Do a little research on exact match domains (EMD)—also called keyword domains—and you’ll soon notice a lot of conflicting opinions. Some SEO bloggers insist they’re on their way out; others say they’re still important for top SERP rankings.
If you’re unfamiliar with exact match domains, or EMD, as we’ll call them for convenience here, let’s define:
An EMD uses a keyword (or keywords) as the root domain. A couple of examples are History.com (owned by The History Channel) and RentalCar.com (owned by Enterprise Rent-a-Car). Essentially, EMDs make their product or service an instantly recognizable part of their domain. Because a customer will already be searching for rental cars, they’re likely to pull up Enterprise’s site first.
Also, the fact that these domain names get snatched up so quickly means they are valuable. After all, if the terms “rental car” are taken in a domain name, other rental car companies can no longer access that exact match domain name. “Value” then translates into “expensive.” The few EMDs that exist these days are pricey commodities indeed.
Another perk of EMDs is their instant recognition and authority (users start to see them as preeminent in a given industry).
A decade ago it was easier to acquire exact match domains. This is no longer the case, so companies who want a similar benefit now try for partial match domains (PMDs). An example is a Malaysia rubber company called Nambee. Their partial match domain name is NambeeRubber, combining their brand with a keyword.
So, why the conflicting opinions over EMDs and PDMs? In a phrase: It’s about a 2012 Google update.
In the years before said algorithm update, Google recognized how many companies were buying EMDs just for the rankings but not following through with helpful content on their websites. Companies who couldn’t afford EMDs couldn’t compete. So Google evened the playing field in October 2012.
EMDs Since the 2012 Google Update
The main effect of Google’s update on EMDs and PMDs was a crackdown on inadequate or spammy content. EMDs who stuffed their domain with keywords were hit hard, especially if they didn’t offer any value beyond the keywords.
The update also allowed high-value domains who used branded URLs or even PMDs to be more competitive online.
In Moz’s 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors list, the ranking power of EMDs and PMDs is still “relatively high.” However, the overall percentage appears to be going down as search engines find more intuitive ways to interpret web content. For now, quality EMDs and PMDs are still doing well, but companies who own them must be vigilant in providing valuable content to keep up with sites who already do that well.
Pros and Cons
If you are considering an EMD purchase, you need to weigh the costs and benefits. Here’s a short list of pros and cons to help you decide:
- You can kick a startup company into high gear and begin to build your site traffic quickly.
- If your business product or service requires low-use keywords, an EMD makes sense.
- You can quickly target local traffic with an EMD or PMD.
- Targeting longtail traffic is much easier.
- Keywords become your brand name.
- Your EMD can create brand confusion later as similar businesses (and names) crop up.
- Branding becomes generic.
- You may become a target for competitors and trolls.
- Social media profiles are more difficult to claim than with a brand URL.
- EMDs are expensive and may not be in your budget.
- If you’re a general retailer, your EMD may not fully define your product or service.
- New SEO trends may make EMDs less relevant in coming days.
Regarding the point about defining your products and services, remember: a branded URL may be just the thing for you if your products are so varied or your reach is so wide that an EMD wouldn’t help.
If you have an EMD or PMD, don’t automatically assume you’re following a bad trend. Just be careful to build valuable content and focus less on optimization (you don’t want your site to be over-optimized and pay the price with lower Google rankings).
If you don’t have an EMD, don’t worry. Continue to follow appropriate optimization guidelines and give each page an obvious focus. Keep the content applicable and fresh, pay attention to SEO trends and Google updates, and you should be well on your way to better rankings.
At this point, EMDs are still performing pretty well. If you add valuable content that fits your customers’ needs, you’ll probably continue to see great rankings in the SERPS. More importantly, you’ll help potential customers see your value.