Goodbye Exact Match Domains, Hello Brandable Websites
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The SEO industry is constantly changing, and rapidly. Google is constantly tweaking their algorithms and new technologies are constantly entering the market. Therefore, if you want to continue to rank websites (and particularly smaller niche sites), you need to keep up with the changes!
For example, a few years ago, I would only build a website if the exact match domain was available. There was an extra “boost” for having the exact match .com, .net, or .org for your chosen keyword. So if I was trying to rank for “Best Surfboards”, I would want to own BestSurfboards.com or .net or .org.
As time passed, (perhaps around 2010?) I was finding lots of great keywords, but sometimes the exact match domain wasn't available. But rather than pass on so many great keywords, I started purchases partial match domains. (Like BestSurfboardsHub.com or BestSurfboardsProject.com; if I was targeting the keyword “Best Surfboards”).
There was still enough of a “bonus” in having a partial match domain, that it was worth having a perhaps longer or less memorable domain name. As long as my keywords were in my domain name, I was happy!
However, that has all changed.
Goodbye EMDs and PMDs
I no longer even care if an exact match domain is available. And starting last year, I no longer even try to have my keywords in my domain.
You may have heard of the exact match domain algorithm update back in October 2012. This was essentially a change by Google to remove some of that bonus/boost the EMDs used to get. In my opinion, it wasn't a penalty, but simply making it more of an even playing field for all domains.
I had already been using partial match domains long before the EMD update anyway. Here is a video of Matt Cutts making it clear that they are “turning down the dial” on the effectiveness of Exact match domains:
Please note, that this video is over 2 years old. So, its unclear how much Google has “turned” down the importance of keyword rich domains; but if they were talking about it 2 years ago, you know that plenty has happened since.
In addition, SEOmoz has produced case studies showing that less and less exact match and partial match domains are ranking in the search engines. Here is an image from SEOmoz, showing the decreased importance of Partial Match domains.
Are EMDs and PMDs Bad?
So, do you get penalized for having an EMD or PMD? No, I don't think so. You can still build a very authoritative site that with an exact match domain name.
However, for the most part, those using keywords in their domain names are those who have tried to game Google (guilty as charged!). As a result, Google is actually just penalizing the quality of websites that are very often associated with keyword rich domains.
In addition, Google has gotten even more vigilant at penalizing sites that are over-optimized, as Hayden of NoHatSEO.com recently pointed out. So, if you have keywords in your domain, and over-use it on your site, you are ripe for an on-site penalty.
So, you won't get penalized for having an Exact match domain, but you will if your site is over-optimized or you have a low quality website. It just so happens that a larger percentage of EMD website builders than normal have low quality sites and over-optimize.
Why I Now Use Brandable Domains
I started experimenting last year with building niche sites without any keywords in the domain. A perfect example is what Perrin and I did in the second niche site project. We targeted the keyword, “best safety razor”; however, we chose a more brandable domain: aPennyShaved.com and chose a premium WordPress theme.
I now plan to use brandable/non-keyword match domains for most or all of my sites going forward. I have a few reasons why I think brandable sounding domains are better:
- Sounds less spammy (Domains that are 4 or 5 words often seem overdone)
- Shorter URLs
- You can get a .com if you come up with a clever name
- More memorable
- If you want to build your site into something larger, a catchy domain can really help you establish authority.
- Less likely to over-optimize your site without stuffing keywords in the domain
- Google isn't giving much of a preference to EMDs or PMDs, so why do it?
In fact, I'm glad SEO has come to this! Finally, I can build sites with cool sounding .com domain names; rather than domains that I can't even remember because they are stuffed with so many keywords.
And as evidenced by aPennyShaved.com and other sites I own, you can still rank just fine in Google.
We have heard for a long time that Google is starting to prefer brands. Well, the first step to building your sites into something with authority, is to have a brandable domain. There is no reason that you can't build a legitimate site in your niche with an authoritative sounding domain (rather than a keyword domain).
Overall, I just wanted to clarify this shift that I've made in my business in case any of your are wondering. I no longer use exact match domains or even partial match domains!
This is actually great news for me. Now I just focus on keyword research. Once I find a great keyword, I really don't care what domains are available, I come up with a brandable sounding domain and register it.
As stated, there is nothing wrong with using Exact or Partial match domains, I've just made the decision to move away from them for the reasons specified. You can still rank in google with any type of domain.
What do think? Is this news to you, or are you still focused on exact match domains? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I look forward to the discussion!
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