AusRegistry’s Michael Korjen speaks with Jim Stewart, CEO of StewArt Media, a leading Australian Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) company.
Michael Korjen: Thanks for your time today Jim. Can you tell us why SEO and search is so important for businesses online?
Jim Stewart: Today, when people want to find a business or service they don’t go to the old paper directories. They typically go to a search engine, usually Google in Australia. If your company doesn’t come up on those searches, you’re losing business.
What have you seen as some of the major changes in search over the last couple of years and what are the major challenges that businesses face with SEO?
For the most part businesses don’t understand what’s important in search and that’s partly the industry’s fault. The industry has spent so much time trying to ‘trick’ Google that businesses think that’s what they have to do as well, which isn’t the case. The biggest problem faced by a lot of companies is cleaning up bad SEO practices like buying backlinks.
Over the last few years the biggest changes in search have related to best practice. Previously, if you had 20 backlinks to your webpage and your competitor had 10, then you would rank higher in a Google search all other ranking signals being equal. But that is no longer the case. Google has become very sophisticated in detecting people buying backlinks or backlinks networks, and over the past few years it has been making leaps and bounds to get rid of web spam.
We understand that exact match domains are an important part of SEO but Google’s algorithm updates of 2012 and 2013 seemed to change the playing field. Could you speak to us about how domain names work in search and also touch on the importance of exact match domains?
There’s a lot of misinformation about the importance of domain names in search. There’s no doubt that if you can get a domain name with a good key word in it, you’ve got a good chance of ranking better than someone that doesn’t, but it’s only one signal.
Previously if you wanted to rank highly on a search for ‘blue widgets’ for example and you owned www.bluewidgets.com.au, then that would be a big win. Even today, an address with a key word in the domain name has an edge.
In 2012 Google made an update that effectively ‘turned down the volume’ on exact match domains. This resulted in a lot of website owners losing traction in website rankings.
However since then, exact match domains have come to the fore again. Sites that have the exact match for the key word will rank high.
The important thing to remember is that an exact match domain is not the only thing website owners have to do. They still have a lot of work to do on their site, but at the moment that exact match domain is giving them an edge. When that happens, it stands to reason that Google is going to do another update.
With keywords and exact match domains, you always have to consider how they affect your brand. It wouldn’t be the right fit for a Westpac site to be found at banking.com – it just does not sit well with the brand. You do have to look at all these things together, not just in isolation.
That’s a good point Jim. Is it fair to say a domain name is only one element of a successful search and SEO strategy?
There are over 200 signals that Google looks at to rank a page and your domain name is just one of them. How much weighting it receives is dependent upon your competition. People always ask me; “What’s the one thing I can do?” and my advice is to look at what the number one result is doing, and do it better.
The biggest thing that most businesses can do, that they currently aren’t taking advantage of, is to set up Google Webmaster tools for your site. Many people have Google Analytics, but Google Webmaster tools will tell you exactly what Google knows about your site.
The reason this is important is because it will alert you to any problems Google is experiencing with your site. This may be that your site is slow, there are lots of errors or there is much duplication. These factors have a big impact on SEO and are often neglected.
Google wants to makes sure it only displays results that are going to be relevant to the search done by the user. It wants to provide a good experience for the user. Google doesn’t want to send its users to slow, confusing sites or to sites full of errors because if it does, people will stop using Google.
The other major thing that businesses should be doing (and this applies beyond search) is content marketing. You need to have a strategy around content; you need to have an editorial calendar; and you need to become the publisher. This obviously gives your site more content that Google can rank, but Google can also see that your site is active and updated frequently. In terms of ranking, Google sees sites like these as ‘worthy’ of sending its users to.
Content also has the benefit of generating more genuine backlinks. People will share good content in social media, they get picked up by other mechanisms and it establishes you as an authority in your field.
There have been some recent studies which indicate new top level domains are ranking higher than the .com equivalents. However Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, came out to debunk this misconception by stating they offer no ranking benefit. What are your thoughts on this?
I read John’s comments which appeared to be harking back to a 2012 post from Matt Cutts, an engineer in the search quality team at Google. This has always been a point of contention because in actuality, the only TLDs Google puts any real weight behind have been the country code TLDs. For instance a .au is going to rank higher than another ccTLD, such as .nz, in google.com.au.
