Should You Buy An Exact Match Domain Name?

Nov 19th

According to Matt Cutts, speaking at a recent PubCon, Google will be looking at why exact domain matches rank so well. For example, if you have a site at blue-widgets.com it may rank a bit too well for the keyword phrase [blue widgets].

Curious.

Don't Google know? ;)

More likely, Matt would not make a concrete statement, one way or the other. "Yes, exact Match domains rank better!", is not something Matt is likely to say.

Secondly, the implication is that exact match domains are a problem.

Why Use Exact Match Domain Names

Exact match domains names, as the name suggests, are domain names that match the search keyword term. i.e. Hotels.com, shoes.net, planetickets.org etc.

Is it a good idea to adopt this strategy for SEO? Ask ten different SEOs and you'll likely get ten different answers.

On the plus side, an exact match may help you target one, specific keyword phrase. Your link text and domain name match up naturally. The domain name will likely be highlighted in Google's search results, thus giving the listing more visibility. There may be ranking advantages, depending on who you ask.

On the negative side, an exact match only "helps" you target one keyword. It may be too generic for wider applications, such as brand building. Exact match domains may be over-hyped, and not worth a premium. There are, after all, many domains ranking #1 that aren't exact match, so it is debatable how much SEO advantage they actually provide, particularly as Google keeps pushing brand.

Is There A Problem With Exact Match Domains?

So why would Matt imply exact match domain names might be a problem?

It is understandable that some in the SEO community - perhaps an SEO working on client sites, or those who don't own any exact match domains and see others ranking above them - would have a vested interest in making a noise about the competition. If webmasters make enough noise about it, then Matt Cutts may feel a need to respond.

The supposed ranking power of exact match is probably a red herring. The problem Google may be hinting at is that exact match may be more likely to be involved with spam, thin affiliate, or other low value content than other types of domains. In other words, it becomes a quality signal.

If that is the case - and I'm not saying it is - then that may be the reason Google would look closer at exact match domains, not the fact that a domain matching a keyword is somehow evil.

Because it isn't.

There is nothing wrong with owning an exact match domain.

Should You Buy Exact Match Domain Names?

Aaron covered this question in an earlier post, Why Exact Match Domains Aren't As Important As Many SEO's Believe.

In summary, it depends.

It comes down to business fundamentals. If you're trying to build a unique brand, and resulting keyword stream, then an exact match domain name will be a hindrance rather than a help. You'll forever be competing with generic search traffic. Keyword domains names aren't particularly memorable.

The premium that an exact-match domain name commands, when sold on the after-market, may not be worth it. You don't need an exact-match domain name to rank well, so the money may be better spent getting a new $10 domain name to rank. Or, alternatively, you could buy an existing site that already ranks well for your keyword, and others, for similar money as an inflated exact match domain.

Finally, if you're competing with a clear market leader, then generic isn't going to help you much. i.e. owning searchengine.com isn't going to make Google lose any sleep. You may also be over-looking an opportunity to differentiate your offering against the market leader in terms of brand. Think Blekko vs searchengine.com.

Published: November 19, 2010

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Comments

November 19, 2010 - 9:05pm

I totally agree with you Aaron, but there was something you said toward the end that really struck me as odd. You said: "Keyword domain names aren't particularly memorable." Why do you think that “generic” domains are not easy to remember, these are the [exact] keyword terms that people query every day. When someone openly shares a generic URL it is easy to understand and it is relevant to its industry. HomeInsurance.com is a great example of this because it is simple and to the point. Plus, the marketing "mavens" out there enjoy sharing their experience about a website that they value most, the last thing they want is to share and then misguide a friend because the URL was to hard to remember or spell correctly.

Nonetheless, generic domains are brilliant; it's the KISS of our time, and most of all its profitable all around.

November 20, 2010 - 3:40am

I do understand this, I just never looked at it this way. Instead of using the exact name of your blog once you actually buy a domain, you should focus on creating a brand name, then purchasing multiple domains, to reach a larger audience?

November 20, 2010 - 3:44am

It seems to me that using a name like: HomeInsurance.com is too generic as a 'Domain Name'. As a 'Keyword', it's perfect. If you wanted to direct traffic to your 'HomeInsurance.com' company, you would want a name that doesn't have too much competition for that 'Keyword' search. How are they going to find your company? In a list of high ranked keywords, if you don't have a distinguishable domain name, that points to the keyword. Come up with the brand name, and implement the keyword, you stand out.

November 20, 2010 - 4:03am

This was a timely post for me because I have been amazed at the preference G seems to give to exact match domains. I have two sites that both sell the same products and target the same keywords. One is an exact match for the primary keyword and the other is not. the exact match is about 1.5 years newer and I have dedicated only about 15% of my time working on the site both in terms of content, link building, usability, design, etc, etc. despite all of this it recently overtook the older site that I spent most of my time on. However, I have not done anything with the exact match domain site that is at all risky in terms of SEO. So this makes me think that the combination of the exact match and the super-clean profile might be making the difference. On the other hand, in April I bought an exact match domain that competes with the largest company in a multi billion per year industry, did basically nothing with it other then some very basic SEO stuff and it now ranks #1 above several sites that are far superior both in terms of overall quality and SEO fundamental SEO metrics.

