As a follow-up to its recent “Panda Update,” Google recently rolled out an update that devalued exact-match domain names or EMDs.
What is an EMD?
It is where your domain is the exact same as the keywords you are trying to optimize your website around. For example, if your keywords are ‘persian antique rugs’ your domain might be www.persianantiquerugs.com.
For a long time (too long, IMHO), Google has given preferential weight to these exact match domains. Because of that, traditional SEO techniques have usually rested on the premise that exact-match domains carry the most weight in search engine rankings. So what, you say? The practice had become terribly abused, and a lot of pretty slapped-together looking websites with low-quality content and questionable links were outranking websites with much higher quality links, and most of the success was owed to an exact-match domain. Why else would any person or company in their right mind buy ‘alabama-business-liability-insurance.com’ or ‘alpharetta-bankruptcy-attorney’ for any reason other than to rank high?
This is also not to say that sites with exact-match domains are being punished by Google. The ranking factor has just been lessened. I’m also not throwing stones at websites who deploy this strategy except in cases where the commercial intent is so obvious as to be “spammy,” and the website look like something thrown together before the millennium, these are exactly the kind of websites Google wanted to devalue.
As one of my fellow search marketing colleagues pointed out, an EMD with keyword + city name will still rank well provided the website has all the other ranking factors that Google loves intact. Check almost any highly competitive City+KW combo in search and you will normally find the top 2 or 3 listings have City+KW in them.
But many who have been profiting from this technique of strategically buying keyword-stuffed domain names are going to actually have to put some elbow grease into their SEO strategies.
Every algorithm update Google has made in the last three years signals, nay overtly states, that it wants the most trustworthy sites in its rankings. Any attempt at gaming the search results will eventually be penalized.