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Should You Use an Exact Match Domain?

You might think that having an exact match domain is an easy way to guarantee your website is going to rank well in the search engines for your desired keyword. But it isn't anywhere near as simple or as easy as that. 

First things first; what is an exact match domain?

Quite simply, an exact match domain is a domain name that incorporates the exact keywords that you are trying to rank for in Google and the other search engines. 

An example of this would be something like carinsurance.co.uk. 

In particular industries, some business owners will name their company after the product or service they offer; for instance, roofers London. 

Often, exact match domains are purchased by webmasters who want to gain a quick advantage when it comes to ranking on search engines. 

But does this actually have a benefit in 2020? We'll take a look at exactly that in this article. 

Looking back at exact match domains over the years

In the very early days of SEO, having an exact match domain was a quick and sure-fire way to rank near the top of Google and the other search engines. 

Even just 10 years ago, webmasters were benefiting from just buying an exact match domain, adding a small amount of content and then getting links from directories - this was often enough to secure a page one position in the rankings. 

For years, companies offered a marketplace for buying and selling domains and several webmasters and entrepreneurs took advantage by buying and holding onto domains like cars.com, blocking them from ever being used by a business that could properly utilise them. 

However, when long-winded exact match domains started to rank (for instance, carinsurancequotesonline.com), Google brought out an EMD (Exact Match Domain) update in 2012 to filter these out and penalise. 

So is using exact match domains going to be a problem in 2020?

Having an exact match domain in 2020 isn't necessarily a problem, especially if you're utilising effective content marketing and organic SEO. 

You won't necessarily get penalised just for having an EMD and in some cases, you might even get a boost to your rankings.

However, for the most part, using exact match domains does still have some elements of risk to it and could make you a potential target for Google penalties. 

For example, adding new landing pages to your website could become an issue and you would risk the possibility of over-optimisation or keyword stuffing. Your homepage should always be the welcome page for your website and you should have nicely and authentically optimised landing pages coming off from this, where a lot of your SEO traffic will go to. 

However, if your homepage is part of an exact match domain (for instance, carinsurance.co.uk), using the correct words for landing pages will become very tricky. Thinking about it logically, would Google or another search engine realistically rank a landing page about car insurance (which would then have the URL of carinsurance.co.uk/car-insurance?)

When your homepage is likely to have more links pointing to it initially, you'll find it very difficult to get your landing pages ranking for that exact match keyword. 

Coincidentally, it is link-building that is the most tricky and challenging aspect of having an exact match domain in 2020. 

Regardless of what anchor text you use, you're always risking the chance of using too much exact match anchor text - one of the easiest ways for you to receive a penalty from Google and the other search engines. 

There are things you can do to get round this, such as using a wide variety of different anchor text, but finding the right balance is incredibly tricky and it only takes one link of yours to be shared many times to make it look to Google like you're running an exact match anchor text campaign.

We did say it was difficult, didn't we!

What about partial match domain names?

Partial match domains are a little easier to manage. Essentially, partial match domain names are a combination of the main keyword you're trying to target and something that is not related. For example, you could have something like 'roofingdirect.co.uk'.

This sort of domain name is therefore only using half the target keyword or service, which means that the natural landing pages can be created without the risk of potential keyword stuffing. There would also be no risk of anchor text causing penalties when the brand name is linked. 

Some of the most efficient and effective partial match domains can also involve either locations, like 'London', or other words like 'cheap' or 'best'. 

Are some industries more suitable for exact match domains than others?

It's fair to say that Google and the other search engines do treat some industries and sectors very differently and when it comes to very competitive industries, like finance or fashion, they won't want to give anyone an advantage just because they own an exact match domain. 

The most important thing you can do is look at each industry and the search engines you are targeting. If you're in a very competitive industry, you're very unlikely to find any websites with exact match domains ranking on Page 1 for your desired keyword. 

However, for industries where there is less competition and fewer penalties handed out by Google and the other search engines, there is only going to be a handful of people searching for your desired keyword(s). In which case, you're more likely to be successful by using an exact, or partial, match domain. 

If you've got an exact match domain, is it too late to change?

No, it's not too late to change it! If you have held an exact match domain for years and have either been subject to penalties or have struggled to get it to rank, you can look at changing your domain but still hold a lot of the good SEO you have developed over the years. 

For example, doing a 301 redirect to the new domain will hold 90% of the SEO value and also have a very quick turnaround time, providing that you have good content and user experience to back it up. 

In conclusion...

Exact match domains can still have a successful role to play in achieving high search engine rankings for your desired keywords.

However, you do have to be incredibly careful with exactly how you develop your SEO strategy, especially if it depends on optimising an exact match domain. 

What we would suggest doing is research the industry and identify who is ranking on pages 1 and 2 of Google and whether they use partial match, exact match or neither. If you're considering having an exact match domain, or you've already got one, base your decision about what to do next around your competitors on the first two pages of results. 

Of course, the safest and most effective way of maximising the chances of high search engine positions for your keywords is creating a keyword-free brand name and using good, clean and authentic organic SEO. You can then combine this with other traffic sources, like social media or email, to enhance your marketing potential even further. 

If you're unsure on the best way forward, speak to Kent's experts at Smart Domain Group. We have been working in the SEO and marketing industry for 20 years. Contact us today to discuss your domain with our friendly and experienced team. 

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