Exact Match Domains

Are exact match domains "too" powerful?

Not in my humble opinion. :)

Sure across the entire web exact match domains can rank for a wide variety of keywords, but there are a couple things to think about when stating that...

  • those rankings are spread across many different domains
  • the bonus any domain gets is only relevant to their 1 exact match phrase
  • Many domains are seen as exact match, but the keyword is popular precisely because the keyword is a brand (like eBay, Amazon.com, Monster.com, Google, Yahoo!, or Bing).
  • Many brand owners (especially small & local ones, where there are few signals of quality) are not heavily engaged in SEO. If Google doesn't show the official site on a brand search they look bad (in 2005 there was a brief period of time when Paypal.com wasn't ranking for "Paypal" due to botched aggressive Google link anchor text filters), whereas if they rank an exact match domain where it is relevant it doesn't really significantly detract from the searcher's experience.

At SES San Jose 2009, Nick Fox stated that Google has about 30 million words in the AdWords advertiser database. In spite of their database being that large, they keep trying to push advertisers toward broad match (and searchers down a well worn path with Google Instant) because roughly 25% of searches are unique.

Adam Lewis highlighted how advertisers can get a glimpse into the endless sea of words searchers use & how impractical it is to presume they can know everything in advance:

One of the most impactful new features lies within the keywords tab and is called "see search terms". This option allows advertisers to choose one or more keywords and see the search term users typed in to trigger that keyword. It also shows which ones are being clicked most often and which are not being clicked.

Often the exact keyword it not what users are actually typing in. Guessing all the possible variations that a user might enter to find your product is essentially impossible. "See search terms" gives you the most popular user queries that triggered your ads. Not only does it help people learn about their user, but it can also potentially save money on SEM by exposing highly specific keywords with less competition and better quality scores.

Note the sentence that I bolded...guessing everything that is searched for that is relevant is roughly impossible. In SEO there are a variety of implications associated with that, but one of the most important ones is this: when you pick an exact match domain it is mainly only helping you with that 1 main keyword that you chose.

Yes there are implications in terms of perceived credibility and such, but those impacts can be created through brand building. With an EMD you pay thousands of Dollars (sometimes 10's or 100's of thousands) to target that one keyword. If a person were to buy MyKeywordStore.com (or similar) for $8 & spend that $10,000 on marketing, then in many cases that $10,000 would generally / typically more than make up for any advantage MyKeyword.com gets.

Much like often overstated type-in traffic, when you look beyond brands, there are not many individual keywords that represent a huge market by themselves.

We have built a database of 10 million + keywords & few of them (less than 10,000 of them) have a combined CPC * estimated search volume of $1,000 or more per month (presuming you captured 100% of the search traffic for that keyword & monetized it as well as Google does).

However, those numbers overstate the market ...

  • many of those valuable keywords *are* brands (seo book wasn't much of a keyword until *after* it was a brand, which is why the domain name was available to me for $8)
  • brands that are created on keywords can be forced to change due to market conditions (FreeCreditReport.com ---> FreeCreditScore.com, legislation whacked the student loan consolidation market, Google Instant promotes some keywords at the expense of others, the US government has launched names like Cars.gov, StudentLoans.gov, Change.gov, etc. ... who wants to compete directly against the government when they control legislation, can create an EMD on the fly, and can cross-link new sites in their network ... allowing them to outrank you in a couple weeks)
  • If you are not a brand & rank #1 in the organic search results (with 3 AdWords ads above you) then you might only get about 25% to 40% of the search traffic. Worse yet, in some of the largest markets Google puts a 4th "Google comparison" ad above the organic search results, further driving down the organic search results.
  • Google's search volume data & suggested bid prices have typically overstated the market (because they want to create bidding wars on core keywords & drive bids upward)
  • Almost nobody monetizes as well as Google does. In many cases when their number shows $100,000+ per month the actual publisher earnings for that keyword might only be a few thousand Dollars.

There are at most a few hundred exceptionally potent keywords where the single word will build a business for a generalist webmaster. That number would be higher if you combined them with professional training in an area and significant industry knowledge, but if you know your industry well and have access to capital and are investing into a premium domain name then odds are good you are investing heavily elsewhere and doing quality work elsewhere. The idea that there are tons of lucrative exact match domains on the market which anyone can use to build thriving businesses on and are available at a discount is somewhat (perhaps completely?) inaccurate.

