If you pay much attention to your online reputation, you’ve probably heard the phrase “exact match domain” before. But what exactly does it mean and why is it relevant to your business?
Also known as EMD, the exact match domain remains an important element of a comprehensive online reputation management and positive SEO plan.
So let’s break down the EMD definition and determine how it can make or break your online reputation.
What is an exact match domain?
An exact match domain is a URL that includes a main keyword phrase and nothing else. For instance, an exact match domain for the query “exact match domain” would be www.exactmatchdomain.com, .net, .org and so forth. In the world of EMDs, the .com extension is the most coveted, with .net and .org close behind.
Note that you can have multiple EMDs serving as portals to a parent site—there’s no limit to the number of EMDs that can link back to a single site (although we’ll get to why this might not be a good idea in a moment). For instance, if you own a wilderness outfitting company, you might link www.kayakrentals.com and www.canoerentals.com to your main site, say www.bestwildernessoutfitters.com. If the domains are just pointing to your main site and have no content of their own, it probably won’t help much from a search engine optimization point of view.
In the early days of the Internet, before the evolution of sophisticated search engine algorithms, EMDs were among the most important factors in determining the search rank of a particular term. Perhaps more importantly, especially very early on (we’re talking late 90s dotcom-bubble days here), EMDs conferred prestige, name recognition and trust.
If you’re looking for a New York wedding planner, for instance, aren’t you going to pay special attention to the person or company that owns www.newyorkweddingplanner.com? If nothing else, their ownership of the domain implies establishment—they got there first, before their competitors, so they must have been around for a while, right? For a long time, search engines like Google assumed that this was the case.
EMDs still have the power to improve your search engine rankings—just not to the extent that they once did. Let’s drill down a bit into why EMDs rank well and how they’ve evolved in recent years.
Why do exact match domains rank well?
Exact Match Domains continue to rank well in search results primarily because they tend to receive more traffic than partial match domains—URLs that include part of a keyword phrase, or a keyword phrase plus extra characters—and random domains. That may be because they’re easier to remember and so easier to type directly into the URL bar. Since more traffic often leads to more inbound links and social bookmarks, this can positively influence ranking.
How has Google’s approach to exact match domains changed?
Unfortunately, Google and other search engines have to some extent curtailed the other SEO advantages that EMDs once had. Long story short, too many shady operators were abusing EMDs, using them as a way to trick search engines into ranking their pages more highly. Since late 2012, when Google launched a major update, the SEO value of EMDs has fallen somewhat. Our reputation management firm has tested it out and has found that the primary driver of search engine success with EMDs is a fully fleshed out website with a lot of good content that people want to consume. Put another way, sites with little value (thin content) that sport an Exact Match Domain will most likely not fare well.
Top-level domains that incorporate exact match keywords—for instance, www.exactmatchdomain.com, www.exactmatchdomain.net and www.exactmatchdomain.org—still have strong SEO value. But domains with modifiers, such as www.greatexactmatchdomain.com and www.exactmatchdomainworld.com, aren’t as valuable. And domains with more than one dash—www.exact-match-domain.com, for example—may (theoretically) be actively penalized by Google’s anti-spam algorithm.
It’s also important to note that Google’s emphasis on local search optimization extends to exact match domains—and may offer a cost-effective way for you to utilize this tool without appearing spammy or paying through the nose. If you want to draw more traffic to your Idaho hardware store’s website but can’t afford an EMD like www.tools.com or www.hardware.com, don’t sweat it. Instead, look for available—and cheaper—EMDs like www.boisetools.com and www.boisehardware.com. After all, among prospects in your area it’s likely that “Boise tools” and “Boise hardware” will be more popular search queries than “tools” or “hardware.”
All this aside, it’s critical to stay on top of your EMDs. While the basic EMD definition isn’t likely to change in the coming years, its potential effect on your online reputation surely will. Like most of the forces that can affect how you appear to people searching for you online, exact match domains are subject to the whims of search engines like Google. That means you have to keep a close eye on how your exact match domain properties appear in popular search engines—and be ready to spring into action to protect your online reputation if things start to go south. (By the way, just in case you were wondering, the domain name stayvigilant.com is available for about $2,000.)