Do You Get Penalized for Using Exact Matched Domains?
There are mixed opinions on whether you should be using an exact match domain for your website.
What is an exact match domain (EMD)? It is a domain that has the exact keyword in it that you are trying to rank it for. E.g. ExpiredDomains.net is an exact match domain for the keyword “expired domains”.
What is a phrase match domain (PMD)? It is a domain that has a variation of the keyword you are trying to rank for. E.g. this website is built on a sort of a phrase match domain, yourexpireddomains.com, with the keyword “expired domains”.
Exact Match Keyword Domains SEO
A few years ago (in 2012) Google started to “crack down on EMDs” with its “Exact Match Domain update“. The reason was that exact match domains built on long-tail keywords would rank high and would get a lot of traffic, however their content was substandard, to the point where many times it was just spinned garbage loaded with Adsense. The result was that the customers of Google were not being directed to useful content and therefore what’s known as “exact match domain penalty” came into being.
There was a whole industry built on EMDs, as these were easy to rank. For example the so-called “micro niche websites” were widespread. Micro niche sites are websites that are very specific, laser targeted to a few keywords and have a small number of pages. It wasn’t rare for these websites to have 5-25 pages, with 5 product review pages and 20 informational (feeder) pages. If you were building a micro niche site, you could have been focusing on a specific thing like 2-3 registry repair software.
Additionally, there was no Google sandbox, therefore people would literally set up a site in a few hours, point links to it with spinned content from article directories, and these sites would rank in a matter of 5 days and rake in big profits. Expired domains with backlinks worked especially great.
Such domains had high prices, as they could bring in high profits. They were the target of many spam SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing, spam link building, over-optimizing anchor texts. The exact match domain penalty pretty much killed this “industry”.
The Truth About EMDs – The Exact Match Domain Update
This is what Matt Cutts tweeted about the exact match domain penalty:
Google is not really cracking down on exact match domains. Google is cracking down on spam and useless content. EMDs were only a manifestation of this. If you buy a domain and make it into a great site, your site will be ranked. Build your site for your visitors, make sure they are extremely happy about your content and services.
If you do this, you will be able to rank your EMD with a lot less backlinks and work than other domains. Build your site with useless crap where your visitors just click for the close button and your site will disappear at the bottom of the Google ocean. Search Engines are looking to produce the most valuable results to their users when they are delivering search results.
If I want to correctly phrase the statement, then I would say the following: Exact Match Domains still have an unfair advantage in ranking, simply because the keyword is in the URL, however they have a much higher chance of getting hit with over-optimization penalties.
There are plenty of examples of EMDs that are high on the SERPs without fear of penalty – cheapflights.com is one of the more high profile examples. They do this by being a legitimate non-spammy operation.
In any case, a phrase match domain is safer to use, especially for a new website. These have been given more leniency in the update than their exact match counterparts. Add prefixes or suffixes in your domain names. Don’t try to figure out the domain name yourself – others have already done so and even built backlinks for you. Use the ExpiredDomains.net method to select your domain name.
When you build your website on an expired domain, please make sure your site is built on a clean domain, with no spammy backlinks from a previous user. Not doing so can also result in penalties. Google is looking for specific “footprints” of spam. Keep great content and value for your visitors in sight and you will be fine.
Some More Rules
It is very important that your URL is as short as possible and that you have your keyword in your URL only once, and on this count you can get messed up by an EMD or PMD.
E. g. if you have BedSheets.com/how-to-buy-bedsheets, that is a no-no, as your keyword is twice in the URL and this will decrease your rankings.
Having a short URL will increase your rankings.
Branding A Domain – Is Ranking Everything?
Another way to rank a domain is with branding. E. g. the name Amazon.com has nothing to do with the site’s content, it is a brand. Google likes brands and so do visitors. An easy solution is to use your brand name as your domain name.
Brand signals are mentions of your business name or website on the web. They are an increasingly important means of improving your SEO and Google takes them into consideration even if there are no links involved.
In a sense, brand signals are broader than SEO. They have more to do with PR than they do with SEO.
Brand signals are a way to differentiate low-quality websites from high-quality brands. They include things like having people searching for and talking about your brand, your business being registered, physical address, contact information, phone number and real people working for your company.
These factors inspire trust and this is why a family business gets traffic and sales, it is a sort of a brand.
Keywords are important, but not everything. Google and other search engines associate your brand name with your keywords as your brand grows in popularity and as you continue to produce content.
Maybe you’re not a publicly traded multi-billion dollar company like Amazon, but Google can still measure brand signals and provide your brand with the search boost if your brand deserves it.
One factor you should consider is that you may be ranking an EMD in the first position and there may be a brand below in second place and still the click through rate for the EMD may be much lower than normal and the brand below may have better click through rates. Users in the niche may not trust the EMD, as it doesn’t seem like a “real” business, it may look spammy.
There is more to SEO than just ranking on the top…
If you want to build a website that makes you money, consider the following factors as well.