Exact match only gives you that bonus on exact match. Not a collection of keywords - just that 1 word. And tying your business to 1 keyword can be risky. Just ask anyone who is on a singular version of a domain name where Google Instant promotes the plural version of that keyword. Some of those folks likely had chunks of cinder block falling out their pants the day that launched.

Whereas brand allows you to keep spreading ... but it can take a lot of work to turn a generic keyword into a brand. And by the time you do, your business model and/or the market may have already moved elsewhere. An exact match domain name can sorta box you in and make your business less flexible. SEO Book is a bit of a weird fit for a private SEO community & training website, and Oakland Pizza will *never* become Dominoes or Pizza Hut.

And (when compared against generic keywords) brands are not only more flexible, but they are more memorable, make it easier for you to differentiate, allow to engage at a deeper emotional level & charge more for your products or services.

I don't regret choosing SeoBook.com in 2003 (it certainly worked out awesome in the short run), however if I had more foresight I would have shifted to a different domain in the 2004 to 2005 timeframe. So often when people join our community they are amazed by the depth and breadth of discussion outside of SEO, but a rebrand at this point would be brutal. ;)

Owning SearchEngine.com doesn't really do much for you when there is a Google or a Bing in your market. Owning Auction.com (or maybe Auctions.com) doesn't do much against eBay. Owning Portal.com (or maybe WebPortal.com) isn't going to compete against Yahoo!. Microblogging.com is no Twitter, SocialNetwork.com is no Facebook, VideoHosting.com is no YouTube.

It is basically a choice of short-term vs long-term goals:

  • do you want to pick a specific keyword & try to sell something relevant today (with less flexibility going forward)
  • do you have the assets available to build a brand that will remain flexible under changing market conditions

While exact match domains can box you in, it is a sign of relevancy for that specific keyword: as you have tied your business to it!

Either you got to the market early, or you shelled out thousands of Dollars. OnlineKredit.org just went for $36,400! Whoever bought it is not probably going to be signing guestbooks / comment spamming / auto-generating content /etc. And the guy who paid $1 million for Poker.org wouldn't have paid that unless he planned on building something sustainable there.

Even Matt Cutts recommends buying relevant domain names as gifts :)

The one area of exact match domains where I think Google has been (and will continue to) tighten up is some of the longtail cybersquatting, but...

  • tightening up can be tricky because the same word can have different meanings in different markets (perhaps continued efforts into localizing results will solve some of these issues)
  • earlier this year Google did whack some longtail EMDs that had few other signals of quality
  • more recently, Google has been showing far more results from 1 domain on navigational queries, and has been ranking official sites for related queries even if they didn't have some of the keywords in their content or link anchor text
  • even for generic search queries (like "cameras") Google sometimes lists suggested related brand navigation in the search results
  • trademarks protect usage & legislation is moving in the direction of making it easier / cheaper / faster for brand owners to whack cybersquatting
Published: October 25, 2010 by Aaron Wall in domain names


October 25, 2010 - 2:04pm

Great post! I share your opinion on this.

There´s just one strange catch. It seems like the advantage is limited to cno-domains. With a cno-exact match domain you do have a significant advantage on Google.de. A .de-domain doesn´t get the advantage. That´s strange and doesn´t really make sense. Obviously Google wanted to restrict the advantage of keyword domains to a few top-level domains. But a ccTLD like .de should have at least the same advantage.

October 25, 2010 - 4:35pm

I initially made the same mistake for my business's website, looking for a generic search term domain name (lcdcabinet.com). I picked the domain name because the term was fairly closely related to my product (remote controlled flat screen TV cabinets), and it had the most search traffic of any available domain names. I have since changed my mode of thinking to building a brand (rveel.com) instead. I decided that the small boost in traffic due to a specific search term also limited the scope of my business. I'm going to spend my time and effort on building my brand and improving my product line instead (including liquor cabinets and more, not just cabinets for LCD TV's). I realized that I had spent so much effort on trying to optimize my website for the search engines that it compromised the quality and experience of the website.

October 26, 2010 - 3:44pm

I have a couple points:

1. You're only considering the impact of exact match domains on brands. You aren't taking into consideration spammy product sites that use exact match domains to rank very quickly for one particular phrase or product name.

