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Should You Choose Exact Match Domains?

If you’d been reading this article a couple of years ago, we might have been discussing the merits of exact match domains (EMDs), particularly when it comes to search engine optimisation and getting your website to rank for a particular keyword or phrase. EMDs are so called because they are an exact match (or as near as you could get) to the keyword you wanted to rank for. It was thought that having the keyword you wanted to appear in the search results for, in the actual domain of the site whose pages you were trying to rank, was a great way to give these pages a bit of a boost up the rankings – and in a lot of cases this worked really well. So if you were a Denver dentist and wanted your potential clients to find you on the first page of Google, owning the domain www.denverdentist.com or www.dentistindenver.com could actually have given you a fairly significant advantage over your competition. But these days, agencies that pride themselves on offering professional SEO services know that things have changed.

Just with a lot of the techniques that can help you improve your search engine rankings, EMDs became over-used and even abused, by thousands of website owners who saw them as a way to shortcut their journey to the top of the rankings. As a result, EMDs have lost a lot of their ‘magic’ and some SEOs even believe that Google has rolled out updates specifically to target these types of domains – so your exact match domain could actually be doing more harm than good.

Whether Google is actively penalising sites that have keywords in the title is up for debate, but what appears to be much more likely, especially when you look at the search results, is that Google is definitely favouring ‘branded’ websites more – that is, sites that are built around a genuine business name or a brand, rather than the term the site owner wants to rank for.

If we use our Denver dentist example from above, all other things being equal, we’re probably going to find that www.brightsmiledentists.com will outrank www.dentistindenver.com in the current search results. The reason for this is fairly obvious if you think about it. A website that is built around a business’s brand is more likely to be a genuine, quality site that searchers should be finding than an EMD with thin, low-quality content because it relies on the domain name to rank. While EMDs may have once been a huge asset when it came to ranking a site for the term in the domain name, these days this is not so much the case.

So if you’re tempted to purchase a domain name that is an exact (or close) match to the main term you want to rank for, if you have long term plans for your website you might want to think again – particularly as most SEO experts are now convinced that Google is favouring ‘proper’ businesses with branded sites more than nondescript, potentially spammy sites set up to try and game the search engine rankings.