Exact Match Domains Vs Branded URLs – What Should You Choose?

exact match domains
Using exact match domains has historically been a great way to get your website to rank highly in the search results of the major search engines – and in particular Google, since it controls such a large portion of the search market.

Exact match domains: their influence over the years

Experts in this niche have been noticing for some years that domain names that include the keywords you’d like to rank are far more likely to rank well than domains that don’t contain these keywords.

So if you wanted to rank well for a phrase such as “blog promotion tips” in the past you’d be well advised to select a domain name such as BlogPromotionTips.com.

Other top level domains (or TLDs for short) could include .net or .org if the .com version of your domain name was taken.

Marketers were even adding a few letter after the keywords if they found that their most wanted domain was gone.

This lead to website addresses like BlogPromotionTipsHQ.com and BlogPromotionTipsOnline.com. And they were still experiencing an unfair ranking advantage – particularly in Google.

In other words, for people looking for website promotion strategies that were cost-effective and simple to implement, so-called exact match domains (because your website address exactly matches the keyword term you want to rank for) was one of the best places to start.

Exact match domains: a reversal in trends

But over the last few years we’ve seen Google move the goalposts and remove some of the power of this strategy. And a large part of that is down to their “over optimization penalty”.

In essence Google doesn’t want you trying to “game the system”. They don’t want smart marketers like you and me gaining an unfair advantage over other websites.

A few short years ago you could rank your websites for low-competition phrases by simply choosing exact match domains.

You would just have to ensure that your chosen keyword phrase was mentioned on your website’s homepage a few times. Then you would build some links to your site using that same phrase.

Exact match domains penalized

However, this is a pretty obvious attempt by the website owner to game the system and rank their site for that specific keyword phrase.

So Google introduced a penalty that affects these “over optimized” sites that seem to be doing everything possible to manipulate the results.

These days it’s all about diversity and flying under the radar. These days it’s about hedging your bets and ensuring that you don’t look too obvious in your marketing efforts.

Domains and anchor text

These days, it’s also about ensuring that the links pointing to your website use a variety of different text and styles – just as would happen with a real website when hundreds of people mention it naturally on forums and blogs.

And that’s the problem with exact match domains. The fact is that most people, when linking naturally to your site, will use your domain name/website name to do so.

So in the previous example, you’d find that 90% of the links that were built naturally to your site used the text “Blog Promotion Tips” – which for Google is like a red rag to a bull.

All those optimized links? Google’s going to spot them and make sure you never rank for that phrase.

What’s working nowadays?

What works better now therefore is to choose a short, memorable and brandable domain. It’s less obvious. It leads to less exact-match links. And it’s far more natural.

To cut a long story short therefore, my own suggestion (after over a decade of SEO experience) is now to focus on buying brandable domains rather than keyword-focused website addresses.

Of course, finding brandable domains is tough – which is another reason why so many people in the past avoided them.

After all, if all website addresses need to be unique, it can be surprisingly hard to brainstorm a memorable domain name that isn’t already taken.

However, if you’re considering going down the “branded domain” route (which I strongly suggest you do) then the good news is that there are a range of free tools designed to help you come up with a host of suitable domains.

While some of them are paid tools, many are still free and can be a great place to get started.

About the Author

Richard Adams is passionate about building engaged communities through blogging. You can learn more about his blogging experiments at TechToucan.com.

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exact match domains

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  1. Shiv Sharma April 7, 2014
    • Mike Looby April 9, 2014

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