The Scoop on Exact Match Domains


In September of 2012, Google released yet another algorithm update.  This time they had their sights set on websites with exact match domains.  An exact match domain means that the keyword or phrase of value is found within the actual domain name.  For example, if you were to create a product about how to train your dog, you may want to purchase the domain  So now you have the keyword ‘dog training tips’ in your domain.

This was, up until September, a key factor in Google’s ranking algorithm and the cause of much controversy for those who felt it was unfair that so much weight was given to those owning a keyword rich URL.  What also happened was the internet and affiliate marketers caught on to the power of exact match domains and began using them to rank less valuable websites with the sole purpose of earnings versus value and therefore triggered a response from Google in the end.

The trouble here is that many legit websites have exact match domains or at least have keywords in their title.  In many cases, the name of the business happens to be the same as the domain name, even though they are keyword rich.  Business owners are complaining that their site has taken a hit in Google rankings since this update, and they cannot practically change their business name to accommodate.

Exact match domains

Legitimate Businesses Won’t be Affected by exact match domains.

From initial reactions around the internet, it seems that websites with single word domains that match a high competitive keyword were hit the hardest. So what if your business name is a single word and happens to match a highly searched keyword? Well, according to top SEO companies and Google itself, if you own a legitimate business with an exact match domain, you should never have an issue or see a penalty.

Higher-ups in Google, including Matt Cutts (the godfather of search), have expressed that it should not have affected legitimate businesses and that if it has, you can submit a review.

If this is the case, then why have so many website owners are come forward and complained about losing their number one lead generation method? One explanation is that their exact match domain was the ‘skin of their teeth, so to speak. So when the algorithm was updated, and the exact match domain lost some of its influence, the site lost rankings. This is likely due to very little other SEO having been done, and they were relying on the importance of the exact match domain and not for any associated vertical keywords or long tails. Also important to note is that there are many site owners stepping up and saying their site has done just fine through the update as well.

Another explanation for site ranking changes, including after this update, is that their competitor’s sites have gained authority upon the update. If having an exact match domain carries less influence, then it opens the door to other ‘non-exact match’ domains. In other words, having an exact match domain could have been the only thing keeping a website on top of Google’s rankings, even though another website in a few positions back was more relevant on the topic.

Google Unzipped

What Does the Future Hold for EMDs

Either way, with all the updates to the infamous algorithm last year, we are left to ask, ‘what’s next?’ If you are an SEO geek like you have seen many sites ‘dancing’ around in the search results and have come to expect change as normal. Exact match domains are still very alive; however, due diligence should be taken in purchasing them only if it makes sense.

If the exact match contains more than two words, it would be advised against purchasing it, unless, of course, it is the name of your business. Once you get past one or two words in the domain, you run the risk of setting off some alarms that you are only buying this domain in order to exert its influence on that keyword alone.

If you are a website owner, particularly a business owner, remember that the best way to promote via the internet is to engage and retain loyal web site visitors, and this is done through relevant resource content, providing value and other elements that are more important in ranking in 2013 versus buying an EMD and hoping for the best.

Will Carey

About the Author

Will Carey is the founder of The Big Dot Company and Creative Chair. He started experimenting with digital design in the 90’s, turning it into a business after obtaining a degree in graphic design in 2012.