Are Exact Match Domains Good For SEO

There was a time where if the domain matched the exact search term your visitors were searching for, you would get a guaranteed ranking boost.

Mark Flanighan holding exact match domain sign

These domains were in demand and quickly got registered, so then webmasters would look for an exact match domain with a dash in between, but does that practice still work now? So, if you were to buy and exact match domain today, would it be good for Search engine optimisation, and would you gain those extra ranking places?

What Exactly is an Exact Match Domain?

This is where the domain that is registered matches exactly to the main money-making search term for that website. To give examples here, would suggest I am promoting those sites, or giving them a free link, so as my only example, just assume “breakdown cover” was the money making search term (for those outside of the UK, this is a UK popular roadside assistance search term) an exact match domain for this term could be www.breakdown-cover.net. This is of course assuming the non-dashed and the .co.uk and .com versions have all been registered.

Do Exact Match Domains Still Have Value Today?

A good 10 to 15 years ago, it would be agreed by most if not all SEOs that a ranking advantage would be gained with an exact match domain. Google recognised this and brought out the “exact match domain update” in 2012 which targeted those websites and from then on, things stopped becoming so easy.

My experience of this update was that it was now much easier to “over optimise” a website than before, which was the biggest reason for my exact match domain websites falling from grace at that time.

It took some time and many tests and experiments, but I eventually put most of it down to anchor text within the backlinks. You could no-longer reverse engineer other successful websites in a similar niche and mirror their anchor text strategy. The amount of anchor text required to over optimise a website and be punished for it, was now a much smaller percentage than a typical general branded domain.

From then on, I avoided exact match domains and focused on creating a brand and then name the URL appropriately to match the search term. i.e. markflanighan.com/exact-match. In some cases, I would create sub-domains and name them as exact match. An example could be https://exact-match.markflanighan.com, (these examples do not actual exist).

I found sub-domains named like this, did not fall under the exact domain update and so link strategies could be reverse engineered easier from other sites.

My advice for most businesses would be, unless your brand is an exact match to your money-making search term, buy a domain that matches your business brand name or a partial match domain. Take SEO Journal for instance. You instantly know what the website is about, but very few people would search for “SEO Journal” unless they knew it as a brand.  Visitors are more likely to use search terms that match the topics and pages within the site.

The balance of SEO metrics is in my opinion easier to manage when avoiding exact match examples. Google likes to see a mixture of branded and keyword bases anchor text, if they are both the same, problems can arise.

Are Their Instances To Buy An Exact Match Domain?

After all that, I have bought exact match domains in recent years and yes I do think there are instances where webmasters can benefit.

It comes down to my opinion that when an exact match domain is new and does not have any backlinks to it, you will still get a SEO ranking benefit, versus other domains without backlinks to it. It is when you follow the standard rules of SEO, things get difficult. Here are some examples where an exact match domain usage could still work.

Example one; is when the webmaster has decided only to use content marketing as a strategy for SEO traffic, with no link building. This is when a huge amount of content is created with long tail search terms, on the basis that they will rank without any links and the metrics of the visitors will improve rankings over time. Keywords that match the domain are kept to minimum and will be low competition.

Ironically long tail search terms often have a better click through rate (CTR) as well as better retention and engagement. These articles are then shared throughout social media etc, but this strategy only works with mass publication. A few articles here and there, often don’t work.

Example Two; is with smaller websites where the subject matter is very specialized. Imagine taking a niche than breaking it down several times until you get to a very specific specialized area of that niche. If the content is of a high standard, in these circumstances there is very little competition and often no links or very few are needed. Being the best authoritative website even on a very specific niche, can pay dividends and Google will reward you, without the need for backlinks. No exact match back links means, no over optimisation.

Example Three; is when you have no choice, it is your business name and that is your brand. In this case, you need to make sure there are very few, if any exact match anchor text to the site. At least until there are many naked and general “click here” type links and so the exact match anchor text percentage is very low in my tests under 5%.

Ensure that exact match text within headers and body are kept to minimum, in better words treat keywords as a brand first and search term second.

There are many successful exact match brands out there, but when you reverse engineer their backlink structures etc, it will be far less aggressive than other sites. As always, these are my opinions based on my experience, check out other specialists to get an overall opinion.