It’s difficult to make a prediction about new TLDs because Google has never looked at that before. I think what could be happening in some of those studies is that the people have built a website to SEO best practice – incorporating all of the necessary elements required for high rankings – which uses a new TLD such as .melbourne.
What people should be doing is looking at the new TLDs from a branding perspective. The domains are specific and allow for greater creativity. People can put them on a billboard and get their message across more easily. I think purely as a search strategy, the jury on new TLDs is well and truly out.
Finally I wanted to pick up on your comments about .au and how Google favours country codes for specific countries. What would be your advice to startup businesses primarily focused on Australian customers? Do you recommend getting a .au domain name?
We recommend that you get the domain name for every country that you want to operate in. Some people will say you should only have one website, but that’s not entirely true. If you’re going to operate in Australia and New Zealand, getting both .au and .nz will make it easier for you to rank in those countries. While some think this will only lead to duplication, Google is very good at understanding that content in .au is for Australian users and content in .nz is for New Zealand users. This eliminates any duplicate content problems.
There is a setting in Google Webmaster tools where you can choose to geographically target certain users. With a TLD (non-country code), it is not automatically set. So for instance .com doesn’t necessarily mean you are targeting people in the United States – you have to specify that in Google Webmaster tools. So certainly if you want Australian customers, get a .au address.
Fascinating stuff Jim, thanks for having a chat with us. You’ve given us some valuable information for people considering their search strategy and the importance of a .au domain name to reach Australian audiences.
It seems that the Internet has evolved. As we enter this era of new TLDs it is important that all stakeholders contribute not just to its development but its betterment. Betterment takes time with periods of experimentation, but the end should always be to provide users with the best experience.
Best practice now dictates that website owners need to take into account a number of factors when developing a website. For those who do the right thing the rewards are higher rankings, more traffic and increased sales.
What is unlikely to change over time is the importance of a domain name. A domain name paints a picture. It’s your brand, your business, your calling card. It’s the memorable name that navigates a person through the Internet maze and brings them directly and logically to you.
Regardless of future algorithm changes, a domain name holds its own in the world of search, always being the first thing to consider when establishing an online presence.
Jonathan Leane is the founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Alternative Media. Jonathan manages one of Australia’s leading life insurance and health insurance comparison websites under the exact match domain names www.lifeinsurancecomparison.com.au and www.healthinsurancecomparison.com.au.
“Our business used to be purely an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) business model. Unfortunately this meant we were hit really hard by the Penguin and Panda Google updates in April 2012, which punished business models like ours,” Mr Leane stated.
“Literally overnight, our website traffic dropped by 90%. Over the next couple of months we very nearly went belly-up, but ultimately managed to successfully transition to an SEM business model.”
“I attribute both our initial SEO and subsequent SEM success primarily to having an exact match com.au domain name.”
For Alternative Media, the Search Engine Marketing strategy combined with exact match domains resulted in Google AdWords and Bing click-through rates nearly twice that of the company’s other domain names. Its average cost per click was approximately 30% lower on AdWords and 35% lower on Bing, while they also achieved higher-quality scores on AdWords. Importantly, the average cost per lead was 23% lower on AdWords and 31% lower on Bing.
“The great thing about our exact match domains is that they gave us an initial boost with SEO, and once that ended they facilitated our transition into SEM because of the higher quality scores and lower cost per click rates on Google,” Mr Leane said.
Registering an Exact Match Domain
Because they’re recognised as premium domain names, exact match domain names attract higher demand. More often than not, these domain names will already have been registered, often by a domain name investor or someone outside of the sector.
“A good domain name is really crucial for your success online. If a domain name is taken, but not developed, I view this as an opportunity rather than a road block,” Mr Leane said.
“I’ll generally use the services of aftermarket providers www.netfleet.com.au and www.drop.com.au, while also checking AusRegistry’s Whois tool to try and contact the registrant.”
“Just because a domain name is registered doesn’t mean it’s not available to be purchased for a relatively insignificant cost to your business.”
After the changes to Google’s algorithms it has become commonly accepted today that the focus on keywords and exact match domains has shifted to a more holistic approach when a website is ranked.
The large number of metrics Google takes into account is meant to ensure a type of compliance that guarantees quality websites. Website owners have started to see the benefit from investing in the content and mechanics of their site.
