For a long time, exact match domains have been the secret weapon of inventive SEOers, and although they are still valuable assets, Google and potentially other search engines are starting to target them with new algorithm updates. Let’s go through the immediate implications.
Before we start, it is important to specify whether we are looking at the issue from a purely SEO point of view or from a broader, on line marketing standpoint and possibly branding, which is becoming increasingly important for both rankings and general marketing decision making. Exact match domains can be brands in their own right, which has implications for on site optimisation and link building at the same time.
First, it has to be said it’s more than possible to succeed without having any targeted keywords in your domain – Matt Cutts himself states this and examples are pretty convincing: domains such as Digg or Reddit are brands first, and this is at the centre of their popularisation. On the other hand, EMD such as casinoonline.com and others that include the main targeted keyword in the domain name have been known to do well on SERPs. For a long time, internet users have been noticing Google and other search engines give too much weight to EMDs, so Google decided to tweak the algorithm and even things out a little bit. As a result of these recent changes, EMDs do not necessarily outrank other domains, such as brand-centred ones, based on the domain name only.
But EMD are not about rankings only, as isn’t on line marketing in general. A domain that is based around the targeted keyword or product is much easier to market and brand – for instance, guitar-improvisation.com will be much easier to promote and advertise as a brand than a more general domain name. Social media options will also be easier to implement where an exact match domain is also the product and brand at the same time, as well as the primary targeted phrase in SERPs.
In terms of link building, EMDs offer the advantage of brand and targeted keyword, or domain name, being the same thing, and allows link building anchor text to be used more efficiently: back to our earlier example, guitar-improvisation.com, http://guitar-improvisation.com and ‘guitar improvisation’ are all anchor text that centres link building around the main targeted product of phrase. In the not so distant past, this would have been a 100% winning combination – these types of EMDs had a big advantage over anything else on the internet. More recently, due to numerous changes in the algo, just having an EMD with a few exact match links to it doesn’t guarantee ranking on the first page, although generally these remain valuable assets.
As a temporary conclusion, since the ranking and more general landscape is bound to change again and again over time, EMDs on their own are no longer enough to rank – content and other similar factors will be just as important going forward, but the potential branding advantage, combined with a relatively simplified link building model, still make EMDs valuable domain names in digital online marketing.