It seems the folks at Google are finally getting around to doing all the things they said they’d do. We’ve been telling customers for years that keywords in domain names won’t be as important. Now our predictions are finally coming true.
Matt Cutts first announced Google were thinking of changing the situation a couple of years ago, but it never happened. Then last Friday there was this:
Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) September 28, 2012
An “exact match” domain is a website with a URL that contains a keyword phrase the site owner wants to be found for in search, such as PretendYouAreStephenFry.com (sadly, not a real website). This sort of domain used to get a little boost in the results pages, but that’s no longer the case and poor quality sites might see a dip in rankings.
Although Mr Cutts didn’t say when the update would take place, it seems it’s now happened as SeoMoz have seen some changes in the statistics.
I already have an exact match domain – is that bad?
Not really, it’s just not as good as it used to be. If your website has good quality content, a good link profile and a user-friendly layout, chances are the update won’t make much of a difference. The only problem you might have is if your site was only ranking well because of the domain name. Even if you’ve seen a reduction in search traffic over the past few days, it’s probably better to improve the site you have than shift it to a new URL in the hope that will fix things.
The real issue is what sort of domain to choose if you’re building a new site. We might have recommended a keyword based URL once, but now the situation is more complex.
Domain names: keywords versus branding
If you don’t have a keyword rich domain, the other option is a URL that represents your brand. Some of the most recognisable brands have names that are nothing to do with their keywords, and their URLs follow suit. Twitter’s URL is www.twitter.com, not microbloggingservice.com.
Google’s Matt Cutts explains the options in this video:
Having a branded domain might be a good option as it makes your site more identifiable. There are loads of similar sounding exact match domains out there, like HireAPirate.ar or HireAPirate.gr. What are the chances your customers will remember which is which?
Exact match domains still have some advantages, but these are gradually becoming less and less important. Matt Cutts mentions they might encourage people to use keywords when linking to your site, but even that isn’t very important anymore.
Best of both worlds?
The best brand names are short and snappy – things people can remember easily. Although long exact match domains filled with hyphens might be out the window (eat-cheese-for-instant-weight-gain.com), you can still have keywords in your URL if they’re also your brand name. Sites like Hotels.com are hugely successful for this very reason.
The problem with this strategy is price: the domain Poker.org recently sold for a whopping $1 million. However, domains with two words might still be a good option if you can find one at the right price.
If you’re building a new website and aren’t sure what domain name to use, feel free to give us a call. Our strategies are designed to work long term, so you don’t need to worry about Google moving the goalposts.