Exact match domains were the AOL Keyword of their time. Ridiculously expensive to obtain, relatively useless after a few years. Affiliate marketers used to adore EMDs because they were a quick shortcut to the top of Google’s rankings. The spammiest of sites was sure to get top billing if they only had the right keyword in their URL. More legitimate businesses that were named something other than their product languished on the bottom of the page (or, horrifyingly, on page two), unless they paid some serious money for link-building.
Google’s ever-evolving algorithm, to the rescue! The search giant produced an update last year that penalized many EMDs that were resting a little too much on their keyword-infused domain names. Not all EMDs were penalized, obviously, but you’ll no longer find the spammiest of them on the top page. Suddenly, branded URLs, those that just use a company’s name, had a fighting chance.
Brands, rather than exact keyword matches, became Google’s focus. Since humans naturally sort things using brands, the algorithm began to sort them that way, too. Brands with higher recommendations and better customer recognition were prioritized over EMDs. You’d rather see a bottle of Jack Daniel’s than a bottle simply labeled “whiskey,” and Google now recognizes that.
When it comes to domain registration, the Google updates have made the decision between EMD’s and branded domains less obvious. This leaves entrepreneurs wondering if they should even bother with an exact match domain, or if they should use a branded URL instead.
Why You Should Consider an EMD
- There are still some SEO benefits, if your fancy URL is supported by relevant content and not by paid links.
- It’s easy for consumers to see what you do at a glance. It’s quite possibly the best shorthand for your business’ purpose.
Why You Should Consider a Branded URL
- Branded URLs promote your company over your product, which can make you look more legitimate.
- They can also give you more depth than selling just one item. Instead of selling only shoes, you can sell a wide range of accessories under one URL.
- Branded URLs will allow you to evolve your business without worrying about staying true to your original product. If shoes simply aren’t selling, you can phase them out and become a handbag shop.
Of course, there’s always middle ground. You’d lose some flexibility, but going with “billsshoes.com” could be a nice compromise between the two. Both Google and your customers could instantly recognize what you do. You could also put the weight of a strong brand behind your URL. But—one word of caution: Don’t make your URL too lengthy. Try to stick with just 1-2 words.
EMDs don’t hold the weight they once did, but they’re not extinct, either. Search engines are refining their algorithms to focus more on high quality, unique content rather than whether or not the domain name is exact match or branded. The savviest of entrepreneurs will be able to choose whether an exact match, a branded URL or a blend of the two will be right for their company’s site.
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