Exact match domains, also known as EMDs, have long been a popular strategy in search engine optimization. An EMD is a domain name that exactly matches a search query or keyword phrase, such as www.redshoes.com or www.usedcarprices.com. The idea is that an EMD will be looked upon favorably by search engines when ranking sites for relevant keyword searches.
However, as search algorithms have grown more advanced over the years, the relevance and importance of EMDs for SEO has been debated. Some believe EMDs still provide a ranking boost, while others claim their influence has diminished as other ranking factors like content quality and user experience have grown in precedence.
In this extensive guide, we’ll examine the current role EMDs play in SEO and website ranking. We’ll look at the pros and cons of using an EMD, factors that impact their effectiveness, strategies to maximize their SEO value, and alternatives to consider.
The Historic Benefits of EMDs
In the early days of SEO, EMDs were considered an easy shortcut to ranking well and driving targeted traffic to a site. Here are some of the main perceived benefits that made them a go-to tactic:
- Assumed relevancy – It was thought that search engines would naturally see a domain like www.productreviews.com as a relevant, authoritative site for the keyword “product reviews”. The domain itself helped the site rank.
- Click-through rate boost – EMDs were found to have higher click-through rates in search results, as users associated the domain with the information they were seeking.
- Branding and trust – An EMD that matched a keyword could establish branding and credibility for companies in that niche. For example, BestSteakRestaurant.com immediately tells users what the site is about.
- Exact match anchor text – Inbound links to an EMD from other sites would pass the exact-match anchor text of the domain, another presumed ranking factor.
- Low competition – In the early days EMDs were relatively inexpensive and unavailable for popular keywords, so sites could more easily obtain reputable EMDs.
These perceived benefits made EMDs a staple tactic in the SEO toolbox, and a way for sites to gain targeted traffic for high commercial intent keywords and dispense with their competition.
The Declining Impact of EMDs
However, over time as search algorithms have evolved, a number of factors have caused the influence of EMDs for ranking purposes to decline:
- Sophisticated ranking algorithms – Modern search engines like Google now use advanced machine learning and semantic analysis to deeply understand page content, user behavior, and intent. An EMD provides limited value to these algorithms.
- Penalization of keyword stuffing – Tactics like cramming keywords into domains, content, and metadata are now penalized or discounted as “keyword stuffing”.
- More weight on other factors – Things like page speed, mobile-friendliness, security, content quality and engagement now play a much bigger role in ranking. An EMD itself means less.
- Ability to manipulate – Spammers and low-quality sites aggressively adopted EMDs, diminishing their credibility and value as a ranking signal.
- Use as a filter, not a ranking factor – Modern search engines may use EMDs more as a relevancy filter, not necessarily a positive ranking factor.
- Availability of high commercial EMDs – Most desirable EMDs for high-traffic keywords are long gone or expensive to obtain. This limits their scalability.
So in summary, the SEO landscape has moved away from simplistic shortcuts like EMDs, making their impact much less pronounced for rankings. But they aren’t completely irrelevant either…
The Current Role of EMDs in SEO
Given the declining importance of exact match domains, what role do they serve in today’s SEO environment?
- Relevancy signal – While less weighted, EMDs still suggest a site’s relevance for keyword-focused queries. But other factors are now far more important.
- Supporting element – EMDs can support and complement strong overall SEO and content, but alone have little effect.
- User intent – EMDs align well with commercial search intent for transactional keywords like “loan rates” or “cheap airfare”. But that must be backed up with relevant content.
- Click-through rates – Search users still may associate an EMD with higher expertise on a topic, resulting in slightly higher CTRs in some cases. But other factors like snippets and reviews also influence clicks.
- Trust and branding – For serious companies targeting certain keywords, an EMD can aid branding, recall and trust-building. But it’s just one minor brand signal amid many others.
- Exact match links – A small degree of value remains from exact match anchor text links pointing to EMDs. But link diversity and quality matter much more now.
So in essence, EMDs on their own provide little meaningful SEO value today outside of secondary relevancy signals and minor click-through and branding support. Their role has been diminished to that of a supporting rather than primary ranking factor.
Pros and Cons of Using an Exact Match Domain
Given their reduced impact, is it still worth purchasing and using an EMD for your site today? Here are some of the key pros and cons to consider:
- Provides a minor relevancy signal
- Can slightly improve click-through rates
- Reinforces branding for your niche
- Communicates site intent clearly to visitors
- Exact match anchor text links hold some small value
- Very limited ranking benefits on its own
- Popular keywords are usually already owned or expensive
- Could be seen as manipulative or spammy
- Limits future site expansion options
- Poor EMDs actually penalize credibility and branding
Overall, modest benefits remain from using an EMD, but only with the right strategy and optimization beyond just the domain itself. The right high-quality content, backlinks and technical optimization must accompany an EMD purchase. But choosing a generic, brandable domain is usually advised over trying to force an EMD.
