Long Domain Names vs Short URLs: Which is Better?

Are you thinking about buying a domain name for your new business or website? Not sure if a long URL or a short one is better? How do URLs affect a website’s SEO, or search engine optimization? Can they help, or actually harm a site?

We hear questions like this all the time. So to help you solve the long domain vs short argument, and decide what is best for your business, we created this page with information on URL length, exact match domains, SEO, keywords, and more. Read on to learn all about domain length and how it may impact the success of your website. You can also contact us online or call 888-601-5359 today for additional information!

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The differences among domain, website, and URL

The domain vs website question is common in SEO, as is URL vs domain name. They’re defined by the following:

  • Domain: The name you register for your online address
  • Website: The pages that visitors see when they enter your domain
  • URL: The address visitors type or click to access your domain and view your site

With those definitions in mind, we can move on to the question of domain name length.

What’s a domain name, anyway?

Watch the video below—and keep reading—to get the website domain basics.

A domain name is the name by which Internet users locate your website, which is included in your URL. For example, the address in the bar at the top of this page starts with www.webfx.com — and that is our domain name.

The domain name, purchased from a domain registrar, is an important part of your online branding. It may reflect the name of your company, the products or services you sell, or even your location. When someone looks at your domain name, they should be able to tell what it is you do or have to offer.

Before you can do anything with your website, you will need to have a URL associated with it. No one can reach your website without one! Fortunately, domain names are usually very inexpensive, costing only a few dollars a year. More unique URLs ending in special extensions (like .nu or .co) may cost a little more.

Learn How to Get a Website Domain

The benefits of long domain names

When you’re planning to buy a domain name, you may wonder if the one you purchase should be long or short. There are different advantages to each. We’ll start with long domain names.

If you can’t really “sum up” what your company does in just one word, or if your brand name is a little vague, you may want to purchase a longer URL to better explain what your purpose is. Let’s say you sell children’s clothing online, and the name of your business is “Pink Boutique.” To make your purpose and store identity a little clearer, you may choose something like pink-boutique-clothing.com instead of something shorter.

Long domain names don’t really prohibit any kind of online sharing as they might have once done: since many popular services now shorten URLs, they don’t take up room on Twitter, or lengthen your shares on Facebook or Google+, so there’s no need to worry about your domain being too long… unless, of course, it’s more than three or four words.

Longer domain names also have a better chance at being unique, especially if they combine words differently, so you may have better luck getting your URL of choice registered somewhere.

The benefits of short URLs

Shorter URLs, usually two words or fewer, or A brand name, also have some very specific advantages. Short domain names are easier to read, since they’re so concise, and they’re also easier to remember. Also, since they take up less room, they are easier to include on any printed material, like business cards or brochures.

Short URLs have a better chance at being “catchy,” and are more likely to “stick” in someone’s head. For example, if you choose the simple URL “pinkbt” for your children’s clothing boutique, it’s easier to recall when a previous visitor wants to come back. That ability to stay with someone after they’ve visited your site is a huge leg up for short domain names, particularly when you want to build a relationship with your visitors.

The only disadvantage to a short URL is that it’s more likely to be taken already, especially if your brand name isn’t 100% unique, a made-up word, or contains a common word or phrase. This may require you to make some creative URL names, or it could even mean that you have to pay a little more for a domain name with a different extension. Either way can help you obtain a short website URL that you like.

Do keywords in a URL affect a site’s ranking?

One of the most common questions out there is whether a webmaster can boost their site’s performance by utilizing a longer URL with one or more keywords in it. For example, a site owner may want to purchase a domain with their brand name and a keyword in it, thinking that the keyword will help them rank better for it in searches.

To answer that question, let’s learn a little about EMDs, and how Google feels about their usage as part of a SEO strategy.

About exact match domains (EMDs)

Exact match domains, or EMDs, were once an often-used tactic to increase rankings. An EMD is a URL that has one or more keywords in it that the site wants to rank for. If you search for “kids clothes” and the top result is “kidsclothes.com,” that is an EMD.

Before late 2012, EMDs had been able to consistently rank on the first page of Google (if not in the top spot) on the basis of the searched keywords being in their domain names. This led to some very spammy techniques – such as the utilization of keyword-stuffed domains – as well as some complaints by other webmasters that their link building, content strategies, and on-page SEO were being overlooked because competitors simply got better domain names.

In October 2012, Google rolled out an update that lessened the ability of EMDs to rank on the basis of their domains alone. This also penalized sites that participated in obvious domain keyword stuffing. This meant that EMDs had to earn their place just like everyone else—and that the URL “buychildrenskidsbabiesclothing.com” was no longer more powerful than “kidsboutique.com.”

Do you need your most important keyword in your domain name? It may not be a bad idea, because it will at least establish some level of trust. However, it will no longer help you rank. So if you prefer a short domain name with your brand in it vs a long URL with a keyword or two, know that you really won’t be at a disadvantage.

Are there any SEO benefits to a URL?

Yes! However, they don’t really have all that much to do with keywords.

Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and other search engines prefer simple, easy-to-understand URLs that deliver what they promise. URLs that are filled with item numbers, special codes, or jargon may actually hurt the ranking for a specific page. This is because a simple URL — like /clothes/babies/age-2-to-4.html — is far easier for a user to read and understand than a complex one — like /baby/ID8247494839/KDW-34893849/landing-page.html. You know what you’re getting out of that first link.

URLs that are clear and easy to understand at a glance are more likely to be clicked than complicated ones. Additionally, a URL with clear keywords in it that is provided as a link on a homepage can provide a little bit of a boost, SEO-wise, because it has anchor text in it.

Essentially, the biggest SEO benefits you will get out of a shorter, clearer URL is from the increased click rate and reduced bounce rate. User experience definitely matters, and it impacts SEO in a bigger way than you might expect.

Should I choose a long URL or a short one?

Generally speaking, the shorter and more concise your URL is, the better. A shorter URL is easier to remember, fits easily on printed material, and is more likely to “stick” in someone’s head so it can be recalled. Also, if you have a creative brand name, a short URL consisting just of your company will be easier to find if someone types it directly into their browser’s address bar. For the most part, a short domain is better.

The long domains vs short argument still exists, however, because there are benefits to all lengths and types of URLs. Not every business will find that a very short URL is viable for them, especially if it doesn’t accurately sum up what they do or offer to customers. Plus, by this point in the Internet’s life, it can be really hard to find a short domain name that isn’t already taken. So in some cases, you may have no choice but to invest in a longer URL.

How do I choose the right URL?

Choosing the right domain name can be tricky. Start by researching what’s actually currently available – you don’t want to get your heart set on something, only to find out it’s not even for sale! Large domain registrars will allow you to search for your business name, word, or phrase, and will show a variety of extensions available.

When you can, it’s always recommended to purchase the default .com domain extension for your URL. .com is easiest to remember, and is the accepted Internet standard. However, if this isn’t available, try to find a creative extension that will complement your URL. For example, popular link sharing service Bitly has the .ly extension (bit.ly), while online profile website About.me uses .me.

Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, family, or team to chime in on your domain name ideas. They may suggest something you’ve never heard of, or have some input of their own.

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Want to learn more about SEO?

If you want to learn more about the factors that can affect your site’s ranking and performance in search, including domain names, keyword optimization, and links, we recommend checking out our informational page on search engine optimization.

As a leading SEO company, WebFX can help companies just like yours create engaging websites that not only rank well, but also drive more traffic and create more conversions. We know that SEO is about much more than your website’s URL—and we can help you capitalize on every factor that will boost your appearance on the major search engines from page three to the top of page one.