I have a confession. It’s sometimes hard for me to tell what’s black hat and what’s white hat when it comes to SEO anymore. I might just stop wearing hats, but that means I’ll actually have to brush my white girl fro.
Alas. One of the account managers at Blue Corona asked me for my opinion on whether I thought exact match domains (EMDs) were helpful or harmful for SEO these days. I say “these days” because Google changes its mind more frequently than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What Is an Exact Match Domain?
Say you own a pet store in Maryland and you sell the best birds in the area. Parrots, zebra finches, ostriches, etc. You’ve got a reputation for having the finest aviary specimen available and you want the Internet to know it. Did I mention that your store is called “How Tweet It Is”? You’re awesome.
When you take out your domain name, you’ll probably go one of two ways:
Branded Domain: A branded domain would simply mean you use your brand name as your domain. In this case, howtweetitis.com.
Exact Match Domain: Maybe there’s a competitive keyword you really want to rank for, like “bird breeders in MD.” You might consider making your domain birdbreedersinmd.com. That’s an exact match domain because the search query would match the domain name exactly.
Exact Match Domains Used to Work REALLY Well
In the past, having an EMD almost guaranteed you a spot on the first page of search engine listings—no matter how poorly optimized the rest of the site was or how little content it had on it.
However, in September 2012, Google released an algorithm update aimed at reducing low-quality EMDs from showing up so high in search engine results. Because of this update, EMDs are no longer nearly as effective as they used to be.
The algorithm was only intended to de-rank low quality exact match domains—ones that were only ranking because they had the keyword in the domain. That means that other high quality sites with exact match domains should not have been harmed by the update.
Because no one actually knows Google’s algorithm, it’s difficult to say whether it’s harmful to have an exact match domain or if having one makes it harder for you to rank. Here are a few reasons you might shy away from an exact match domain:
Exact Match Domains Can Look Like Spam
Especially ones with dashes in them or too many keywords. According to Moz, “It has been proven statistically that domains with more than a single dash are very likely to be spam. Multiple dashes in a domain was an early spammer trick because of the low barrier to entry with cost.”
Exact Match Domains Are Harder to Remember
If someone comes to your site and doesn’t convert into a lead or sale right away, will they be able to remember your website in the future? Having your brand name as your domain name can be helpful in situations where you don’t convert a potential customer on his or her first visit.
If you choose an optimized domain like an EMD, you’ll need to be extra cautious when it comes to things like redundant anchor text and keyword stuffing. Forget about ranking—appearing “over-optimized” will actually get you a penalty.
EMD Influence Is on the Decline
Case studies by Moz show a decrease in the percentage of EMDs. According to Moz, “The increase in correlations between March and June says that the EMDs that are still present are ranking higher overall in the SERPs, even though they are less prevalent. Could this be Google removing lower quality EMDs?”
Basically, even though high quality EMDs can still rank, Google is not giving them any preferential treatment. It just doesn’t seem worth it to me.
About The Author: Lexie serves as Blue Corona's Content Marketing Manager. She's also the author of our soon-to-be famous, and someday to be written white paper, "Horse Hat SEO: Giddy-Up Your Google Rankings."
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