Thee was a time when a keyword domain meant everything, a time when you could literally just buy a strong domain and then rule that keyword. Thankfully, this is no longer the case and it has stopped domain hoggers from taking control. But if premium domains are no longer that powerful, then why are they still so expensive and just how effective are they?
The Exact Match Domain Algorithm
Google changed the algorithm in order to remove what was known as the “Exact Match Domain” issue. In simple terms, this meant that if you were searching for “Cheap DVDs and CDs”, then you would see a rather long-winded site that had that keyword as the domain name. A friend of mine once bought over 30 stupidly long domains to advertise products. They contained all kinds of stop words and were ridiculously long, akin to something like PanasonicTVForLessThan500Dollars,com. It probably would have worked because this algorithm was so flawed, but in his case the Exact Match Domain change was implemented just 2 weeks after he bought them all.
So Keyword Domains Are Useless?
Not entirely, but they are fairly useless for big companies. These days the big budget companies can do much more with good branding and social media advertising than they ever could with a strong domain. That’s why they focus on creating a brand and don’t really care about keywords. If you have less money then you’re more apt to clutch at straws and take what you can get, and that’s okay because keyword domains do still help in someway (more on that soon) but the big boys no longer care. And that’s good for the rest of us, because it means all quality domains are not being snapped up so they can be sold on for thousands of dollars, leaving us with obscure domains.
What About Domain Extensions?
I have been asked whether country extensions such as .Wales or .London could be used in place of keywords, so that domains like BestPlacesIn,London would essentially take you to the top of Google for a key search term. But, unfortunately, that’s just not the case. In fact, these names likely have considerably less pulling power than .Co.Uk and are really only for very localized brands that want some local identity. As far as Google is concerned, top-level domains are always the way to go.
I also recommend going for .Com, but if you have a local business or are writing about national content, your country’s domain is better. And it doesn’t exclude you from the international marketplace. One of my biggest sites right now is a .Co.Uk site that gets 90% of its hits from the United States. I also have .Com sites that get more hits from the UK and one that gets most of its hits from Canada.
.EDU and .GOV are incredibly valuable as well, but only because they are exclusive, limited to government agencies and to educational centers respectably. They rarely top the Google search engines and are usually muscled out of major keywords by .Com sites, but Google places a lot of value on domains like this so they are great for backlinks. If you ask me, I don’t think that will last because it’s something that is currently being exploited and has been exploited for a few years now. It’s a matter of time before Google realizes this and does something about it, but until then, they are very valuable domains.
What it Means for Small Companies
If you have your company name in the domain and it is a relatively obscure company, then the Exact Match Domain changes will likely seem like a negative. But Google still seems to favor such companies because company keywords are not as strongly contested and because there are other factors at play.
Let’s take a popular legal site as an example: MichaelHendersonLaw.com. This is something that you’ll only see mentioned on review pages, directories, forums and on the site owned by the company. If you search for those terms in Google then you’ll still find this site at the top, but that’s a result of on-page strength. Simply put, if it’s a brand name and not a keyword grab, then it’s going to be mentioned many times throughout the site, it’s going to be on most pages, and it’s also going to dominate the anchor texts. Google recognizes this and pushes the site to the top. In other words, it’s not the domain, it’s the site itself.
Site structure is also very important and one of the main things I actually focus on when I think about SEO. Take a look at a recent example: http://www.chaincutting.com/. This is a chainsaw site that reviews chainsaws, simple as that. It’s a keyword relating to chainsaws, but most importantly it allows me to create short URLs when I add new articles. Let’s say that I want to review a chainsaw named PowerBlaster. I could store the article under http://www.chaincutting,com/powerblaster, which means that if anyone searches for “cutting with PowerBlaster” or “the chain saw PowerBlaster”, I have all of those words in the domain, even though the domain is still nice and short.
One of the better examples out there BuySharesIn.com. If you want to tell people how to buy shares in Aldi, then they just need the URL BuySharesIn.com/Aldi and they have managed to nail several long-form keywords, from “buy shares in Aldi” to “Aldi shares” and many more. It’s great for structure and order, it’s great for branding and it’s great for keeping everything short and relevant.
So premium domains are still expensive because they do still play some role when the URL is extended and because short domains are always better.