I often hear clients say: “We make blue widgets, and the top result for ‘blue widgets’ in Google is an information site with ‘blue-widgets’ in its domain name, which doesn’t appear at first to be associated with a company, but when you look more closely, only links to a particular manufacturer. Should I have a site like this?” Such sites are known as “Exact Match Domains”, or “EMDs”, and in the past, they’ve often been search engine WMDs. If you’d set up a one-page site called “cheapest-blue-widgets.com” a few years ago, you could almost guarantee to have found yourself at the top of the Google results for a search on “cheapest blue widgets”, and quite quickly too.
Of course, if that was the case today, everyone ought to be setting up dozens of the things every week. So why aren’t people doing that, when these domains still appear at the top of searches quite frequently?
There are a number of reasons, but I’m not sure they’re all valid. Google has been saying for some time that it’s been downgrading EMDs in its rankings. In other words, just because a site has got “blue widgets” in its domain name, doesn’t mean it’s going to get a significant boost in the results of searches for “blue widgets”. I’m sure that’s true, but in the technical niches in which most of us operate, the site might not need to do that well to appear on the first page of results.
As ever, it’s all about links, and that’s why so many EMDs rank highly: they’ve been around long enough that it’s the links to them which are keeping them high up in the search results, not so much the domain name any longer. Links do tend to just happen over time, which is why older domains always have an instant advantage over brand new ones. Also, if the sites actually have some decent content, people will stick around, Google won’t record any instant hits on the “back” button, and the site will get a decent quality rating in Google’s database.
For that reason, if you want to set up an EMD today (and it can still be a very shrewd marketing move), the ideal situation is when the domain you want already exists, but can be bought. That said, buying a brand new domain is not the hopeless move some people would have you believe. I think that EMDs can still work, and tomorrow I’ll outline a project to build one.
In the meantime, if you want some real expert background on the subject, read The Exact Match Domain Playbook: A Guide and Best Practices for EMDs on SEOmoz.