Exact Match +Plus Domains

Exact Match Domains Are Dead! Long Live Exact Match +Plus

Here at Web-Op we’ve acquired a LOT of domains over the years and consider domains some of our best investments. The market has changed recently though – making exact match domains less valuable. In the past – having an exact match keyword domain was a shortcut to top rankings. Today – those same domains provide seemingly less bang for the buck. This new hurdle hasn’t been unexpected – but that doesn’t make it any less painful to deal with.

Here is Google’s Matt Cutts discussing keyword rich domains:

… and the key takeaway

Some people have complained that we are giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains. So we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn’t necessarily help you as much to have a domain name with a bunch of keywords in it.

So what has changed?

A recent patent from Google entitled, “Systems and methods for detecting commercial queries”, may shed some light on the subject. (via seobythesea)

In other situations, a company may attempt to “trick” the search engine into listing the company’s web site more highly. For example, if the search engine gives greater weight in ranking results to words used in the domain name associated with web sites, a company may attempt to trick the search engine into ranking the company’s listing more highly by including desirable search terms in the domain name associated with the company’s listing.

As an example, assume that company A sells laser printers. Company A may attempt to use a domain name that includes the words “laser printers” so that a search engine may rank the company’s listing more highly. As a result, a person searching for laser printers may not be presented with an unbiased set of results.

Unbiased set of results???

Maybe it’s just the SEO in me – but that line stuck out at me. Google seems to believe that marketers leveraging keyword-rich domains for seo value are gaming the system.

Who’s Gaming the System Now?

For the time being this algorithm change has actually LOWERED the barrier to entry for competitors to break through on difficult SERPs. Industrious marketers have already found some easy workarounds using previously unregistered domains. I call the domain buying technique exact match +plus – which translates roughly to use the exact match keyword – plus some bit of useless junk. Here is a SERP for “gout treatment” that exemplifies exact match plus:

Two domains stick out right away:

  • gouttreatmentz.com
  • gouttreatmentss.com

Remember the pattern – exact match plus some non n-gram letters slapped in.

Here’s another SERP – this time for “cash advance online”. We have to dig in a little deeper to the second page to find exact match plus domains:

Three domains to look at here:

  • cashadvanceonlinecudonie.com
  • onlinecashadvancelamboto.com
  • onlinecashadvancemasecca.com

You will notice all three of them use a random/non-english string.

More examples – “instant cash advance”

  • instantcashadvanceholelni.com
  • instantcashadvanceglubos.com

Now let’s be clear – I’m not actually advocating jumping on the spam wagon and trying to exploit this technique – as I’m sure it will get slapped down quickly – just pointing out the unintended consequences of this recent algorithm shift. I wonder if the webspam team at Google won’t someday look back on this and say, “bad idea”

There are a few reasons left to buy exact match domains:

  • Reduced PPC costs – Searchers generally click more often on ads with keywords highlighted. Google Adword’s embiggens keywords in a searcher’s query – even when those keywords appear in the display url.
  • Reduced SEO Costs – exact match domains generally cost less to push to the top. There are some caveats here – as some verticals work differently than others
  • Lower Bounce Rates – In my personal experience – exact match domains tend to have a slightly lower bounce rate across all traffic types – again this is anecdotal
  • Higher Organic CTR – As Google subtly emphasizes matched keywords on both paid and organic search results – exact match domains are likely to still enjoy a modest bump to click through rate in organic listings.

Unfortunately with the high cost of exact match domains – it may make sense to read the tea leaves and focus on building a brand to capture search engine traffic as opposed to shelling out big money for (currently) overpriced domains.