It might be a bad thing all of a sudden.
Let’s start with what we mean in that headline. Who should do better for search results with Google? Nike.com or Sneakersonline.com? Google spawned a whole new set of businesses as soon as it became clear that it would give priority to an unknown, non-brand business that put the words people might be using in search into their domain name over a brand like Nike.
Now, ten years later? They’re reversing that.
A few months ago the head of the Webspam team at Google Matt Cutts announced on Twitter that they would do a small change in the Google Algorithm which “will reduce low-quality “exact match” domains in search results”
At Pull, we’ve never been happy with the way Google treated brands vs. keyword-based domain names; allowing the ones that included search terms to out-rank brand brand-based ones. It seemed illogical and random. But having encouraged probably millions of sites with compelling domain names like: www.optimumnutritionwholesale.com, Google has turned on them and decided to mark them with the sign of the devil. Harsh.
A real-life dilemma for us (now many years ago) was a local manufacturer of anti-vibration mountings for the aviation and automotive industry. The category was absolutely dominated by keyword-based domain names. Unfortunately, their brand name – ‘AVA’ didn’t exactly lend itself to a keyword-based domain name. Our unease about purely keyword-based domain names proved prophetic. We registered, but felt uncomfortable with www.antivibrationmountings.com and went instead for www.ava-antivibrationmountings.co.uk . We’re pleased to say that as of today AVA is #4 in Google for a search for ‘anti vibration mounting’. Phew, they escaped the Cutt.
What exactly is an “exact-match” domain?
We would interpret this as a domain name that exactly reflects a high volume search term. Further research suggests that the ‘penalised’ URLs would contain no other terms or even separators like hyphens.
What does "low quality" sites mean?
It’s interesting that Google refers to low quality as the other parameter or criteria that will provoke their penalty. Hence the implication that Google will not penalise sites with an otherwise good quality credentials. What do we mean by ‘good quality’? We take ‘good quality’ to mean unique and rich content, good quality traffic, incoming links and technically about how well the site has been built, site speed and “the crawlability” of the pages. Anecdotal research suggests that sites that have been penalised (some very badly it seems) tend to have some other really major spammy feature. One example was a large proportion of the site devoted to Google ad space cunningly designed as content. Well if you’re going to play those kinds of games. . .
We have seen no drop in the #1 position of a site we built for www.conservatoryblinds.co.uk since the October “weather report”.
So should I worry if I have keywords in my domain?
No. Not unless you were doing some other dodgy things too. Firstly, if you were going to be penalised you would know by now. This small change in the algorithm does not mean that sites with search terms in their domain names will drop their positions in SERP results.
Looking for an easy win?
It looks as though the days of doing that by using an exact-match search phrase as your URL alone are now gone. While we think that Google were always silly to encourage this practice in the first place (there is no doubt in our minds that they were the cause of the proliferation of all these ‘exact-match’ domain names) we think that it’s good overall that Google have levelled the playing field – especially for brand-named based sites. The real aim of this change is try to punish poor quality sites that are using a lot of keywords but without any real brand equity. In our view they should be.
From our experience we can say that the use of keywords in the domain gives some positive results in SERPS but the importance of the domain name should always be trumped by the quality of the brand and the site that has been built.
In Pull Digital we spend quality time in all website and SEO decisions. If you need any help about domain name strategy do not hesitate to call us on 01483 424460.