What’s the future of exact match domains?

Google quietly announced that it was preparing to turn down the algorithm so as not to give so much weight to exact match domains. This could have a significant impact on the way web marketing is done.


Matt Cutts (Google’s Head of Spam) discusses exact match domains and Google’s future thoughts on the subject:

What is an exact match domain?

If your website is about a specific product or service you might choose a domain that  features those terms – for example if your website sells Low Cost Golf Balls you might choose a domain like lowcostgolfballs.co.uk, Google naturally favours this domain for the search query Low Cost Golf Balls which will enable a relatively young domains compete against domains that have always competed for this search query. In turn, the website will then be able to rank more favourably for related search terms such as used golf balls, second hand golf balls etc because Google can see that it’s relavant for these terms.

Why is Google Targeting Exact Match Domains?

The problem is, everyone has cottoned onto the benefit of putting your site on an exact match domain, there are so many sites out there that exist purely to soak up traffic for specific search terms that get very little marketing carried out on them to make them compete in the market. I’m just as guilty of doing this as most other people are.

When Google introduced the Panda Update earlier this year they had a few targets in mind, the first was content farms, these are sites that exist solely to create lots of content – most of it junk – to get visitors to their site and from there use display advertising to make money. Targeting exact match domains is a kind of extension of this process as it makes it really easy for people to target specific keywords – and lots of these websites also make their money from display advertising.

Exact Match Domains Vs Partial Match Domains Vs Branded Domains

There are loads of companies out there that use a half way house strategy – a partial match domain strategy – for example iclickshreders.co.uk is a website that sells Shredders, or iclickink.co.uk sell Printer Ink Toner Cartridges in these examples iClick is the company name and appended to the back of the URL is the terms Shredders or Ink which is descriptive of what the websites targets, another example would be TrueCorset.com, this site sells Corsets however in this example the actual brand name is True Corset in both scenarios the URL containing the important keywords means the site will be much more relevant to itself for the search queries coming into the site.

As Matt Cutts points out in the video above, although there is a definite advantage for a site to rank in Google by using exact match domains, however you’ve got to ask yourself why it is that the most successful websites out there don’t use keywords in their domains. These website would include brands such as eBay, Google, Amazon and Skiddle. These websites rank massively well for their chosen keywords and have a great brand appeal which is itself a ranking factor since Google introduced the Vince Update back in 2009.

Related Search Query Domains

Another useful type of match occurs naturally for a lot of businesses out there. When a business has a descriptive term in their name that isn’t necessarily their primary search focus – an example of this might be RichmondScientific.com which is a website that covers used lab equipment, although their primary target doesn’t contain the word scientific, the relatedness of scientific equipment to the term used lab equipment should have a positive impact in helping the site rank for the desired keyphrase.

What’s the impact from more top level domains?

It’s fair to say another reason Google is starting to look into this again is there has been an increase in the number of reasonably priced top level domains that are available. This has seen an increase in the number of exact match domains in the search market which in turn means it must have got to critical mass where Google has to do something about it.

How does Google work out if your domain is an Exact Match Domain?

A patent granted to Google on the 25th October this year (originally applied for in 2003) describes how the algorithm could detect commercial queries, this coupled with the advances brought about around the time of the Vince Update in reconising a websites brand terms means that Google is far more capable in working out which domains contain words that are intrinsic to the orgainsiations brand and which have been selected simply to advance the organisations rankings in the index.

I’d guess this commercial query detection would be worked out using something like user behaviour – so if your site ranks highly for a term, for example Ministry of Sound Tickets at the website ministryofsoundtickets.co.uk where the page that should rank would be http://www.ministryofsound.com/club/listings/ which is the official website page – by using user behaviour such as click through rates and bounce rates Google can go on to work out how relevant the site is for that query compared to other websites that appear on the first page of the serps even though ministryofsoundtickets.co.uk appears to tick all the right boxes in terms of its brand ranking well for that keyphrase. Therefore Google would be able to determine the difference between a brand query and a commercial query.

3 Comments

  • Great post. The algorithm seems to be tightening up with every update. It makes sense too, most exact match domains were bought up years ago, so if the algorithm biased them there would be no fresh content or new sites performing well in SERPS.

  • simon says:

    Yeah it’s important to know now that if you have an exact match domain then you need to do everything you can to make sure your domain becomes a brand in its own right – I mean an exact match domain can be a brand.

    I was thinking recently about B&Q, one of the biggest DIY companies in the UK, their domain is http://www.diy.com/ – can’t see them being hit by Google’s changes but it will be interesting to see if it does.

    it does make sense though and i’m quite happy with the way they are going about things here – most of the people that I work for have gone down the route of choosing brands over exact match domains and those that have chosen to include a keyword they tend to be partial matched, branded domains.

  • SEO Nut says:

    What a fantastic blog post – it’s really interesting that exact match domains have grown in their importance over the last year, which probably has something to do with all the changes Google has made to get rid of web spam – thereby making some of the more simpler tricks that bit stronger. I’m sure they’ll deal with this sooner rather than later.

Leave a Reply