Choosing an effective domain name is the first step you take toward building a website for your business. When it comes to search engine optimization, there are two options to choose from: exact match domains (EMD) and partial match domains (PMD).
Domain Names 101
Exact match domains are web addresses that exactly reflect the keywords you are trying to rank for. For example, if you launch a web store that sells custom dog collars, you may choose the EMD “CustomDogCollars.com”. In contrast, a partial match domain simply includes some of your keywords without exactly matching the most common phrase users will be searching for. An example of a PMD for the above keywords might be “DogCollarCentral.com”.
Which is the better option for your website? Like with many SEO tactics, the answer depends on your unique situation.
The Great Google EMD Update of 2012
Over the years, Google has released numerous algorithm updates to weed out spammy websites. The most infamous of these updates were the “Panda” and “Penguin” updates of 2011 and 2012, both of which highly penalized low-quality sites using questionable SEO tactics. Google also released a lesser-known algorithm update in 2012 that targeted the way exact match domain names affected search rankings.
Prior to that update, having an EMD could do wonders for your rankings — all things being equal, a website with an EMD would always outrank a similar website with a PMD. However, with the EMD update and subsequent updates, Google has continually focused much more on the quality of a website’s content rather than traditional SEO factors. As such, a quality site with a PMD will easily outrank a similar site with an EMD that has shallower content.
It’s important to keep in mind that Google isn’t specifically penalizing websites that have an exact match domain name. Rather, it’s simply not considered a huge factor in terms of SEO. Nowadays, quality content is king, followed by SEO factors that give your site authority such as backlinks and user engagement.
The Benefit of Exact Match Domains
Even after Google’s EMD update, exact match domains still have a number of benefits. Perhaps the most important benefit stems from Google’s autofill feature. The majority of Internet users nowadays don’t type out full domain names, especially if they’re on a mobile device.
If a user begins to type a key phrase into their browser’s search bar, Google will be more likely to autofill the bar with a popular EMD website than one using a PMD. That means you’ll potentially get a lot of traffic from users who don’t resort to Google’s search results.
Another benefit is that exact match domains are easy to remember. You’ll be more likely to get return customers who easily remember the address “DogCollars.com” than you would if you used a branded domain name such as “StevesDogCollarStore.com”.
The Benefit of Partial Match Domains
The biggest issue with exact match domains is that most of them are already taken. Unless you’re launching a new site in an exceptionally unique niche, you’ll probably find that most of the EMD addresses you’d like to use are already taken.
Of course, you could always try to purchase the EMD you wish to use from the current owner. The problem is that popular exact match domain addresses generally go for a very high price. The extra traffic you get from using an EMD may not come close to offsetting the initial cost of investment.
Which Is for You?
Unless you’re trying to build a unique brand name, there’s no downside to using a more generic sounding EMD other than the price of admission. Using analytic tools, you should be able to approximate how much extra traffic you’ll acquire by using an EMD. Multiply that extra traffic by the average revenue received from each viewer, and you should be able to calculate whether or not the cost of buying an EMD is worth it for your business.
If the costs outweigh the benefits, you should definitely go with a relevant PMD. Fill your site with high-quality content and employ other SEO tactics such as design optimization and backlinking, and you’ll easily be able to rank alongside your competitors who already have the exact match domain names for your niche.