When starting a website or blog, many people ask, “should I use an exact match domain name? Do they still work?” While exact match domain names may still help in some respects, it is not all that important anymore. Of course, if I were writing this article in 2006, my answer would be much different. So, let’s get into what an exact match domain name is, the history of its effectiveness, how it works today, and what you should do instead.
What Is An Exact Match Domain Name?
According to The SEO Blog, an exact match domain, or EMD, is a domain that is highly relevant to the content of your website and more specifically, exactly matches the keyword a person uses when searching for your content.
For example, let’s say you have a website that reviews dog food. An exact match domain name might be DogFoodReviews.com. The theory is, by having “dog food reviews” in the domain name, you will rank higher when someone searches for “dog food reviews” in the search engines.
Yes, Exact Match Domain Names Worked For A While
Exact match domain names really started to become popular in the early 2000’s and hit a peak around 2007 to 2010. During those years, exact match domain names did indeed work, especially for smaller websites. The SEO process worked like this…
First, you would purchase your exact match domain name. Next, you would create a website with 10 or 20 pages of content and fill those content pages with advertisements, banners, and affiliate links. After that, you would use “article submitters” and use various link building tactics (read: spam) in order to manipulate the search engines into ranking the site higher. Low and behold, it would work like a charm and your website would begin ranking well.
Eventually, Google began warning webmasters about this practice. Once people found out about this super easy way to rank a website, the search result quality began to suffer. So, what Google would do is punish websites who were using these tactics. However, most website owners would be able to manipulate the search results long enough to get a great return on their investment before their site would be penalized and ultimately de-indexed from the search results. So, these webmasters would just repeat the process with another site. These were called “churn and burn websites”.
Over the years, Google has cracked down more and more on search manipulation, also known as black hat SEO strategies. Part of this crackdown included devaluing exact match domain names. So, while having an exact match domain name once did work, it no longer does. That doesn’t mean having an exact match domain name is harmful. It’s just a bit more irrelevant than before.
There were two updates that really changed how Google ranks websites, including those with (or without) exact match domain names. Those updates were so big, they were given names. They are known as the Google Panda and Penguin updates. Most of you are probably familiar with these updates already, but if not, I highly recommend you read my article on the Google Panda update here, and also read up on the Google Penguin update here.
I also highly recommend you check out the below video from Google’s Matt Cutts on exact match domain names.
How To Choose A Great Domain Name Post Panda & Penguin
Alright, so now you know what an exact match domain name is. You also know that it once was a viable strategy, but it is no longer all that important. So, if exact match domain names are mostly irrelevant these days, how can you choose a good domain name?
Well first of all, I don’t want to give the impression that an exact match domain name is necessarily a BAD thing. There are more than 400 factors that Google and other search engines consider when deciding where to rank a website in the search results. Having an exact match domain name won’t necessarily hurt you and could even be a good thing. Let’s go back to my dog food review example. If I were starting a website about reviewing dog food, I would LOVE to have the domain name DogFoodReviews.com. It’s relevant and just makes a whole lot of sense for a website that is reviewing dog food.
However, as of this writing, DogFoodReviews.com is for sale and the price tag is in the 10’s of thousands of dollars. Is having that type of exact match domain name worth it? I don’t think so. Why? Because what Google cares most about these days is having a BRAND based website.
I actually do own a dog food review website and the domain name is DogFoodInsider.com. I also have a website called DogHealthInsider.com and DogObedienceInsider.com. Instead of going after exact match domains, I am essentially building a brand of “Insider” websites in the pet niche.
It doesn’t have to be a group of websites, either. One very successful website owner is Pat Flynn who owns the site SmartPassiveIncome.com. He has built an entire “brand” around that name and has become very popular. Even large companies like Moz.com don’t care about exact match domains. They are focused on building the Moz brand. Or what about the DrudgeReport.com? There’s nothing about news in the domain at all, and yet, it is one of the top news sites in the World, because the Drudge Report has become a brand in itself.
So, don’t focus so much on choosing an exact match domain. Instead, focus on building your own brand.
Additional Considerations When Choosing A Domain Name
Here are some additional tips as you ponder which domain name to go with. In the end, your domain name doesn’t really matter as much as you think it does. What matters is the quality of your site and the content you create. However, these are some recommendations I have:
- Go With A .COM Domain Only – There are lots of domain extensions out there and more are being added all the time. You might be tempted to go with something other than a .com, but I highly recommend you stick with .com for now. The .com domain extension is still considered to be what “authority” websites use and it is still a trust factor with your visitors. That’s not to say other extensions aren’t going to work. I have a .net website that does extremely well. However, a .com is ideal.
- Don’t Use Dashes In The Domain – Again, it’s not a deal breaker, but dashes in a domain name (especially more than one) are generally frowned upon by most website owners. It doesn’t look good, it seems less trustworthy to your website visitors, and it isn’t the most SEO friendly strategy.
- Use The Radio Commercial Test – Pretend for a moment that you want to advertise your website on the radio. Even if you never intend to do this, it’s a good test. Say your domain name out loud. Is it easy to say? Easy to understand? Does it give at least a general idea of what your site is about? If it would be difficult for people to understand your domain name during a radio commercial, try to find something else.
- Use 15 Characters Or Less – An ideal domain name should be as short as possible. Of course, this is getting more and more difficult as more and more domains are being snatched up. However, if you can come up with a domain that is 15 characters or less, that is idea. Ten would be even better.
I don’t want to give the impression that any of the above is a requirement. That simply isn’t the case. They are just good guidelines that I like to personally use when I am choosing a new domain name. As I stated earlier, it doesn’t really matter in the end. If you have a great website that provides phenomenal content that is truly helpful to others, you can use any domain extension you want with as many dashes and characters you possibly can. Chances are you will still be successful.
I truly hope this was helpful and if you have any tips or questions of your own, feel free to post a comment!