It's very easy to build a thin affiliate site for a product and get it to rank quickly when you use an exact match domain and build a few backlinks (a couple dozen relevant blog comments alone will often to the trick).

2. In a natural link profile, a large percentage of inbound links to the homepage will have anchor text that matches the name of the domain. This is hugely beneficial when it comes to ranking an exact match domain for a particular product. This is why:

When you have an exact match domain, the anchor text on virtually all inbound links can match your targeted keyword phrase without setting off any filters. Again, this is a big thing when it comes to affiliate sites that aim to sell one product and one product only.

3. With the above in mind, I would argue that exact match domains are too powerful when it comes to building thin affiliate sites. But I'm not complaining...

October 26, 2010 - 9:11pm

1.) I am not only considering the impact of domain names on brand. I am highlighting how brands can extend and extend and extend ... and how they offer more flexibility than being locked in.

The idea of creating a thin affiliate site for a product on an EMD ... for a lot of products the EMD is not even needed ... truth is a lot of products are only targeted by internal pages on larger sites, so targeting them with the homepage of *any* website would create a big strategic advantage for the person targeting them on the homepage.

2.) I have had sites that didn't rank for 3 or 6 months because I was too aggressive with the anchor text on an EMD :D

Sure the filter / limit may be higher, but in many cases there certainly still is one.

3.) They are a useful tool certainly ... but I think you are right in stating that they are generally a better tool on thinner & smaller low cost sites than on sites where you planned on pouring in tons of additional resources.

alison baker
October 26, 2010 - 4:51pm

This was a good post. I agree with the statement “when you pick an exact match domain it is mainly only helping you wit that 1 main keyword that you chose”. I work with Google AdWords, specifically managing clients PPC campaigns and in a perfect world I would be able to target every possible variation of a word that a user might enter to find a specific clients product. But like this article states, 1) this is “essentially impossible” and 2) clients are often limited by their monthly budgets. If money was not an issue, clients could have thousands of variations of their keywords, making their ads essentially appear millions of times in a given month. The problem, however, is that the more times a client’s ad appears in Google, the more times searchers have the opportunity to click on that client’s ad and the higher the client’s monthly costs become.

Due to limits of monthly budgets, clients are often restricted to only using exact match keywords in order to keep their ad from appearing a million times a month. As stated “exact match only gives you that bonus on exact match.” This enables clients to have their monthly budget of say $500, last throughout the entire month.

Do you have recommendations of how to turn a generic keyword into a brand, in order to properly target exact match keywords?

October 26, 2010 - 9:07pm

The question on branding a generic keyword is something one can write about for hours. Unfortunately I don't have hours to do it :D

One example I can give would be this site...when it was first selling an ebook I pushed hard on the concept of being current. And then every time I made a major update to existing customers for free we would get more mentions about the updates and whatnot. So in this way I emphasized how we were different than the core concept of the keyword, how the other solutions were flawed, and why people should chose us.

Blogging frequently & adding other things (like tools, etc.) to the site that people can talk about ultimately created a level of awareness, from which we took the generic keyword and turned it into a brand.

Having an oversized & overstated logo was likely powerful too (we were early on that trend), but going forward the trend is headed in the other direction & we are going to make our logo smaller in the next version of our website design.

Don Amodeo
October 31, 2010 - 2:42pm

Oh come on Aaron, we know you stole your overstated logo and site design from IraqiDinar.org ;)

October 31, 2010 - 7:49pm

That will be one of the good deals with the future site design upgrades ... we won't have the same looking design as the many SEO companies & other companies that ripped off this one. ;)

But then, since our new design will look nicer, we will probably have many people rip it off too.

Same thing happens in our other verticals as well. No real way to stop it. :(

At least I can take comfort in knowing we are investing into making the web more beautiful. :D

October 26, 2010 - 5:55pm

You might say, if exact match domains bring in enough revenue to create profit after considering the domain costs, the time and energy required for upkeep and creation, and any additional expenses there might be, then they are worth doing. Whether or not there is more money to be made with a single, "focused" domain probably rests on the targeted keywords, and the market they are in.

October 26, 2010 - 8:58pm

Yeah I am not trying to say that domain names have no value (as I still try to buy good ones where I think they can help), but I just don't feel that they are a big nuisance to Google or searchers outside of brand arbitrage.

