Writing by Nick Stamoulis in Search Engines
Back in May I hypothesized that the Google Panda update would take on exact match domains in the coming months, and it turns out I was right! Matt Cutts of Google announced a few days ago that a “small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.” He did add that this update is unrelated to Panda or Penguin, so even though I wasn’t spot-on with the delivery method the truth remains that exact match domains need to be on the lookout!
What is an exact match domain?
An exact match domain means your domain name (and essentially your online brand) are centered around matching one specific search query. For instance, if I sold blue thingamabobs my exact match domain name would be bluethingamabobs.com. Since my domain name is also my priority keyword, I am trying to manipulate the search engines into ranking my website first. This tactic actually used to work fairly well, which is why microsites were often part of an online marketing strategy. I could launch a microsite centered around one product and one keyword and do really well for that particular phrase and maybe even outperform the well-branded sites that didn’t have a keyword in their domain name. For instance, my competitor might also sell blue thingamabobs, but since his domain name is actually squishydoor.com (or whatever brand name they chose) my exact match domain site might do better than theirs, even if that site has a better user experience and much better content.
Too often exact match domain names have outranked quality sites with great content and a strong link profile because they benefitted from their keyword rich domain. This update from Google is designed to prevent that from happening.
Keep in mind that having a keyword in your domain and brand name isn’t the same thing as having an exact match domain. For example, leatherofficechairs.com is an exact match domain, while nicksofficechairs.com is more of a branded domain. That is my company – Nick’s Office Chairs. Or think about a website like TShirtHell.com. That brand had “t shirt” right in the domain, but its part of the overall brand. This latest update, as far as I can tell, is not meant to target sites just because they have a keyword in their domain—it’s going after those low quality sites that use an exact match domain to try and sneak their way to the top of the search results.
I’ve been predicting that this update was coming for a while now—it just seemed like the next logical step for Google to take. If you’ve been skating by with an exact match domain it might be worth considering investing in a new domain. If your site’s domain is a little keyword heavy but you’ve invested in great content marketing, social media and link building it might be worth waiting to see if your site is effected before making such a critical SEO (and not to mention) business decision. Keep in mind that recovering from a search engine penalty requires a lot of work, time and money, but on the other hand moving your website from an exact match domain to something a little more brandable does as well.