For Now, Keyword Laden Domain Names Are An Important Part of the SEO Puzzle

Aug 23 2010

There’s been a lot of talk about Google’s algorithm and it’s constant change.  One thing is apparent, Google likes keywords in the domain.  In medium to small competition keywords, a domain with those keywords often outranks sites with much better content and links.  Many a large site owner has checked their Google rankings only to see a 6 page, keywords loaded, keyword domain name ranked higher.  Is that about to change?  Why does Google do this?  Webmasterworld had a nice discussion break out regarding these points.

Here’s the post that started the discussion

It’s 2010, and Google still gives a considerable amount of weight to keyword domains. I have competitors with a fraction of the links I have, yet they still outrank me on certain terms. To top it off, content on these domains are usually spammy. You know, the type of content that is built around keywords rather than the reader.

From my estimates, to outrank them on a term associated with their domain name I need double the link power, on average. Has anyone else with a brandable (no generic keywords) domain experienced this?

It seems to me, SEO-wise, generic keyword laden domains are still the way to go. That may change in the future, but it hasn’t yet.

Here are a few of the posts that I thought provided some great opinions and info

If you’ve ever tried to rank a keyword-match domain in a competitive market, you know it takes more than just the domain.

This is true. However, one reason I’d give the edge to keyword rich domains is that the URL itself effectively serves as anchor text when linked. I figure it has to be a valuable asset when users are sharing your link across forums and such.

IMO there is much more that goes into rankings these days than simply the link count… I think looking and thinking ‘I have the most links, so I should rank better’ are either over on definitely on their way out…

I’ve considered many other factors but as far as I can see it comes down to the domain name on this one. I’ve noticed other competitors in a similar situation have trouble ranking against these keyword domains as well. I suppose it’s possible that Google weighs certain keywords or niches differently, perhaps based on popularity of a given term.

2. Domain with hyphens between words doesn’t have the same effect.

I’ve noticed this too.

The more competitive the term the more likely you are to be up against people with money who pay savvy SEOs to get great links.

In the last 12 months I’ve taken first place for a non-competitive local small business term with an exact match non-hyphenated keyword domain with one link from its sister site (itself not a strong domain by any means). The site was top ten when launched (even with duplicate content). When re-optimised it went to first immediately.

In a more competitive sphere (information search) we launched a new site which immediately outranked Wikipedia, government advice sites, the BBC and other big names with 100s / 1000s of links, with an exact match keyword domain which had just one strong link from its household name parent site. It hovers around 40 for synonyms and related phrases which are supported by the title tag.

So I see a real and disproportionate boost. If you have the natural keyword domain I think your competitors would have to work much harder to keep up.

And a few more

A decent generic domain name is a “signal of quality”. For popular commercial search phrases (especially 1-3 word ones) obtaining the exact-match generic can be an expensive proposition if you don’t already own it from way-back-when… and that could be interpreted as one thing that separates the spammers from the players.

As such, these kinds of domains should be seen as prime commercial real estate in the heart of downtown. You could in theory put anything you like on the land, but in practice it will generally end up getting sold or leased to deeper pocketed businesses with a business model that “works” such that they can afford it.

And the simple fact that they are based in such a “prime location” is enough to lend real, palpable legitimacy to businesses situated there, even if they’re being viewed for the first time by someone unfamiliar with the area. (Contrast your own instant gut reaction to main street vs back street stores in a town you’re unfamiliar with)

It’s therefore both logical and to be expected that Google would give a decent boost to high value commercial exact-match domains.

It’s a huge factor in my experience especially if it’s an exact match. I’d go as far as saying that an exact match KW domain will at least halve the necessary other SEO work to hit the number 1 spot.

It must be exact match though – even a plural difference doesn’t give this huge boost.

The other thing is a secondary effect – a ranking boost due to CTR. Searchers are more likely to click on a domain when they are searching for ‘red shoes’ especially as Google emboldens the KW.

And finally another good opinion

Regarding the SEW study, here’s some commentary and critique on WebmasterWorld, from back in July….

Has the Anchor Text Signal Been Dampened? []

IMO, while the study is interesting, its approach is flawed because it considers inbound linking in isolation. I’ve always felt that inbound anchor text, link quality, page titles, onsite navigation, and onpage content all work together.

With regard to the domain name advantage… in areas I observe regularly, there are many exact match domains that are apparently unbeatable, and there are some that aren’t ranking well at all. It’s not always the .com TLD that’s the winner. Obviously, what you do with the site has something to do with how much mileage the domain name will get you.

Often, the top exact match domains in very competitive areas are also extremely good sites, and they benefit from years of success and development dollars. Keyword domains that don’t do well are generally cookie-cutter sites hoping to leverage the domain name by itself, with not enough emphasis on development of site content.

I do feel that keywords in the domain… or really in the company name… give a site a great anchor text advantage at the start. This is such an advantage that in some areas I’d say it’s extremely hard, if not practically impossible, to beat established keyword domains. I think that it is the anchor text, not just the domain name, that carries the weight. More precisely, it’s the inbound anchor text in combination with keywords in the domain or company name that appear also on the site.

Google’s addition of algo branding factors was perhaps intended to help level this playing field to a degree, but the increased weight given to brands has also served further to push newly emerging sites down.

So the definitive answer is……..we still don’t know,  but it certainly helps to start with a strong keyword domain name.   Make a junk site and you deserve to have junk results.  Solid domain with great content and you should rise to the top.

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Outsmarting the Dumb, Outworking the Smart

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  1. Leonard Britt

    I read on NP that many SEO experts complain about the weighting the search engines give to exact match domains and want that benefit removed. Oh, so they can sell more SEO services right :)? While I have certainly seen the benefit of exact match domains in .COM & .Net, I have also seen at times that inbound links from Yahoo directory and BOTW can boost a site which is ok into a position which doesn’t seem deserving given the content of the site. We all want our sites to rank well and the tendency is to gripe about competing sites which outrank ours 🙂

  2. Steroids UK

    in my niche i have around 5x the links of 90% of my competition and yet i’m still way behind them thanks to their exact match keyword domain names, in fact i’m the only result on page 1 that doesn’t have all the keywords in my name.

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