October 27, 2010 - 2:08am

What this all boils down to is that exact match domains, like SEO in general, is just another tactic that can be used within your marketing mix to be successful.

When entering or even expanding into new markets, however, it's wise to gobble up as many exact match domains as you can. In most markets those with the most prime real estate win.

houston webdesign
October 27, 2010 - 3:10pm

Yes,I agree to you that exact match domains do not matter a lot.

Although you might be having best keyword placed in your domain it will not make any traffic change to a brand that is having that keyword.

October 28, 2010 - 2:11pm

If you agree with the point of this post then why would you set up your username as "houston webdesign"? That makes no sense. At all.

October 27, 2010 - 11:01pm

This Australian (search footprint) company owns hundreds of exact match domains and are charging local small businesses $1200AU per year to have their phone number on these sites. I'd like to here other opinions on this one.

October 28, 2010 - 2:08pm

Did you see the new Google local search result layout unleashed today? Ouch for that business model ;)

October 28, 2010 - 10:24pm

As you say Aaron, this could be the end to that business model.

October 29, 2010 - 5:10am

Or the end of some versions of it at least.

Sometimes gravity/momentum keeps existing payments flowing for years...but a bunch of sites certainly did get whacked.

October 28, 2010 - 9:11am

It was refreshing to read your post, especially while reading at the same time one in favour of exact match domains:

I agree with you when you say that EMD are restrictive and only perform very well for the keyword they match to. What about all the rest of the internet traffic? Would you rather build a brand to capture all this or keep adding spammy-looking EMD to your protfolio? Most of the best performing sites on the internet all have a name that gives no clue to what they offer: Google, Amazon, just to pick up on what you said.
You mention that you would have changed your domain name if you had a choice because you branched out. Well, Pizza Hut doesn't sell just pizzas!
EMD are very popular at the moment for the ease with which they rank but let's not fall for that and instead see the forest for the trees.

October 28, 2010 - 12:20pm

Aaron, your experience is very similar to many. We start a website with a business model of x. But after a few yours we see y is a great opportunity and expand into y. We can't abandon x, because we invested to much money in it. But if we did not do x, we would never have seen the value of y.
What I think you are saying is don't have the domain name so identified with x that when you expand into y it does not fit. I think that is good advice, but I am not sure how to apply it.
So if I am determined to be an SEO and I pick Googlesearch.com and 2 years later I see that website conversion is a much better fit for me, how did that brand help me in the switch?

October 28, 2010 - 2:07pm

Well one solution might be to start off being quite literal to build up any initial cashflow. Then when you start to become quite profitable use that cash to invest in other projects & build at least 1 brand that can be fluid / expand without looking weird.

October 28, 2010 - 5:42pm

I used to be a big believer in keywords in domain names but now I'm working on a project for which there really is no keyword that "gets it all;" so I picked a neologism which would totally fit in on TechCrunch and focused on a brand-building approach.

I've had very good luck with strong keywords in domain names, but I've also seen that other people do very well without them.

Now, I think it's fair to plan your SEO in phases. In thelong term I like to be "in orbit" with organic links. If you've got a good viral loop going, you can devastate your competitors -- you can build your rank while you sleep. But to get there, you need some kind of advantage, and certainly keywords in your domain name can help you get off the ground. In my case, I'm planning to add more rocket fuel to make up for having weaker keywords.

Edwin Hayward
October 29, 2010 - 11:24am

I think you're taking too much of an affiliate marketer view of exact match domains.

Imagine a business - a real-world business - that offers XYZ service, where "XYZ" is something very specific and unambiguous.

Whenever they introduce themselves to new clients, they always explain "we're in the XYZ business" or "we offer XYZ" and the text on their website, marketing collateral and elsewhere reflects this.

Now consider that this business has competitors. Likely hundreds of them, unless it's in a super-small niche.

And all of those competitors are also saying "We're in the XYZ business" because, well, that is THE way to describe what they're offering.

At that point, the company that owns XYZ.com or XYZ.appropriatecctld has a MASSIVE advantage.

After all, their URL matches what they do, so whenever somebody sees the URL they already know what service they can expect to find there. There's no need to start the marketing dialogue with "We're coined-brand-name, and we offer XYZ".

