In the competitive world of online search, SEO practitioners are always looking for advantages to beat their rivals and rank at the top of the elusive Google search results.
Whilst adding content and acquiring good links has long been a successful method, in the early days of SEO and even recently, using exact match domains was a sure thing to get you to page 1.
What is an exact match domain?
This is where your domain name is an exact match of the keyword you are trying to target e.g.
Dating back even 10 years ago, you simply needed to purchase the domain (if it was available), add some content, sign up to directories and presto, you would eventually reach page 1.
With this practice so popular, domain names became incredibly valuable and many entrepreneurs looking for a quick buck purchased exact match domains, hoping to flip them for a higher price at a later point.
To this day, you will find tech entrepreneurs sitting on a number of domains hoping to sell them for a good price.
This has created a market of domain selling and the desire of entrepreneurs to hold out for big sums has meant the majority of good names are not even in use, including things like food.com, cars.com and loans.com
The inventor of Ring.com notoriously spent $1 million and eventually lost his house when purchasing the prized domain.
So is it good to use exact match domains for SEO?
Yes, and no.
In 2012, Google updated their algorithm to stop giving too much advantage to exact match domains.
Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) September 28, 2012
Since then, exact matches have slowly started to disappear from page 1 of the SERPs and Google state they currently hold only 0.6% of the first page results.
In 2019, SEO is far more competitive and Google is using algorithm updates to crack down on poor practices and quick techniques trying to game the system.
For the last few years, Googlers and SEO guru Neil Patel have mentioned the desire of ranking brands over exact matches, and whilst SEO traffic is good, they want to recommend brands that also generate traffic through all online sources including referral, email, social, direct and paid.
Given that there are very few brands that have an exact match domain, Google is not giving as much weighting to these domains as they once did.
In some cases, it can have a reverse effect and you could be worse off using an exact match domain.
This is because your meta-titles and descriptions may have too many keywords if they also include the name of the domain.
Above all, link building becomes tricky, because you can be penalised for having too many links with exact matches (car insurance and credit cards) and if this is your brand name too – you will struggle to find the right balance of anchor text.
Using a partial match domain is safer
However, exact matches can be good because your domain still counts for something and having at least one keyword is useful – and you can get extra weighting because you have the one good word and this will help you rank for long-tail keyword variations.
On a b2b level, instead of digitalmarketingagency.com, you could try take your brand name and add ‘digital’ or ‘agency’ somewhere in the domain name. Examples could be ‘MikeDigital.com’ or ‘MikeAgency.com.’
Another example rather than trying to purchase and optimise paydayloansforbadcredit.com, you could simplify to paydaybadcredit.co.uk. This is not an exact match, since people are not actively looking for that term, but it still tells the story that you are interested in payday and bad credit – which combined has over 400,000 monthly searches on Google in the UK.
You could be subtle and select a word that relates to your business, without being a search term such as Match.com, Ring.com and Fetch.co.uk.
Some industries are riskier than others
If the industry is not competitive, you are more likely to win with an exact match domain. This could be providing services in your area e.g. flowers-in-shoreditch.com or bakery-in-camden.com. There are only going to be a handful of competitors and Google does not penalise local businesses in the same way it does for competitive industries such as finance, hosting and casinos.
It is common knowledge that Google has different algorithms depending on the industry – and some are more lenient than others.
Type in ‘online loans’ and there are no sites on page 1 with ‘loans’ in their domain name.
Type in ‘online casinos’ and there are 5 sites on page 1 with ‘casinos’ in their domain name.
With this in mind, if you are considering exact match domains, you need to look at an industry level and consider the trend and pattern of successful competitors and then select your strategy accordingly.
- Exact match domains can be very risky
- Partial match domains can be useful
- Using exact match for local listings and less competitive industries can be good
- Using exact matches will depend on the industry, always research before