With that said the domain name is still considered an important element to SERP rankings success. SEO consultants and analysts Moz who conduct yearly Search Engine Ranking Factors surveys, recently revealed when looking at Domain Level Keyword Usage (looks at how keywords are used in the root or subdomain name and how much impact this might have on search engine rankings); “The ranking ability of exact and partial-match domains (EMD/PMD) has been heavily debated by SEOs recently, and it appears Google is still adjusting their ranking ability. In our data, we found EMD correlations to be relatively high at 0.16 and as high as 0.20 if the EMD is also a dot-com”.
In support of the strength of domain names, the domain name industry has never been so buoyant. Since October 2013, over 1,000 new TLDs are progressively being rolled out into the market with positive results. According to website ntldstats.org more than 4 million domains from 472 new gTLDs have been registered.
The Domain Name Association, a non-profit business association that represents the interests of the domain name industry, has reported recent survey results that show support for increasing domain name options. Indeed their key findings show:
· There is great openness to new domain name extensions.
· Globally, nearly 60% of all respondents voiced a preference for more domain name and domain name extension options.
· Domain names remain relevant: essentially all users type domain names into browsers as well as use search tools to navigate the Internet.
Of recent times the topic of domain names and their relationship to website search has prompted a number of differing opinions. At one end of the spectrum we find businesses that promote the benefits of exact match and key word domains as an integral part of their search strategy and at the other end of the spectrum are ‘explorative’ marketers opting to replace domain names with search as the all- important ‘call to action’.
So what’s changed? Are domain names and search going their separate ways?
Traditionally the right domain name guaranteed the right kind of attention. Exact match and keyword domains drove traffic to websites and helped increase click through rates (CTRs) on paid advertising. In support of this, Google’s rankings of these websites showed a strong correlation between domain type and search engine results page (SERP) rankings.
To further support the influence domain names exerted, the domain name aftermarket was thriving, trading in valuable domains that businesses were prepared to pay a premium for.
As time marched on however the Internet became littered with websites that contained poor content and deceptive and misleading links, aptly named web spam. In the past few years Google has responded to the glut of web spam on the Internet with significant changes to its ranking algorithms. Google’s objective in doing this was to provide more authoritative results and quality content to its end users.
The impact of Google’s timely algorithm changes meant that a vast number of businesses heavily invested in SEO (and less invested on producing quality content) lost SERP rankings overnight. Given that 92% of people search on Google when looking for a product meant an immediate effect was felt.
In .au the impact was evident. Previously, .au portfolios (Registrants holding more than 500 domain names) grew much faster than the namespace as a whole, peaking at over 16% of domains under management in 2012. However, large numbers of these names were held for search engine optimisation purposes and were keyword matches.
The Google algorithm changes in 2012 lessened the value of such keyword domains and the acquisition of names by portfolios slowed. When (in 2013) key portfolio holders had large numbers of names fall due for renewal, a sharp rationalisation occurred in response to the lower value of the names with portfolio renewal rates dropping from above 90% to below 50% in some cases. Due to the two-year nature of .au registrations, the decline in the share of names held in portfolios took over 18 months – as can be seen from the graph. However the sector remains vulnerable to future changes, and some portfolio holders – who had names fall due in the early days of the new era – are continuing to rationalise albeit at a slower pace.
Google’s algorithm changes sparked website owners across the globe to evaluate their business strategies. Whilst many businesses were affected by Google’s decision to try and clean up the Internet, the algorithm changes provided an opportunity for change. One such business, Jonathan Leane’s Alternative Media, has done just that changing from a purely SEO business to one that now incorporates a strong SEM strategy with positive results.
Jonathan’s story is also presented in the State of the .au Domain report.
Perhaps it was the change in the SEO landscape that prompted a number of marketers to attempt new ways to navigate users to websites.
The ‘term ‘search for us’ is an emerging trend on print and TV ads in Australia. However the mystery remains as to why Marketers would risk sending likely customers into a rabbit warren to search amongst their competitors and hopefully arrive at the correct destination. Wouldn’t direct navigation be simpler?
Recent studies show that the majority of website traffic originates from organic search. Conductor, a company that provides web presence solutions, reports that organic search is responsible for 64% of web traffic.
