Are Exact Match Domains Dead?

By | December 2, 2012

Exact Match Domains (EMD’s)

Good EMDs Are Good

Not all exact-match and partial-match domains are created equal. Penguin hit both EMDs and PMDs pretty hard, because too many people were (and are) still over-relying on them for ranking. The problem is that Google can’t just pull the plug on EMDs. Many brands naturally use EMDs, and it’s perfectly reasonable to buy a domain that matches your name. Instead of just changing how domains impact ranking, Google is targeting spammy signals around EMDs and PMDs. For example, Penguin probably targeted aggressive exact-match anchor text. If your website is “casinoviagrarealestate.com” and 90% of your anchor text is “best casino viagra real estate”, you probably took a hit. It wasn’t because you had an EMD – it was because your EMD was part of a low-value approach.

Should You Dump Your EMD?

In a word: No. You should be careful about combining obviously keyword targeted EMDs and PMDs (“buy-casino-viagra-mortgage.me”) with other aggressive tactics, like large amounts of exact-match anchor text, but for the most part you aren’t going to get penalized simply because you have an EMD. There are some extreme Penguin cases where something as drastic as a new domain may be required, but for the most part this is a gradual change in Google’s attitude. I think EMDs are going to count less over time, but EMDs are also a natural part of the ecosystem.

Should You Buy an EMD?

That’s a bit tougher question. If you’re a brand with a unique name, then yes, absolutely, buy yourname. com, etc. If you’re simply using a domain for keyword value, then I think you have to be a little careful and consider your long-term game plan. If you over-rely on that EMD or PMD, you’re likely to pursue other spammy tactics and ultimately be disappointed as Google gradually lowers the volume. I don’t think buying an EMD carries a large amount of risk, but I’d considering your overall branding strategy. An EMD might be an SEO tactic, but it’s just one small factor of many – it’s not a strategy. You also have to weigh the costs and benefits – finding a short, unregistered .com is one thing – buy it and you can decide later how and if to use it.

As for clearly low-value PMDs, like long, hyphenated strings, I’d avoid them. Paying $25K for a hyphenated, seven-word .net is just throwing away money that could be spent on real marketing. It’s not just about declining SEO value – it’s also a matter of perception. If I see six-keywords-strung-together-with-dashes.net and it leads to a slapped together, $75 template site, I see a site I’d never do business with. The tiny uptick in SEO value you might get isn’t worth it. Invest in a brand and start building it. The benefits will go far beyond SEO.

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