Forbes covers exact-match domain names…but gets the link between domains and SEO wrong

SEO

Domain names have been getting some nice attention by Forbes recently with the latest article hitting today discussing exact-match domain names and their popularity with investors. Along with covering why exact-match domains are so interesting to investors, and why .COM is still the way to go:

When selecting your domain, it’s also wise to consider an exact-match domain. What are these? They are domains that use the exact keywords that best represent your brand or products. Obviously, the best exact match domain names end in .com. (Source – Forbes)

I think it’s pretty darn cool to see Forbes talk about domain investing, let’s be honest, the mainstream media calls Domainers cybersquatters a lot more than they do investors…but maybe things are changing?

While I think the article makes a lot of good points about exact-match domains, I think they missed the mark when talking about the SEO value of domains names:

The search engine benefits of this domain are omnipresent. A quick Google search for “hotels” reveals that Hotels.com is the top organic result, which leads to hundreds of millions of free, new users for their brand each year. (Source – Forbes)

This isn’t really true. Hotels.com isn’t the top organic result because of the domain, it’s because of all the work the company behind the domain has done to get amazing backlinks and marketing they’ve done to build the brand. That being said, Hotels.com is a great domain name and without a doubt a category-killer and the best choice for the company that bought it.

Still, domain names no longer carry SEO juice. You can’t just buy an exact match domain and rank #1 in Google for it…those days are gone. According to SEO.com, Google used to provide SEO benefits for exact-match domains but doesn’t any more:

In a much simpler time, when SEO was as simpler thing, a website’s domain name could have a huge impact on its rankings.

But nothing lasts forever, and a few years back, Google realized that a domain alone, without any supporting quality elements, needed to be addressed.

The problem came from Exact Match Domains (EMD). Companies would buy a domain name that was little more than a keyword. At the time, that was enough to rank.

Now, things have changed. (Source – SEO.com)

All this being said, yes – a good domain name is critical to building a brand online. Also having a good domain gives more credibility instantly, probably making it easier for people to trust you and link back to you, hence improving your SEO…but Google algorithm isn’t giving you an SEO bonus just for having an exact-match domain. I think SEO.com says it best;

Exact match domains took a hit as a ranking factor back in 2012, but they’re still an important part of online marketing for different reasons. (Source – SEO.com)

Still this isn’t meant to be a total dig on the article Forbes put together, they nailed it with the value of exact-match domains to investors…but end users should know that they still have to put in the time, energy, and money to get SEO juice to the sites they put on their domain names.

{ 17 comments… add one }

  • Aaron Strong May 29, 2018, 10:01 pm

    Google has always maintained that EMD’s with LOW QUALITY content would be hit by the changes, and they were hit. However, if you have HIGH QUALITY content it has been widely discussed that EMD’s can be beneficial. From SEJ:

    In August 2016, Mark Preston published a case study that tracked the effectiveness of exact match domains and local SEO. The study was inconclusive, but results seemed to point towards at least some effectiveness of exact match domains remaining today.

    Reply
  • Snoopy May 29, 2018, 11:07 pm

    “This isn’t really true. Hotels.com isn’t the top organic result because of the domain, it’s because of all the work the company behind the domain has done to get amazing backlinks and marketing they’ve done to build the brand.”

    ///////////////////

    Morgan, very difficult to draw a conclusion on that. I don’t think the answer is clear or known. The domain may well have an effect for high quality, long established sites. Certainly exact match domains are out of favour though with new companies preferring unrelated brand names, the article feels somewhat dated from that respect.

    But why does Hotels.com rank no.1, why not booking.com or expedia?

    For starters I’d say some % are actually looking for hotels.com when typing in “hotels” and hotels.com has probably got a CTR advantage over all competitors for that term. It is probably the logical company for position no.1 because of its domain name. Would be a different situation if hotels.com wasn’t widely known.

    Reply
  • Phil May 30, 2018, 4:26 am

    Look at vacation.rentals where does it rank , very little seo work and next to zero content because it’s in pre launch

    Reply
  • Andrew Rosener May 30, 2018, 6:24 am

    Morgan, that is simply not true. All other things being equal (strong content, link profile, etc) the exact match domain (EMD) will ALWAYS win and rank higher. EMD’s still carry substantial weight but they need equal foundational elements (content, links, site structure, load times, etc) as the other domains you are competing against.

    We’ll be filming a DomainSherpa.com episode with Rand Fishkin TODAY as a matter of fact on this exact topic!

    Reply
    • Adam May 30, 2018, 9:11 am

      While I agree that exact match helps. . . . as I’ve been there before using an exact match domain. The problem with coming to a conclusion based on “all things being equal” is that there is never a case where we can say all things are equal. The site, graphics, content, etc are never the same. There is no apples to apples comparison where we can have Hotels.com battle against Bookings.com and see who ranks best. . .all things being equal but the domain.

