Are exact match domains still valuable?
In the past, these domains delivered great rankings and traffic.
But do they work today?
Read on to learn what an exact match domain is, how Google treats them, whether you should buy one, and more.
What is an Exact Match Domain?
Exact match domains (EMDs) precisely match a search query that will likely drive traffic to your website, and historically tended to rank well.
A lot of EMDs were purchased by webmasters, domain squatters, and entrepreneurs looking to make money by selling popular domain names that could potentially rank well for the query because the keyword they were trying to rank for was in the domain name.
For example, if I wanted to rank for [boat insurance], I would have purchased the domain boatinsurance.com.
Now, this is big business with companies like GoDaddy and others offering a marketplace for buying and selling domains.
What Did Google Do About EMDs?
In 2012, Matt Cutts (then Google’s chief spam fighter) announced an algorithm change that was aimed at reducing the amount of low-quality exact match domains in search results.
If you had a low-quality (or spammy) EMD, it might look like this: plumberconnecticut.com.
The owner likely registered this domain with the hope of selling it quickly to a plumber looking to rank for the keyword [plumber Connecticut].
If only it were that simple.
The SERPs are now filled with local results and trustworthy domains that have ratings and reviews from previous customers and listings from popular authority domains like Angie’s List, Home Advisor, etc.
Does Google Like Exact-Match Domains?
In my opinion, Google likes exact match domains so long as they are not spammy.
The Hotels.com domain is a good example of this.
It’s an exact match domain because the domain exactly matches the keyword [hotels], and it continues to dominate the SERPs for hotel searches year after year.
This domain name is a great signal of user intent for those searching for hotels.
It’s now over 27 years old and was purchased for about $11 million.
A user would be able to find a hotel room and would go to this site to look for a room near their destination of travel just because it’s easy to remember, share, and type in.
The hotels.com domain has more than 61 million links from 127,000 sites, according to Ahrefs.
Now, if the domain was for sale and if I had the money (which I don’t), I would surely buy it.
The site also has a domain authority of 87 because of its content, links, and age. This is a real authority domain.
Hotels.com also ranks in Position One for the keyword [hotels], which is always catered toward your location, since Google localizes the results on both mobile and desktops.
The company also has the right strategy by making sure they are the first from a brand perspective with the paid search listings showing first and ranking in the first organic position in the SERPs.
Of course, they can’t rank for local listings because they don’t own the hotels.Google initially had used the EMD update to regulate spam and clean up the SERPs.
By the end of 2012, Google realized some valuable exact-match domain holders had been penalized simply for having a catchy EMD.
They then issued an update to the algorithm that improved the value of these domains and punished the sites that were low-quality EMDs.
Should You Buy an EMD in 2021 and Beyond?
If you want an exact match domain, be prepared to do some extensive research to find a good one that is readily available.
Most of the best EMDs are already owned.
If you have some money in the bank, be prepared to shell out a lot of it to buy a domain that may be up for sale.
With many alternative domain extensions to buy (e.g., .business, .company, .biz, etc. ), you might be tempted to grab those to protect your new investment or brand. However, I just don’t see too many sites other than .com domains rank in the SERPs for competitive keywords.
Getting an exact match domain can satisfy user intent and help your brand because people know what your site should be about before they go to it.
Let’s say I wanted to rank for [pet food] and I owned the domain petfood.express, which is an exact match query for [pet food].
According to Ahrefs, this site has a decent number of backlinks, domain authority, and organic traffic.
Google knows the intent behind keywords because they have so much end-user data, and know what people want.
The domain petfood.express is a strong domain and shows that having an exact match domain can still work if it is properly optimized.
The site ranks for thousands of keywords in the U.S., including holding the number two ranking for pet food.
Anchor text optimization is still important if it’s mixed between branded and unbranded anchor text.
But if you get an exact match domain and get high-quality links from a lot of different referring domains, it will be more natural because it is your brand. And as long as you follow SEO best practices, you should not get penalized.
To find good EMDs, I recommend:
- Watching the news or searching Google Trends.
- Going to a domain registrar.
- Using social listening to find the latest buzz words and go to see if the domain is registered. If it’s not, secure it, create some high-quality content, build links, get some social love, and make it a brand.
Putting the time, effort, and money behind your EMD can give you a competitive advantage of building a brand (not just a domain name) that will hold many memories that you can benefit from later.
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