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Domain Names and Local SEO: Best Practices for Small Businesses

Domain Names and Local SEO: Best Practices for Small Businesses

Local SEO is becoming increasingly important for small businesses looking to drive traffic to their website and physical location. A key but often overlooked aspect of local SEO is your domain name. Your domain name sends signals to search engines about your business and location that can significantly impact local rankings and visibility.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything small business owners need to know about choosing the right domain name for local SEO. We’ll discuss how domain names impact local rankings, best practices for local domain names, tips for custom domains vs subdirectories, and more. Whether you already have a domain or are starting from scratch, this guide will help you select an optimal domain name to improve your local search presence.

How Domain Names Impact Local SEO

Domain names matter for local SEO because they contain location-specific keywords and phrases that help search engines understand the geographic area you serve. Google and other search engines look at on-page factors like business name, address, and phone number to determine the relevance of a page for local searches.

But they also look at the domain name itself as an off-page factor to infer location and intent. A domain like dentistboston.com or bostonlandscaper.com sends a strong signal about the local nature of the business. Generic domains like smithdental.com or toplineyardcare.com are far less optimized for local SEO.

In addition to containing location keywords, domain names impact local rankings in a few key ways:

  • They help search engines geotarget your site content to match local user intent. A local domain signals you serve a specific area.
  • Domains can improve click-through rates for local pack listings. Descriptive local domains tend to get more clicks than vague or generic domains.
  • Local domains build relevance and authority for ranking well in Maps, local packs, and organic results.
  • Location-optimized domains improve CTR and conversion rates by instilling trust and credibility for local searchers.

In short, a properly optimized local domain name sends clear signals about your geographic service area, improves your visibility and clicks for local keywords, and establishes your website as a trusted resource for your city.

Best Practices for Local Business Domains

When selecting a domain name for local SEO, keep these best practices in mind:

Include your most important city/region keywords. Your domain should contain your core local service area(s) like “chicago” or “miami” if targeting those metro areas. Make sure to rank the cities you actually serve.

Focus on 1-2 geographic keywords max. Don’t try to stuff multiple cities, states, or regions. Streamline for your primary local service zone.

Put city/region keywords at the beginning. Search engines give more weight to the start of a domain. “chicagodentist” is better than “parkdentalchicago”.

Keep it simple and brandable. Avoid overly long or complex local domain names. Consider branding and memorability as well as keywords.

Use keywords naturally. Domains like “chicagodentistpro.com” come across as spammy. Use conversational keyword phrases.

Consider both .com and localized TLDs. .com domains have the most trust, but TLDs like .nyc or .london also carry local signals.

Only use exact match domains cautiously. Keyword-heavy domains can raise red flags if over-optimized. Use sparingly.

Don’t obsess over hyphens vs spaces. Search engines treat hyphens (-) and spaces in domains equally. Choose what looks cleaner.

Make sure it’s available. Do searches to verify your local domain name isn’t already registered before setting your heart on it.

Perform due SEO diligence. Use tools like Moz Keyword Explorer to ensure your local keywords have decent search volume and competitiveness.

Set up emails and social media. Match your email addresses and social media profiles to your new local domain name.

By following these best practices, you can hone in on a domain name that clearly conveys your geographic service area, looks professional, and sets you up for local search success.

Custom Domain vs Subdirectory

One decision local businesses need to make is whether to use a custom local domain (e.g. chicagodentist.com) or simply a directory/subdomain on their primary domain (e.g. website.com/chicago or chicago.website.com). Here are a few key considerations when choosing between the two options:

Custom local domain pros:

  • More visibility and authority as a standalone domain.
  • Geotargeting signals are stronger to search engines.
  • Looks more professional and legitimate to local customers.
  • Helps establish brand identity for an area/location.
  • Easier to promote and remember for local marketing.

Subfolder or subdirectory pros:

  • Consolidates all sites under one main domain.
  • Typically easier and cheaper to set up.
  • Allows flexible scaling to multiple regions.
  • Saves having to build authority for new domains.

In most cases, established local businesses get more benefit investing in targeted custom domains, one for each core geographic area. But subfolders can make sense for large national brands targeting many micro-regions.

No matter which structure you choose, the most important aspect is properly optimizing pages and content for target keywords and location. Well-optimized pages matter more than domain structure.

Here are a few tips to optimize custom local domains:

  • 301 redirect previous domain to new local domain.
  • Set up GMB listing with new domain.
  • Add structured data markup indicating your geographic service area.
  • Create locally-optimized title tags, meta descriptions, H1s for every page.

And for subfolders/subdomains:

  • Include location keywords in subfolder names if possible.
  • Use rel=”canonical” tags to signal the proper geo-page to index.
  • Cross-link relevant pages between subfolders to pass “link juice.”

With the right optimization strategy, both domains and subfolders can achieve strong local SEO visibility. Focus on content quality and authority-building above all else.

Tips for Transitioning to a New Domain

If transitioning an existing site to a new local domain, here are some best practices to follow:

301 redirect old domain pages to new domain. This passes over link equity and establishes a clean redirect structure. Be sure to redirect page-for-page properly.

Update GMB & citations. Change the website link across all major directories/citations to the new domain. Don’t leave orphan listings.

Install tracking. Use Google Analytics and Search Console to monitor traffic during the transition. Look for any technical issues.

Generate fresh links. Outreach to local directories, partners, etc to build new locality-focused backlinks to the new domain.

Produce new optimized content. Publish blog posts, landing pages, and other assets that target your core local keywords and user intent.

Audit for duplicate content. Remove or refresh any copied content between old and new domain to avoid penalization.

Monitor rankings regularly. Check your local pack, Maps, and organic rankings for target keywords. Fix any issues with de-indexing.

Allow 4-6 months to fully transition. Don’t expect overnight results. Give search engines time to fully recrawl, index, and transfer signals between domains.

With strategic planning and redirection, changing to a new local domain should improve your visibility and clicks over time. Be patient, focus on quality content, and let your new domain become an authority.

Key Takeaways

  • Local domain names containing your target city/region keywords can substantially improve your local SEO performance.
  • Keep local domains simple yet brandable, with keywords naturally flowing in the name.
  • Custom local domains generally send stronger signals than subfolders, but both can work if optimized properly.
  • When transitioning domains, use 301 redirects, update citations, monitor closely, and give search engines several months to fully recrawl.
  • Focus first on creating great locally-optimized content before worrying about domain name structures.

Your domain name is just one local ranking factor, but it lays the foundation for your optimization efforts. Invest in an intuitive local domain tailored to your service area and brand to maximize your presence across local search and maps.

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