Suddenly, they've slashed their marketing budget, as they're piggybacking on the "train of thought" of their new and existing customers, who are looking for a company that offers "XYZ".

It's also important never to lose sight of the fact that a URL is not just useful online. It's also going to show up in TV and radio ads, newspaper and magazine ads, press releases, news stories, on invoices and packing slips, on the side of vans and fleet vehicles, on billboards and posters, and in potentially hundreds of other distinct types of location.

In every single instance, it will be easier for a new customer (who's got the idea of needing XYZ in the back of their mind) to remember XYZ.com/XYZ.cctld than ANY other conceivable URL!

Basically, you're dropping the 7 repetitions that are typically needed to make a marketing message sink in down to 1...

By securing XYZ.com/XYZ.cctld, a company in the business of supplying XYZ goes from being just another company in their niche to being THE company in that niche. Everyone else is suddenly playing catch-up.

All this before you even start looking at the SEO and PPC benefits of owning an exact-match domain for the highest-trafficked term in your market niche. Sites are easier to SEO, and it's been proven that searchers are more likely to click on a PPC ad if its URL matches their search (since the URL then gets bolded, making that ad stand out vs all other ads, and since it also "matches their intent" better)

October 29, 2010 - 2:36pm

Hi Edwin
That is a great post & 100% true. Demand is created by how people use language in marketing, as they are telling people what to search for. :)

The tricky part is going broad enough off the start that you still have business flexibility. For our current site SEO.com would have been better than SEOBook.com, but then of course it wasn't available for $8 back then and I was poor. :D

However, I think television ads (& most other offline ads) will need to get much more relevant & targeted before the EMD would have a chance to be an advantage over brands in most categories. About the only "domain as brand" TV ads I have ever seen were creditcards.com & freecreditreport.com. Whereas I can't count how many ads I have seen from Monster.com, Bing.com, Expedia.com, etc.

Edwin Hayward
October 29, 2010 - 3:41pm

Actually, Aaron, it's offline that EMDs will bring some of the best returns.

After all, there are so many situations in which a company only has a few seconds to make an impression that lasts long enough for the customer to take some action.

For example, if you drive past a van with a URL on it, you might notice that URL for 2-3 seconds tops. So as the owner of the van (and the company whose product/service it's advertising) you'd better be 100% sure that what you're promoting "sticks" in those 2-3 seconds of grudging half-attention you're going to get from passing motorists.

In that situation there's quite literally no time for game playing. "We're Blah and Otherblah. We offer tax preparation services. Visit blahandotherblah.com" - you've lost the reader before they've even finished reading, since they're focused on driving.

Contrast that with "TaxPreparation.com" in big, friendly letters.

If the reader needed their taxes prepared, they'll know where to go when they get home in the evening and finally find the time to actually sit at their browser. All they have to do is follow their existing train of thought - there's nothing beyond that to remember. In other words, there's zero friction between the "need" (in this case tax preparation) and the destination (taxpreparation.com)

Or what about tradeshows? Scan down the list of exhibitors at an average conference or tradeshow - especially a b2b/specialist show - and you will likely have literally NO idea at all what each company does. So many obscure names, none of which give a clue to the service being offered. And most tradeshow sites I've seen only list the company name and URL, and require a click to see the actual description.

So imagine again that the URL is "TaxPreparation.com". Job done. You don't even have to see the description to know that's a company that may be of interest to you.

Don't focus on the "short head" of super-high-value one word EMDs. There's a very valuable and very important "long tail" of 2, 3- and sometimes even more word domains, each of which is the PERFECT MATCH for a very specific product, service or industry.

And for a company who offers exactly that product or service as their sole or core line of business, there can be few moves that are more potentially rewarding than securing THE URL for their niche.

October 29, 2010 - 4:03pm

I get what you are saying. But has there ever been a single cult brand that was like "pizza.com"? Whereas in Berkeley there are raving fans for "Joe's Pizza."

I think perhaps the best strategy for many fields might be a hybrid approach: unique business name & generic domain name ... but I do think there are a lot of variables in play going forward.

At some point the separation between online and offline blurs (Google Android, Google TV, etc.) and as that happens, if people navigate primarily by search suggestions, I think being unique/remarkable/recommendation-worthy is more important than being easier to locate on a more common / more generic name ... because ultimately the businesses which are best received will end up having the best lifetime customer values and search will end up recommending them most frequently as well.

