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Why do we trust some domains over others?

By Alexandra Gavril - August 7, 2012

Do you pay attention to the links in the search results? Years back, when spam wasn’t such a big issue, I hardly ever looked at the URL and the name of the website before clicking on it. Now I am more careful on what I click, I look at the domain name and if I get the feeling it’s spammy, I avoid clicking on it. Most of the times I prefer clicking on sites I know are trustworthy because I assume the content is better than anywhere else, don’t you?

According to a study conducted by Stanford and Microsoft researchers called “Domain Bias in Web Search”, domain names are an important factor in consumer click behavior.  The researchers did a blind domain test similar to the Pepsi/ Coca-Cola test and the results showed that a domain name can change the Internet users’ preferences of which page is more relevant about 25% of the time.

Does domain bias exist?

“Domain bias” is a new phenomenon in click activity and it refers to a user’s high probability to click on a search result because it’s from a reputable or popular domain.  It also refers to a user’s low possibility to click on a search result coming from an unknown, spammy or distrustful domain. This study however is not linked to the site’s relevance or its position in search results.

The blind test

The blind test consisted of asking users to choose between two snippets and two domains, webmd.com and genetichealth.com. When the domain was absent and users could only read the snippet, they preferred genetichealth.com. However, when the domains were revealed, users chose webmd.com because they considered it an authority site. This shows that Internet users blindly trust content from authority domains, even if there may be search results that are more relevant to their query. We are loyal to some domains and believe that that content is better simply because those are reputable domains.

What does this mean for you?

As you can see, domain names are becoming an important factor in a users’ click behavior, now more than ever.  Even though the researchers did not link this study to search results, search engine optimisation is still necessary to get a site in the top results of search engines so users can find it. If the site is nowhere to be found, it doesn’t matter how attractive your snippet is.

If you’re just starting out, it won’t be easy to find the right domain name and build a reputable brand with such a fierce competition. To start, buy a domain name that you can build as a brand. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a .com or .co.uk either! There are so many alternative domain extensions where good domain names are still available, such as .info, .org and .net. If you’re looking for a unique and distinctive web address, we also have a selection of country-specific extensions available, like .me, .in, and .it.

Once you get your site up and running, come up with marketing and SEO strategies that can help you build a brand that users would come to recognise and prefer.

Want to know more about domains? Why not read our in-depth article about domain names and how they are made.