      Reply
      • Don May 30, 2018, 1:06 pm

        Thanks for hitting this point. I think they are taking one component and trying to make a wider correlation that just isn’t there.

        Reply
    • Morgan May 31, 2018, 3:32 pm

      @Andrew – thanks for sharing, I’m definitely not an SEO expert so happy to be proved wrong here 🙂 Looking forward to checking out the show and hearing what Rand says about it!

      Reply
  • R P May 30, 2018, 8:08 am

    Concur with Snoopy and Andrew.

    The CTR advantage is huge, and that’s what counts, especially in paid search. Goog makes more money from higher CTR and therefore charges you less than competitors, while pushing your ranking higher. That’s been true since at least 2002.

    The best way to get a CTR advantage is having the exact match domain of what user is searching for. They instinctually click on your ad more often than competitors. This consumer behavior has never changed and probably never will.

    Reply
  • Anon May 30, 2018, 11:11 am

    Domainers would get more respect and be accused less of cybersquatting if domainers themselves would eschew the term “domainer” completely. It is far more respectful to refer to oneself as a “domain name investor” or “investor” or “digital asset investor”. It simply sounds more legitimate and professional, like “real estate investor”.

    Even then some people will say, ‘oh so you’re a cybersquatter’. It’s important to quickly correct them that ‘no, cybersquatting is illegal and only applies to domain names with preceding trademarks in them for which a cybersquatter is attempting to extort money from the trademark holder. I only invest in generic domain names with no preceding trademarks in them. Those are all ‘first come, first serve’, per ICANN’s rules from Day 1.’

    Reply
  • Jose May 30, 2018, 1:31 pm

    I remember that in my principles domainer be terribly bad in the concordance of the keywords, you yourself Morgan wrote emails many times giving me to understand that that was not good at all.

    I was stubborn too and also recognize that concordances were ineffective, losing a lot of time and money.

    Until I receive an email from you where I briefly write what I always wanted to understand and I did not, spend a few years, until I wake up from a bad dream created within myself.

    Thank you, Morgan

    Reply
  • Larry Scott May 30, 2018, 5:53 pm

    As someone that register exact match domains (.com and gtlds) I will completely have to disagree with you. My gtld with seo work literally jumped up to Googles 1st page within weeks. Its actually still ranking number 1 right now. If you really want to bet me on this, I will hand register a domain name tonight and it will rank on Googles 1st/2nd page by the end of June.

    Exact match domains still hold juice. The only thing that has really changed is SEO. You have to still use keywords in your SEO technique but now its more about user engagement and the user experience.

    Reply
  • Snoopy May 30, 2018, 10:02 pm

    Question, Does anyone know of a well known exact match site that does not rank no.1 for the exact match term? Is there such a thing?

    i.e. is there a company that is say the 4th biggest online seller of “widgets” called widgets.com that doesn’t rank no.1?

    Reply
    • Larry Scott May 31, 2018, 10:19 am

      Search for:

      cheese, cars, recipe, lemonade, privacy, candy…just a few. Most owners are not putting these domains to good use or know SEO which I think personally is a travesty of an investment.

      Reply
    • Larry Scott May 31, 2018, 10:20 am

      Ignore my comment, I read your question wrong.

      Reply
  • Jon Schultz June 1, 2018, 2:10 pm

    Great Forbes article that I will link to on my site and in responses to domain inquiries, and very honest of you, Morgan, to express the opinion you did.

    However much of an SEO advantage exact match domains confer, the article and this discussion leaves me wondering if, at present, .com domains confer more of an SEO advantage than domains of other extensions. Anyone know?

    Bing seems to give more weight to exact match domains than Google does and who knows what the situation will be in the future. I personally don’t like Google for searching as the options are very limited compared to what they could be (and Bing is pretty much a clone of Google). It would be nice if there was a “domain search engine” which, when you entered a search term, pulled up thumbnails of the home page of all exact match domains and similar ones (or a search engine which provided that option). That would be great for the industry.

    Reply
    • Larry Scott June 3, 2018, 9:36 pm

      I can tell you Bing is hugely flawed and they are not really a clone to Google. They are precisely like Yahoo and AOL which I think is because Bing may own them (not sure though). Reason I say they are flawed is because I registered one of these squatter names “partycity-com.com” I literally put 2 products up that redirected to my main site. This squatter site had little no SEO work done to it and it ranked on the 1st page right under PartyCity.com on Bing, Yahoo and AOL for like a month. I’ve done this with plenty other domains when I use to squat and steal traffic from established businesses. That domain was also getting traffic from Google as well something I could never figure out why because it wasn’t ranking on Google.

      Reply
  • Michael Gargiulo August 24, 2018, 10:55 am

    Thanks for all these comments. Here is an updated Forbes article that was just published in follow up to Morgan’s original article above. Cheers!

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/08/07/exact-match-domains-how-to-price-these-high-value-assets/

    Reply

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