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Do exact match domains still help your SEO? Well, it depends.
An exact match domain (or EMD) is a website domain that includes the keywords you’re targeting right in the search results. For example, if you were a plumbing business in New York City, an exact match domain would be plumbernewyorkcity.com.
In the early 2000s and 2010s, EMDs were often seen as the ticket to shoot straight to the top of a search engine results page (SERP). Taking out keyword-stuffed domains was a reliable way to boost your search rankings, at least until Google caught on—which they always do when it comes to black-hat SEO tactics. Now that Google has changed its algorithm to rank web pages using more advanced criteria like latent semantic indexing, purchasing an EMD may not be the best option for your business—and could even have the potential to bring down your rankings.
Why Don’t EMDs Help with Google Rankings?
First of all, the domain URL plays a minuscule part in Google’s ranking factors in 2019.
What Goes Into Google’s Ranking Algorithm in 2019
Here’s what Google looks for:
“You want the answer, not billions of webpages, so Google ranking systems sort through the hundreds of billions of webpages in our Search index to give you useful and relevant results in a fraction of a second.
These ranking systems are made up of a series of algorithms that analyze what it is you are looking for and what information to return to you. And as we’ve evolved Search to make it more useful, we’ve refined our algorithms to assess your searches and the results in finer detail to make our services work better for you.” – Google
There are more than 200 actual ranking signals, but here’s what you should focus on if you want to get your business on page one of Google’s search results in 2019:
- Keyword/keyphrase match based on search intent (beware of keyword stuffing—you’ll get penalized)
- Secured sites (HTTPS vs. HTTP)
- Websites that are mobile-friendly
- Schema markup
- Webpage content quality
- Webpage content length
- Page speed
- Social signals
- Quality backlinks
- Optimized images
- Domain age
Exact match domains are not on that list.
They can, however, play a part in getting you better rankings, but it’s iffy. When it comes to EMD SEO, there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly truth about it.
Exact Match Domain SEO: The Good
Exact match domains CAN increase your search results if the intent is there. Look what comes up when I Google “attorney marketing”:
Four out the first six listings are exact match domains (top one is a blog by yours truly). In this case, having an EMD likely helped these underdogs outrank larger marketing firms in favor of a search result more tailored to the user’s request.
The good is that yes—exact match domains can give better clues to what your website is about and then can, therefore, help users find the information they want.
Exact Match Domain SEO: The Bad
You just saw an example where a search term pulled up a bunch of exact match domains. That isn’t always the case. For certain terms, Google and other search engines have identified other resources deemed more valuable than websites with exact match domains. They do this with latent semantic indexing, which shapes search results with machine learning. For example, see the search results below for “divorce lawyer”
Zero exact match domains. Z-E-R-O.
With latent semantic indexing and AI, Google discovered that users who search for “divorce lawyer” are most likely looking for a directory with the top lawyers listed instead of a direct website to a law firm.
In this case, an exact match domain wouldn’t help you.
Exact Match Domain SEO: The Ugly
The main reason Google started de-emphasizing exact match domains is that people started abusing them. In 2012 they reduced the weight of EMDs in the search results, and in 2016, they actually went “on the hunt” for spammy exact match domains, and implemented harsh penalties for websites that were using EMDs as spam.
It’s funny you say that! I was hunting for (bad) EMDs for the past two weeks without much luck 🙂
— Gary “鯨理” Illyes (@methode) November 25, 2016
there is no inherent problem with EMDs. The problem is when it’s combined with other spam tactics
— Gary “鯨理” Illyes (@methode) November 25, 2016
How Can I Increase My Google Rankings Without Using an EMD?
In order to get your business on the first page of Google, three things are required:
- Your website must be coded in a way that makes it easy for the search engines’ software to find, crawl, and categorize your website. This means it needs to be fast, it needs to be mobile-optimized, and it needs to have the proper tags, titles, headings, and keywords.
- You must create web page after web page of unique, relevant, and remarkable legal content, including videos. Google ranks web pages individually, not websites as a whole. You need a wide variety of content, including blogs, landing pages, press releases, e-mail newsletters, ebooks, and more, and they need to be authoritative enough to get other websites to link back to them. You can’t stop with static content either—you’ll need video on your website as well.
- You must promote your site to other relevant and authoritative websites and get them to link to, reference, and cite you as an authority. Links are a huge factor in search rankings. Search engines view links as votes of confidence—but they have to be from reputable sources. For example, if a government research website linked to your company, that would have more weight than a link from a hobbyist’s blog.
Let the Digital Marketing Experts Do the Work for You
Just because Google has an algorithm, that doesn’t mean they make it easy. You can’t depend on a basic formula to get your business in the number one spot on Google—it takes a lot of tracking, analyzing, and strategizing to make that happen. From mobile site speed to local SEO, there are countless components that can make or break your site’s chances to outrank your competition. Thankfully, that’s what we’re here for.
At Blue Corona, our job is to help businesses grow by making data-driven marketing decisions. Our marketing strategy is simple: TRACK > TEST > TWEAK > REPEAT. We believe in using SEO to make your site the authority in your industry—no EMDs or keyword stuffing needed.
If you’re ready to see real results for your business, and if you want to work with a team that genuinely cares about your success, contact Blue Corona today for a free website analysis.
About The Author: Betsy is Blue Corona's in-house Digital Marketing Specialist. When she’s not directing Blue Corona's corporate digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring with her wife, diving into the latest marketing trends, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
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