Ready for round #3...think we are at maybe a draw :D

I should also add that I buy some good domain names too...I just don't see them as being "so over-valued" the way some other SEO folks do. The point of the above blog post was not that they have no value or too much value, but the perception that they were over-valued is IMHO not entirely accurate.

Edwin Hayward
October 29, 2010 - 4:22pm

What about the 99.9% of businesses that aren't cult brands AND that have no aspiration - or prospect - to become cult brands?

Of course you don't need a generic domain name to build a great brand - great brands have been built long before the Internet was invented, and more will go on being built pretty much forever.

But it's not about the out-and-out winners, it's about everyone else.

For every "household name" company, there are probably quite literally thousands of companies that only their EXISTING customers have heard of.

And in many fields, there are hundreds of seemingly interchangeable companies, none of which are either A) easily distinguishable or B) of themselves particularly memorable

Beyond a certain size and, for want of a better way of putting it, "fame" of a company, there will be fewer benefits to be gained from a generic EMD. If 9 out of 10 consumers know your product already, you don't have to worry about teaching them how to "find you". But the odds are very good that you got into that position by expending tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars on "branding" - a luxury which most companies - and just about all purely B2B businesses - don't have.

Anyway, there's no "one right answer" in any of this - I'm just trying to ensure that the wider uses and benefits of an EMD don't get lost on the cutting room floor when viewed through the relatively narrow prism of online marketing.

October 29, 2010 - 4:53pm

Great comment Edwin.

I totally agree with you that if you are in fields that don't change much and/or are fairly commoditized where companies are simply interchangeable then certainly being an EMD is a great idea.

The only flip point I would make is that in some industries that are rapidly changing & where the market for lemons effect dominates (say the SEO industry) then a person who starts what they think will be just another site may not realize that they would/could/will eventually outgrow their domain name. I had no intent of building up the position I have ... I mean some of it was intentional, but just as large of a piece was down to a combination of luck and timing. :D

October 29, 2010 - 4:34pm

Fantastic insight on EMDs. Our business decided to go with a brand name as opposed to a keyword rich domain. The brand name has taken some time to build up and is going to take a lot more, but going this route has provided us with the flexibility to expand our business without being pigeon-holed by our domain name. Many people perceive a company by their domain name, as shallow as that sounds, so it was important to us to have something malleable, catchy and memorable.

EMDs are great for getting pages / sites ranked. However, in my opinion, a really strong brand name (i.e. Google, Apple, Expedia) is far more valuable in the long term. I can't think of any companies / brands that went with a keyword domain that have had the same effect on consumers like a Google or Apple. I feel like there is some perception that keyword domains like freecreditreport.com are more spammy / sales related as well - at least for me.

It will be interesting to see how companies continue to brand themselves online as relevant keyword domains become more scarce. I think we are all trying to create the next "Google", not the next "searchengine.com"

October 29, 2010 - 5:02pm

I'm interested to hear further discussion on EMD's and local, niche business strategy. I'm in agreement about branding the business first and foremost, and for outreach beyond local boundaries, that these things trump an EMD strategy. I still however see a great value to EMD's in the local search space. If I'm a local mechanic, and can buy up veniceautomechanic.com and with a little SEO work jump to the top for that term, and extending that out, buy up some related domains, set up some simple websites with a little content on them, this seems a fairly quick and painless way to boost visibility and get clicks. Depends on the project, and all projects are going to have their own nuances, but any thoughts/experience to back up/refute this strategy?

October 29, 2010 - 5:21pm

Local search is more primitive today than global search. In the years to come Google will bake in additional elements into the relevancy algorithms on that front and/or put more weight on current data points.

Right now it seems that the domain name is still a good tool, but in time brand awareness, brand searches, mentions on social sites, consumer reviews, etc. could all get mixed into the equation more.

Google just changed the format of their local results...and that hints that there is "much more to come" on that front.