Keys to Making EMDs Effective
While their SEO impact has faded over the years, you can maximize what value remains from EMDs by:
- Matching strong keywords – Target commercial keywords with high search volume and transactional intent. Avoid generic domains with minimal search interest.
- Creating excellent content – Build a comprehensive library of content optimized for your keywords. An EMD alone means little without relevant unique text.
- Earning high-quality links – Focus on building niche editiorial links, not low-quality links exploiting your domain name. Link diversity is key.
- Ensuring site speed and responsiveness – Having a fast, mobile-friendly site provides more meaningful value than your domain alone.
- Refreshing content continually – Search engines favor sites with new, regularly updated content. Stale EMD sites get devalued over time.
- Monitoring rankings and traffic – Check your search rankings regularly for target keywords and traffic levels to gauge EMD effectiveness.
With optimization best practices beyond just the domain itself, you can maximize the possible SEO value from an EMD purchase. But it certainly isn’t a shortcut like in former years.
Alternatives to Buying an Exact Match Domain
Given the costs and limitations around EMDs, what are some alternative strategies to consider for SEO instead?
- Brandable domains – Opting for a brandable domain like computingcloud.com is often smarter over a forced EMD. Brandable domains allow greater flexibility too.
- Guest posting – You can build relevant links and exposure by guest posting on authority sites in your niche, without needing an EMD.
- Aggressive content marketing – Focus heavily on content pillars, keyword research and optimization to achieve rankings, rather than domain factors.
- Keyword optimization – Target keywords in page titles, headers, content, URL structures, alt text and schema markup rather than domains.
- Local SEO – For local businesses especially, citation building and Local SEO signals matter far more than having a location-based EMD.
- User engagement – Developing social shares, reviews, on-site engagement and email subscribers can help rankings more than any EMD.
Unless you have a clear transactional need and budget, investing in a brandable domain and focusing on content, technical SEO and user engagement is generally a smarter route than banking on an EMD. The opportunity cost is lower and long-term flexibility greater.
The Exceptions: When an EMD Still Helps
While their general impact has faded, there remain a few specific situations where using an EMD can still provide SEO value:
- Localized or niche businesses – An EMD can reinforce trust and branding for businesses targeting very specific locales or niches. For example, DenverPlumbers.com or RunningShoeReviews.com.
- Securing multiple related EMDs – Covering several domains in a niche can help secure real estate and block competitors. For example, BestSteakRestaurant.com, TopSteakRestaurant.com, QualitySteakRestaurants.com.
- Transaction-optimized sites – In niches like insurance, loans or travel, EMDs align well with commercial search intent. The domain itself helps build trust and credibility.
- When you can obtain high-value domains – If you have the budget to acquire high search volume EMDs like Loans.com or DenverHomes.com, they provide more benefit.
- Supporting larger brand domains – EMDs can be used strategically in conjunction with a primary brand domain for segmentation purposes.
So while their effectiveness has diminished substantially, EMDs can still support SEO in combination with the right optimization actions and content for select appropriate niches. Their role has simply evolved.
The Evolving Purpose of EMDs
In today’s SEO environment, exact match domains are no longer the shortcut to high rankings and targeted organic traffic they once were. Modern search algorithms place far more weight on authority, content, technical factors and overall quality signals.
However, EMDs aren’t completely irrelevant either. They serve a shrinking but supportive role in establishing domain relevance and search intent, influencing click behavior, aiding branding, and reinforcing other optimization efforts in select cases.
But for most sites, trying to force an EMD is an unnecessary restriction, and a brandable generic domain paired with strong content and smart optimization is a far better route. That provides greater flexibility, lower cost, and achieves better results in the modern SEO landscape.
While in limited circumstances an EMD still has SEO benefits, its days as a primary ranking factor are in the past. But by understanding their evolving role, you can make an informed decision on their current value and whether an investment in an EMD aligns with the overall goals for your website and online presence.
In the early days of SEO, buying an exact match domain was a shortcut to higher rankings. But as search engines have grown more sophisticated, other factors like content quality, user experience and overall authority have become much more important.
While EMDs can still provide minor relevancy and click-through boosts, their SEO impact is marginal on its own without the right optimization and content strategy. For most sites, a brandable domain plus great content is a smarter play. But exceptions remain where EMDs make sense for specialized niches and commercial keywords.
Understanding the modern role of EMDs allows maximizing their residual SEO value while focusing on the higher priority elements that matter most to search engines – ultimately driving more qualified organic traffic in today’s landscape.