Exact match domain (EMD) names: yay or nay?

It used to be that if you wanted better page ranking, an exact match domain (EMD) did the job – until Google upped the game. EMD sites quickly lost ranking. An update meant that EMDs no longer received preferential treatment and had to prove themselves. So, are they still worth registering?

by Meg - 19.04.2016

Exact match domain names

The following is a fictional example of an exact match domain (EMD) in action. It’s not based on any keyword or traffic stats, and the domain names are currently unregistered…

An EMD is a domain name that exactly matches a popular search query. In this example, ‘how to clone sheep’ is a popular search, the resulting EMD is howtoclonesheep.com. It’s an ugly domain name that shouts hard sell, maybe dodgy. Domain name cloningsheep.com is more credible but it’s not the most popular search query, and that’s the bottom line with EMDs.

EMDs – used & abused

Pre 2012, website owners were able to play the system, and sites with a great EMD but appalling content were leapfrogging good quality sites in search results. Higher page ranking was the goal and popular search terms were registered as EMDs that had little or no relevance to site content.

The howtoclonesheep.com site would have quickly climbed to the top of page one in search results because the domain name is a popular search term. The site includes a page on cloning, but it’s only one page on a big site. A site that discusses cheese, shearing, woolly jumpers, lambing, shepherd’s pie – all things sheep. The EMD name does not represent the true content of the website and the page one ranking is inaccurate and unfair.

Google levelled the playing field

In 2012 Google updated its ranking algorithm to tackle this issue. EMD sites enjoying a high page ranking but with poor/irrelevant content, aggressive keyword stuffing, low domain authority, and unnatural links – disappeared overnight. Google had re-evaluated EMD sites and downgraded those ranking purely because of an EMD name.

The website howtoclonesheep.com disappeared.

EMDs - where we’re at

It’s not the exact match domain name being penalised, it’s the quality of the website. Google uses ranking factors to score each page of a site. Factors that include content, keyword usage, and natural links.

Does that mean keywords in domain names are redundant? No, they just won’t guarantee a high ranking on their own.

  • If you register howtoclonesheep.com for your sheep cloning website, your entire site will be checked and you’ll be ranked accordingly. With an EMD name containing a popular search query, and a well managed site, Google and users will be happy and your traffic will increase.
  • If you register howtoclonesheep.com because it’s a popular search term and it’ll bring traffic to your site selling sheepskin rugs… your sites going down!

Google wants to give users what they’re looking for, not a cool domain name and rubbish content.

An EMD won’t fast-track you to the top, but it’ll help

Good EMDs are hard to find and can be expensive, but if it’s what you want, and you have a quality website behind, they’re still worth registering. Benefits of EMDs include:

  • EMDs are still a ranking factor if they relate to your site content, so they can boost your site’s page ranking.
  • High visibility in your niche market.
  • More direct traffic because your EMD is memorable.
  • Misspelling is unlikely, it’s a popular search query.
  • If users guess a website address, your EMD will be an obvious choice.
  • Without any marketing, users can immediately identify what your site is about.
  • An EMD on billboards or business cards illustrates your web address and industry.
  • If you’re spending money on keywords in Google Adwords, consider registering an EMD. Over time it’ll cost less to rank well for your EMD in search results, than your keywords.

Remember, Google is not going to see your EMD and say, “AWESOME, you’re going straight to the top of the class!” It’s still going to be judging your content, the quality of backlinks, use of keywords, and social media mentions.

How to use an exact match domain

  • Cloning sheep is your thing (hey, who am I to judge!), so you registered howtoclonesheep.com. But supposing you decide you want to start cloning cows too. If you think your business will diversify, don’t register an EMD that’ll limit your growth.
  • If howtoclonesheep.com isn’t available and you can’t persuade the owner to sell, what do you do? Register a slight variation such as howtoclonesheeps.com? It’ll be cheaper but users won’t remember the S and all your traffic will go to the EMD site howtoclonesheep.com.
  • You can register EMDs with any domain extension you like. Heard of coffee.club? I checked Google recently using the search query, ‘coffee club’, it had the number one position! The EMD matches the company name. It identifies the product, it’s a great site, and it’s what users are searching for. Result!

EMDs vs premium domain names

It’s by no means an exact science…

  • An exact match domain name matches a commonly used search query. The business is sheep cloning so register howtoclonesheep.com. That’s what people are searching for who want to clone sheep. But if the business wants to expand its offerings and get traffic from sheep enthusiasts in general, a premium domain name would work better – but there’s a price.
  • A premium domain name is a name that’s already registered and owned by an individual or by the registry behind. They’re valued highly because they’re short, contain common words and have good history. They’re usually more valuable than registered and unregistered domains names – unlike used cars their value appreciates. Examples of premium names could be sheep.farm or sheep.com (they’re both registered – who knew sheep were so popular?!!). These names would allow a business to cover all things sheep – cheese, shearing, woolly jumpers, lambing, and shepherd’s pie.

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