October 29, 2010 - 7:53pm

I really enjoyed this blog post, thanks Aaron for breaking this down for us. I feel like EMD's can still act as a category for a business website. "I understand what you are saying about how an EMD will really only help you with that exact phrase" however some exact phrases are someones entire business and will be their business for life, living through the changes in economy and any environmental impact which may occur. So EMD's have there place on the web for certain business models. A prime example of the business model I am referring to is the real estate industry for small town Realtors who only service one city, township, or neighborhood. This said Realtor may specialize in single-family homes, condos, or even land which can all be categorized under the phrase "real estate" so starting up your business website with "cityrealestate.com" would work for this business model.

I complete agree with the power of building a brand on and offline and how to successfully optimize that brand on the web. That being said it's vitally important to understand the impact a EMD will have on someone's business online and make a sound decision or recommendation from there. Fully grasping your client's or personal brand and goals is obviously step one then you should be able to choose a domain name which will work for you both long term and short term needs. If you are going to be a local business for life and not looking to grow nationally or globally, than an exact phrase match domain which fits in an overall industry category could work for you.

It's also important to keep in mind that your domain name won't make or break your SEO rankings nor your PPC ad placement. You need a well rounded marketing strategy when you launch your business website and that needs to involve, a site which is user-friendly, helpful to your target market, has quality content, proper title tags and meta data, designed to appeal to the eye, but coded for the search engines.

November 20, 2010 - 4:50am

I got to this post after reading Aaron's 11/18 post about exact match domains. I commented there about a recent experience I had with an exact match domain I owned taking over top position for a principle keyword vs. another site that I own that is much better on most counts but targets the same primary keyword phrase. When the non-EMD site I own dropped from the top spot I was really distressed and thought it was going to kill sales. However, fortunately, we apparently did a decent job of building a brand and the drop did not hurt us nearly as much as I had feared. (In fact, knock on wood, our sales are up significantly compared to the previous year during the same period when we held the top spot.) This is due, in large part, because our traffic from sources other than organic search for our principle keyword has become an increasingly larger percentage of our overall traffic. For example, our direct traffic has increased 30% over the last 1.5 years.

The general problem with exact match domains and making the foundation of your business the organic traffic that you get from specific keywords is that you are entirely at the mercy of G's algo. A strong brand transcends the search engines, has more staying power, is more flexible, and affords the business more control over its destiny.

November 20, 2010 - 7:43am

Great comment. :)

January 13, 2011 - 7:04am

I have trouble understanding a lot of the concerns about EMDs in regards to branding or a lack of forward flexibility when it comes to expansion. Take online retailers like CSNStores.com, Hayneedle.com, ATGStores.com, IVGStores.com, CymaxStores.com and ClickToShopLLC.com - all of which utilize a strategy of buying up EMDs whenever possible or adding a prefix or suffix to launch a category specific store. Some of these retailers sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of product annually.

Guess what bakersracks.com sells? Is the content relevant to those searching for a bakers rack? Yes. Does the site rank well in G? Yes.

For the other stores that could not secure the EMD, many of them still rank very well -
allbakersracks.com - CSN Stores
bakersrackshack.com - IVG Stores
bakersrackscollection.com - Cymax Stores

These retailers still make a case for keyword specific domain names and whenever possible EMDs.

January 13, 2011 - 7:56am

I have trouble understanding a lot of the concerns about EMDs in regards to branding or a lack of forward flexibility when it comes to expansion.

If a person sells teas then teas.com will work. But when people operate in markets where technology is rapidly changing then it becomes far easier for a once brilliant EMD to become an irrelevant relic.

Someone at some point may have thought SearchEngineSubmission.com was a killer domain name, but as the search engines (and thus SEO business models) change, so do the ideal names to use. The same thing happens where language forms around standards. Blu-ray vs HD-DVD comes to mind as an example (just like Betamax vs VHS).

March 6, 2011 - 6:46pm

My guess is that where EMDs are effective now for many of the reasons listed on this page - Google Local and G's organic search in time will be updated to ONLY show brands. Can an EMD also be a brand? Absolutely. Can an EMD not be a brand and be generating high levels of monthly revenue and profit in 2011? Absolutely. However the later will in my prediction will have (as Aaron has said) cinder blocks coming out of their pants. So of course aggressive and skilled SEOs can make money with EMDs just as brands can but for a long term plan I would recommend high quality, life enhancing products, information and services. This to me truly is the key to lasting long term success - which cannot be shaken by a search engine no matter how mighty.

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