For the professional search marketer, the search industry is much like a wild expedition across an ever-changing landscape. The search industry is filled with wondrous discoveries and terrible pitfalls. What defines a great search marketer (as with any explorer) is a constant stream of updates about the terrain ahead.
Keeping up-to-date on all topics related to search has at times been a challenge – but always a priority, as the continued evolution of search will always define our processes and our journey. Why do I mention this? Because the journey may take a hard-left turn in the next couple of months and we should all be prepared.
Matt Cutts, head of the Webspam team at Google, and search engine optimization (SEO) insider, made an attention-grabbing statement at the 2010 PubCon Social Media and Search Marketing Conference in Las Vegas last week. At one of the highly-attended ending keynotes, Matt Cutts carefully suggested that having an exact-match domain name may give a site too much power in the rankings and that exact-match domains will be reviewed by Google in the coming months.
[cue sound of crickets chirping]
Outside of the sign that adorns your building, the website domain name is the most outward-facing component of your business and brand. It is the face of your website. And although most are now quite familiar with domain names, it bears mentioning that exact-match domain names contain only the targeted keywords for any given business. For example, PetCare.com and DogWash.com are exact match domains for the pet grooming industry. Exact-match domains have seen great increases in value, due to the fact that they have the potential to generate large volumes of site traffic (as well as numerous other SEO and branding benefits). In the past, the domain sales market saw unbelievable sums offered for exact-match domains such as Beer.com (sold for $7 million in 2004), Casino.com (for $5.5 million in 2003), and Toys.com (for $5.1 million in 2009).
At present, exact-match domains and ranking associations are a sizable issue. When you look at the exact match domain correlation analysis data SEOmoz did last month, you can easily see that the exact-match domain name sits remarkably high in ranking factors. In these results, “exact-match.com” domain names appear as the second highest ranking factor against links, on-page elements, URL factors, and keyword usage. Other on-site or on-page SEO factors don’t even come close to exact-match domain names. Given this latest data SEOmoz, it comes to no surprise to us that Matt Cutts would make this statement at Pubcon.
So, given what we now know, how can the business of sourcing and utilizing exact-match domains be anything but beneficial?
One of the significant downsides to exact-match domain names is the tendency of some companies to buy up volumes of exact match domain names for niche verticals and leverage the current Google search algorithm to rank well with no more than a cookie-cutter site template, and little bit of content, and a couple of links. Another downside comes from the inflated value that legitimate businesses sometimes place on exact-match domain acquisition when their marketing efforts could be better spent toward developing and refining high-quality, relevant content for their main website. Additionally, critical thinking tells us that there are only so many exact-match domains for any given industry. Therefore, the search engines must somehow level this playing field.
Should this cause panic among business owners and search engine marketers alike? Not likely.
In the search marketing industry, many believe that Google has relied on exact match for far too long. Marketing has always been a process by which businesses create consumer interest in their goods and services through business communication. Given this, the web is no different than any other marketing medium. Certainly, a move to filter out useless content will eliminate those abusers who do no more than leverage the power of an over-priced exact-match domain name. But, until that time, we must rely on our strengths. Yes, a strong domain name says volumes about your business – but any search marketer worth his morning can of Red Bull will tell you that “content is king” and a good bit of your future search traffic may hinge on the quality and relevancy of your message first.