On the one hand its really nice when you own the exact match domain and get VIP treatment from G for doing absolutely nothing other than having the luck or foresight to purchase the exact match domain for a high value keyword phrase. On the other hand it is totally frustrating when you are getting beat out by low quality crap sites for no apparent reason other than the fact that the dominate site has an exact match domain. If G addressed this and stop giving such a strong preference to exact match domains I have 2 or 3 sites that would drop like stones but these sites don't deserve the position they have and I think the overall quality of the web would improve.

It would certainly level the playing field and reward effort and quality rather than those with dumb luck or the war chests required to purchase exact match domains for high value keyword phrases. Maybe G has some interest in rewarding the type of firms who, on average, own the exact match domains for high volume and profitable keywords.

At the end of the day I guess I'd prefer to have the chance to compete on an even playing field and not be rewarded on a few sites for which I happen to own the exact match domain.

November 20, 2010 - 7:57am

I think perhaps Google wants to reward those with war chests & make the upstart work harder and harder.

This can be seen in their "pro brand" bias & how they keep pushing away from affiliates and trying to promote big brands.

November 20, 2010 - 5:44am

Hey Aaron,

What do you think about picking an exact match domain that is the theme of your website?

There is no doubt that an exact match domain gives that term extra juice. What @filkertus says above is right on target.

Don't you think that if the domain is the site's theme it creates relavancy for all of the down stream keywords too?

If so, that's a big plus.

November 20, 2010 - 5:49am

I'm not being a critic of using multiple domains for the same product line, I'm just curious as to where G stands on the subject.

A while back Matt Cutts said they were going to move on Domain Spam which I took to mean businesses using multiple domains to promote the same product line.

Anyone heard anything?

Is it safe for me to use this tactic or am I playing G Roulette if I do?

November 20, 2010 - 7:48am

If you look at the works of companies like BankRate (bankrate.com, interest.com, bankaholic.com, creditcardsguide.com, creditcardsearchengine.net, creditcards.com, regional bankrate names, their nationwide card services affiliate network, etc.) it would appear they are doing just fine. :D

One could do a similar analysis over the networks from companies like Quinstreet, Amazon.com, or Expedia. All are doing just fine.

I am not sure how Google justifies going after any of the smaller players when the big companies keep acquiring marketshare by buying out competitors.

November 20, 2010 - 8:48pm

Part of the problem is that short, memorable, brand-able domain names are not exactly plentiful these days either. I've spent over $1K for a good brand domain, and it didn't even have much keyword relevance.

If you really want a good domain, there's a very good chance you're going to have to pay for it, EMD or not.

I think Google is paying more attention to this right now simply because there's been an explosion in EMDs over the last year or so, as one of the most popular current affiliate tactics is to buy long-tail EMDs (by the hundreds) and then toss up some automated content and affiliate links (and/or adsense).

I have little doubt that G will devalue the "thin affiliates" eventually, but I do hope content rich sites on EMDs don't get burned with the chaff (I own some of those! ^_^).

November 22, 2010 - 5:25pm

cuban cigars. No exact match domain name Google front page.
No. 1 ranking on google is topcubans.com

electric cars.com who are they? Their ranked no 6. Google.
No. 1 ranking on google is teslamotors.com

real estate.com who are they? Their ranked no 2. Google.
No. 1 ranking on Google is realtor.com

running shoes.com who are they? Ranked no 2 Google
No.1 ranking on google is roadrunnersports.com

natural healing. No exact match domain name Google front page.
No. 1 ranking on google is naturalhealingtoday.com

Anyway....My point is. None of these exact matches are where they are because of their domain names. Ranked or not ranked.

These no.1 ranking is because of their SEO work. And obviously exact match does not guarantee top ranking.

And it's obvious that the exact match domain names here are not being held down by having exact name matches.

So...why are the number ones ranked no. 1? Good SEO work and a little Good fortune.

If you can buy an exact name domain for a reasonable price, especially if it has some age behind it and it is currently ranking in the top 30 or so. Buy it!. Use it! And you will be well on your way to the front page with a little SEO hard work and time.

JohnRobbins Techndu

December 2, 2010 - 7:27am

- I have say around 7-10 sites with different content on them targeting different keywords
- I hold about 140 domains
- If the content is twisted a bit and made live on remaining 140 domains, linking back to my main site will if affect any rankings? Can the result be predicted?

Have Google searched for this but am not able to get a perfect answer.

Thanks

J Purohit

January 25, 2011 - 6:52pm

You do what is necessary to make it work. We all know that if you (1) remain Google compliant; (2) provide good content; (3) provide constantly added fresh germaine content; (4) accumulate valid text back links; (5) stay on top of broken links; (6) internally have good link flow; (7) link outbound selectively with Do Follow and No Do Follow links where appropriate (based upon the targets deserving of such recognition); (8) keep it "pretty and pleasing to the eye" then you will do well. So...if the question is which of two sites that have these 8 factors would perform "better" if one was an exact match and one was not, the answer is clearly an exact match.

The problem is money. It is hard for some persons/companies to have exact match domains that have all the right ingredients AND cover ALL the exact match keyword search terms and that is the factor, or decision, to be made by a person/company when defining what their online presence is going to be. If money is no concern, then an army of "ingredient filled" exact match domains with a general branding site is the best approach to achieve online domination for your relevant keyword search terms.

Thus, with all due respect to Mr. Cutts and all other SEO pundits, it comes to the almighty Euro on whether exact match domains are the "best" choice for an online presence.

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