Organic search results are listings on search engine results pages that appear because of their relevance to the search terms, as opposed to their being advertisements. In contrast, non-organic search results may include pay per click advertising
Melbourne, Australia – 5 February 2015: As .au domain registrations approach the 3-million mark, Melbourne-based company Information Brokers has become the newest accredited .au Registrar, receiving accreditation approval from the .au Domain Administration (auDA).
Among a suite of business search, intelligence and registration services, Information Brokers will now be able to sell .au domain names to the general public. This approval from auDA brings the total number of accredited .au Registrars to 48.
Receiving accreditation from auDA authorises a Registrar to provide a range of services, from the registration of new domains to domain renewals and changing domain name records.
AusRegistry, the Australian .au domain name Registry operator welcomed the announcement, explaining that Information Brokers’ focus on service and a broad range of capabilities made them a natural fit for .au accreditation.
Established in April 2010, Information Brokers provides a full suite of Australian business search, intelligence and registration services that facilitate client investigations into personal property, company, individual verification, commercial viability, registration reporting and management.
Founder and CEO of Information Brokers, Rod Keys said that the company was pleased to add .au domain name services to its already extensive product suite and look forward to adding ICANN accreditation in the near future.
“We abide by a dedicated ‘service before price’ model and are constantly looking to expand our business product suite.
“.au domain registration will be added to our existing web hosting and website building services, and we are confident in our ability to deliver high quality services to customers.”
Information Brokers was the first Australian registrar to comply with the mandatory ISS certification introduced by auDA, compulsory to all registrars by November 2015. This certification has been modified from previous standards in accordance with the unique attributes of the .au registration network.
Melbourne, Australia – 4 February 2015:
Over the last 18 months, changes to Google’s search algorithms have caused many to re-evaluate their domain name portfolios and Search Engine Optimisation strategies.
While early reports indicated Google had reduced the importance on domain names in SEO ranking, recent data now indicates that exact match and keyword domains have once again become a prominent part of good SEO practice.
These insights are explored in a new report, Behind the Dot: State of the .au Domain. This is the second in a quarterly series from AusRegistry, providing detailed analysis and commentary on the .au namespace and issues affecting the domain industry.
Jonathan Leane of Alternative Media spoke to AusRegistry about the impact of these search algorithm updates, building a stronger SEM strategy and the value of exact match domains, which for one of Australia’s leading life and health insurance comparison websites, resulted in Google AdWords and Bing click-through rates nearly twice that of the company’s other domain names.
The report also details a Q&A with Jim Stewart of StewArt Media, a leading Australian SEO company. Jim speaks about the era of new top level domains (TLDs) and the factors website owners must consider to develop an SEO-friendly site.
.au under the microscope
The .au namespace has continued to mature and is now approaching 3 million domains, with growth rates in 2014 stabilising, according to a new report published by AusRegistry this week.
The report found that during 2014, four quarters of consecutive 6% growth were achieved, indicating that the .au growth rate has stabilised and that this is a mature namespace consistent with other country code top level domains (ccTLDs) such as .uk, .de, .ca and .nz.
In addition, .au is consistently placing in the top 10 of all 283 country codes, with over 2.9 million domains registered as of December 31, 2014.
Business the leading use of .au
AusRegistry in partnership with the .au Domain Administration (auDA) conducts a yearly survey of Australian Internet Users. The 2014 .au Survey reported that 76% of survey respondents who hold domain names hold .au.
Among survey respondents, most domains are obtained for business use (over 60%) and over 20% of domain name holders owned a domain names portfolio.
The full survey report Understanding the Australian Internet User can be accessed at http://www.ausregistry.com.au/research-au
Renewal rates and .au
The age of a domain continues to be the best indicator of likelihood to renew, with domain names that have been renewed for the third or subsequent time having greater than 80% chance of renewing again.
DNSSEC and .au
As of 1 February 2015, DNSSEC is operational in all .au – enabling domain registrants to make use of DNSSEC and securely sign their domains. AusRegistry and auDA worked together to engage stakeholders and conduct comprehensive DNSSEC implementation test cycles to safeguard the continued operational stability of the .au zone.
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AusRegistry is the custodian of the technology that powers Australia’s home on the Internet, the .au namespace. We’ve been entrusted to operate the Registry for all commercial domain names such as .com.au and .net.au, and non-commercial domain names like .gov.au and .edu.au. AusRegistry creates technology that empowers the daily online lives of Australians; we are trusted with the management and operation of the software and infrastructure supporting millions of .au domain names.