exact match domains and SEO

Exact Match Domains or EMDs are domain names that use the exact keywords that you are trying to rank a website for in search engines.

Back in 2012, Google released the exact match domain SEO update that aimed to level the playing field for websites that did not feature all or part of their target keywords in the domain name. So then, let’s review the role of exact match domains in SEO and whether they still have an impact on ranking a website in Google search.

There is a lot of mixed information online around whether exact match domains have an impact on SEO and whether that are an important ranking factor. In this article we will look at the history of exact match Domain usage and whether they still play a role in the search engine ranking algorithm.

What is An Exact Match Domain?

Exact match domain (EMD) names are domain names that feature the exact keyword string that a website is trying to rank for. An example of an exact match domain may include:

  • roofpainter.com
  • fooddelivery.com
  • hotels.com

In most cases, naming your business in-line with the search term that you are trying to rank for provides an advantage in the search engine results. While Google (and other search engines) admit that the weighting of EMDs in SEO is going down, they still provide a valuable advantage in ranking a website.

exact match domains and local seo

History of Exact Match Domains in SEO

Back in the early 2000s many businesses realised that using their target keywords in their domain names was a quick way to get to the top of Google. As such, there was a flurry of domain name registration is that related to the services and goods offered by a business.

Exact match Domain still played a prominent role in SEO all the way through to the mid 2010s. There was a time period when exact match domains were considered an instant ticket to the top of the search engine results pages. However, noticing the impact that this was having on the quality of search results, Google stamped this out with the exact match domain algorithm update in 2012.

golden ticket exact match domain

In spite of Google’s attempt to weed out low quality domains that are bolstering their search engine rankings with exact match domains, the search results are still actually occupied by businesses partaking in this practice.

Even today, as an SEO Agency, clients regularly ask us whether it would be beneficial for them to purchase a domain name that relates to the industry. Seeing the search engine results dominated by businesses that are using this rank their website means that many new and existing business owners are still considering using an exact match domain to enhance search visibility.

In all cases, our advice is that proper SEO practices will always trump EMDs.

What Is a Partial Match Domain Name?

A partial match domain name is a domain that features part the keyword that you are looking to target. Going back to the example that we gave above for the plumbing industry here are a few examples of what a partial match Domain may look like in the same industry:

• Bobs-localplumbers.com
• Brightside-plumbers.com
• Draincleanking.com

partial match domains explained

As you can see, these domain names clearly show the services that are being offered by these businesses. In contrast to the above EMDs, they look considerably more natural.

Using a partial match domain can improve your SEO rankings as well as providing information to prospective customers around the types of goods and services that they can expect to receive from your company.

Partial match domains be a good idea if you are looking to market your business through SEO as well as other channels. The relevancy signals provided by a partial match domain should not be underestimated.

Misinformation Around EMDs

One of the most common myths that exist around EMDs is that they have no bearing on search engine rankings. Any SEO consultant that works in the field can categorically tell you that exact match domains still feature prominently for local search terms.

Despite this, there is a chorus of SEO aficionados on Twitter that will claim exact match domains do not have an impact on your search rankings. As an SEO agency that spends a significant amount of time waiting through search results for low to mid competition search terms, we can categorically tell you that exact match domains still have a significant place in the way that local businesses rank.

What Does Google Say About EMDs?

Gary Illyes (webmaster trends analyst at Google)

Gary Illyes on exact match domains in SEO

Makes the following emission when it comes to EMDs and their impact on SEO rankings.

What Can We Take Away from That?

Google does not punish or reward websites that use EMDs.

In many cases, it may just be that the website with the highest quality of content and links happens to have an exact match domain. Afterall, many of the websites that have exact match domains are ones that have been around for a period of more than a decade and have been focusing on SEO for an extended period. Look at it this way, if a business was lucky enough to capture a highly relevant domain name, there is a good chance that they have been focusing on digital marketing for a number of years.

Are Exact Match Domains Still Effective?

So, should you be using or avoiding EMD for your new website?

We’ll tell you the same thing that we tell our clients and prospective clients.

Using an exact match domain for your new business can provide a quick win for your SEO efforts, but can hamper your long term growth and business development and branding prospects. Whichever way you look at it, you are better off to name your business something that resonates with the goods and services that you are planning to offer. However, it is not necessary to capturing exact match domain to rank well in your chosen field.

Calling Safari Digital ‘Sydney SEO Experts’ back when we started may have been an easier way to rank well in Sydney, but it would have hampered our ability to rank well nationally. It’s always worth looking at your long term, best case scenario rather than capitalising on a website name that may yield short term benefits, while hampering long term growth.

the importance of branding over exact match domains

Think about all the other ways that your business will be marketed over the years. Let’s say that you wanted to invest in traditional marketing such as print, television, or radio – would you really want your brand name to be associated with an exact match domain?

Final Thoughts

Not sure whether EMDs are a good idea for your business? Our expert recommendation is to choose a domain name that you are proud to use on all marketing channels. While EMDs may seem like a great way to ‘cheat’ the SEO system in 2021, we expect to see their prominence decrease in the coming years as Google continues to weed out low quality websites in favour of high-quality, relevant sites.

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