is to select that page from a bookmark or type out the address in full.

  2. If you type in a product or company name, even if that product or company name is already a common word in the English language, Google will usually rank the correct website first, even if the URL is not an exact match (see examples).


In Sacca’s tweet he mentions two of the best examples of how a company can take a common English word and dominate the first Google result. They are Square and Lookout. As you can see, neither of these two companies have the exact .com domain, yet both are the first result when you search for the key word. This goes to show that having the exact .com domain name will not detract from your potential success.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post, having the Twitter handle and App Store name are two other important aspects of a company’s online presence. But as you can see, ensuring you dominate search results with a very high quality, relevant website is far more important.

Philip Brown


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