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Do Exact Match Domains Still Work for SEO?

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

Changing Google algorithms necessitate changing your SEO and branding techniques

  • Your Google ranking is essential when building traffic on your website. Sites that rank higher report more sales as a result of site visits.
  • Algorithm changes in 2012 reduced the ranking of sites with exact match domains with lower rankings. This was meant to discourage the use of exact match domains.
  • While exact match domains may in some instances lead to increased traffic, it pays to build a strong online brand.

An exact match domain is a website domain that is purchased to target specific keywords or a search query on Google. SEO practitioners have historically used this method as a way of gaming the system and effectively increasing their rankings on Google. Examples include: 

  • carinsurancecompanies.com
  • watchonlinemoviesforfree.com
  • besthostingprovidersuk.com 

Why did exact match domains work?

In the early days of Google, matching your domain name with the keyword you were seeking was seen as a viable and successful method of getting to the top of search engine results. If Google is trying to give the user the most relevant search result, it seemed logical to secure a URL with the exact name. So for buying a domain from GoDaddy or 123 Reg for a year, adding a bit of content, and getting some links, presto, you would be on page 1 of Google.

Also, it meant that any links you had pointing to your website would typically be exact match anchor text, and this is something that would boost your search rankings as well, until the Penguin algorithm ended this in April 2012.

An interesting observation is how some of the best exact match domains are rarely seen in Google's search engine results pages (SERPs), such as food.com, cars.com, loans.com and insurance.com. If you visit some of these sites, they tend to be older companies or businesses that do not exist, with the domain owner hoping to sell the name for a huge fee. (Customers of 123 Reg will regularly see domains for sales, as the company acts as a broker for those looking for a killer name.)

A change in algorithm

An algorithm change by Google in 2012 aimed to penalize exact match domains. SEO guru Matt Cutts stated that this would affect 0.6% of English-U.S. queries and would significantly reduce the rankings of those exact match domain sites with low quality. Further, the impact of the algorithm change caused domains with long names to fall several pages behind on Google's SERPs or disappear altogether.

Now, however, it is rare to see domains with long names featured on page 1 of Google. Instead, there is a huge demand for short URLs, and SEO practitioners are encouraged to keep URLs short for best practice.

How to use exact match domains today

There is still a place for exact match domains, provided that you market them the right way. If you can turn that exact match into a real brand and company, you will be able to stand the test of time.

Some great examples of this include startuploans.co.uk and cashconverters.co.uk. Both of these domains explain exactly what they offer, but as established brands, they maintain top search results.

These brands also benefit from being early adopters in their field, so if you see potential growth in an industry, it is worth trying to grab the domain name early on. If you can, keep the name short and pick two strong keywords (and probably no more). 

If the strongest keyword is not available, e.g.,carinsurance.com or propertyloans.com, consider using a partial match that includes two main keywords and adding things like "hub," "online," "ltd," "US," or "UK" at the end of it. There is still value in having one or more main keywords in the domain name, and some great examples include moneysavingexpert.com, amigoloans.com and moneyadviceservice.org.uk.

The role of brand SEO

The reason is that these domains are successful is because they have evolved into brands, and this is what Google is looking for.

If you can take your domain name and practice good brand SEO, you will be in business. Using bridgingloanhub.co.uk as an example, you can see the following brand techniques on their websites:

  • Trust signals. There is a real address and phone number on the website, and this is consistent with the company's Google Business listing. The site includes links to real social media pages. Further, there is an About Us page, a Contact page, a privacy policy, and terms and conditions to show it is a real company.

  • Content. There is clear site architecture, including landing pages and useful content. The company also links to reputable websites, including news and government sites, and to other pages on the website.

  • Links. A real brand is featured in the news and on websites in the same industry, hence their listings on Mortgage Introducer and Bridging and Commercial. If you are being recommended as a real company, your rankings on Google will reflect this.

In fact, if you type in the most competitive SEO keywords like "life insurance" and "car insurance," you only see big brands, because Google is more likely to trust these businesses than an individual who set up a website with a long domain name from their home. In conclusion, while having an exact match domain name can help you with SEO in 2017, creating a brand online is far more important.

Should you buy an exact match domain?

If you are considering using exact match domains to increase traffic on your website, here are a few factors you should consider. According to Moz, when using the most common terms in research topics, the use of exact match domains limits the use of spammy backlinks. To achieve this, use domain searches that rank higher and use exact names on your site. It essential that you do not pick domain names from spammy websites. To capture the attention of their clients, most corporates use domain names that identify with their brand.

Exact match domains, however, have several disadvantages. Companies create products and abuse the power of the exact match domain to sell products to customers. Local terms have sometimes been monopolized by using exact match domains.

Moz gives the following guidelines on how you can increase your Google rankings without using exact match domains:

  • Promote your site to other relevant and other authoritative websites, and get them to reference your site as an authority. Links play a huge role in search rankings as they are interpreted as votes of confidence.

  • Your website should have content that is unique and captivating. Pages are ranked individually on Google. Have a variety of authoritative content, press releases, blogs, e-books and more to get other websites to link back to your site.

  • Code your website in a way that makes it easier for search engines to categorize your website.
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