Exact Match Domains Can Be Brands

I was reading Aaron Wall’s SEOBook.com article discussing the embedded  video from Google’s Matt Cutts regarding keyword domain names and the rankings they achieve in Google. Aaron is one of the more forward-thinking SEOs, and it’s a good article for domain investors to read.

Firstly, I think Aaron should note that there is a BIG difference between “keyword domain names” discussed by Matt Cutts and exact match domain names (EMD) discussed by Aaron. To me, keyword domain names are names like BestCarInsuranceQuotes.com or WatchMovieTrailersOnline.com, and exact match domain names would be names like SkiHelmets.com or SoccerCleats.com. Anyway, more on that below.

At the conclusion of the article, Aaron posed the question, “What happens to the value of domain names if EMD bonus goes away & Google keeps adding other data sources?

From my perspective, strong descriptive domain names will still have the same value before and after because those domain names can be brands on their own. I think long tail keyword names, ugly keyword names with lots of hyphens, non .com, and nonsensical keyword domain names could take a hit in value, assuming they had any intrinsic value prior to the algo change.

Let me explain what I mean for a minute.

Domain names like Hotels.com, Ski.com, Golf.com, Cars.com, Insurance.com, and even my own DogWalker.com**, have become brands after development and marketing. Even Aaron Wall’s own domain name (SEOBook.com) is an example of a EMD, “SEO Book,” turned into a brand. These domain names say what they are and people bypass Google to visit those sites because they know what they’ll get.

Similar but yet to be developed domain names like Cats.com, or thousands of other EMDs can be bought and built into self-branded companies that have similar brand recognition as a branded company like Catster. If a local pet shop with big aspirations buys Cats.com and invests significant time and expense into building a helpful portal that people benefit from visiting, wouldn’t Google want to reward its efforts with a strong ranking, allowing it to compete with larger brands like Petco or PetSmart? Isn’t that one of the best things about the Internet?

Many domain investors (like myself) purchase and value domain names based on the potential for brand development, weighing that higher than current traffic / revenue. I didn’t buy DogWalker.com because I thought I could game a search engine, but rather because it’s easy to remember and I saw the potential it had to become a brand in and of itself.

As I mentioned, I do think that longer tail and nonsensical domain names with keywords will suffer. For instance, a name like Best-Car-Insurance-Quotes.info, which wouldn’t make for a good brand, shouldn’t get ranked higher in Google simply because the owner bought a name with keywords in it. Similarly, a nonsensical domain name like QuotesInsuranceCar.com should not get any EMD bonus simply because the name has a random assortment of meaningful keywords.

I do think Google’s algorithm change impacting keyword domain names will be felt by some. From my perspective, it’s likely that the biggest impact will be felt by domain registrars, since there will be far less incentive for someone to register long tail and nonsensical keyword domain names.

I happen to think that EMDs can be easily made into brands and that there is quite a bit of difference between a EMD and a keyword domain name, and Google is smart enough to know the difference.

**For my DogWalker.com site, it received around 100 visits/month before development about 16 months ago.  Today, traffic is around 10,000 visits a month with 20-25% of it being direct navigation. To me, this indicates that people have learned about the brand and visit DogWalker.com in lieu of a search engine.


Please help me raise funds for the  Ronald McDonald House

Elliot Silver
Elliot Silver
About The Author: Elliot Silver is an Internet entrepreneur and publisher of DomainInvesting.com. Elliot is also the founder and President of Top Notch Domains, LLC, a company that has closed eight figures in deals. Please read the DomainInvesting.com Terms of Use page for additional information about the publisher, website comment policy, disclosures, and conflicts of interest. Reach out to Elliot: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


  1. Elliot: 100% agreed.

    I like your definitions of “keyword domain names” and “exact match domain names.”

    At the end of the day, Google wants to put the websites with the best content at the top of the search results. There are certain things an owner of that good content can do to help their website rank well: SEO tactics, a domain name with keywords, inbound links, etc. But if that website doesn’t have good content, Google will always be working hard to adjust their algorithms to exclude that website from the top of the results. It’s that simple.

  2. It boils down to many things: Google is like say The New York Times, it has the ‘editorial’ page, the opinion page, the hard news, and the ad section; some parts of Google is for straight out great content for their users, but other sections of Google is looking out for their bottom line, and programs the ‘algorithm’ against their competition, and in some cases, perceived competition. There’s no panacea to ranking high in this scenario. They really monitor the heck out of this thing. Google CANNOT be trusted to this fairly, indeed nobody should have this type of power; not even the government. There should be more competition in the search space.

    On the issue of hyphenated domains, I have made hundreds this week alone from 1-800LAWYERS.COM parked with GoDaddy, whereas non-hyphenated domains are struggling. It all depends if the parkers wants you to live a little or not. Domain industry giants are not trust-worthy, therefore I am not trusting.

  3. >>What happens to the value of domain names if EMD bonus goes away & Google keeps adding other data sources?

    I’ll go ahead and answer that one. I don’t think much will change. In fact, I don’t think that a EMD domain’s rankings would change much. Why? Most likely, the majority of the links and mentions of that domain are going to be related to the topic of keyword for that domain.

    So, if it’s SoccerCleats.com, then most likely other sites will link to that site with “soccer cleats” anchor text (or something similar). As long as the site owner puts soccer cleats information on the site, then others will know that it’s the soccer cleats site, about soccer cleats.

    @ Uzoma >> Um, the real question is: why do you have it parked with Godaddy? Godaddy isn’t exactly known for their domain parking program.

  4. I knew it all along, the name of the domains is the brand of your company.

    My company is into branding and not into the google search keyword stuffs.

    Domains that are catchy , funny and stick in your mind.

  5. So I have a question that no one has really answered yet or dug into….. I own a lot of two word product names that have a dash in between them. I.E.> Black-Heels.com, White-Watches.com, etc…
    What are your guys thoughts and opinions on these typed of dash exact product domains? I would love to hear a detailed answer from Elliot as well….
    My take on it is, they are not appealing for resale because of the dash, domain investors dont like the dash. The SE’s however dont reallly penalize you for the dash and they rank 99% as good as the non dashed coutnerpart. I always run into this problem when trying to value one of my names or my portfolio for that matter. What do you guys think about the dashed .com EXACT product names.

    Thanks for any input!

  6. The more Google cracks down on SEO gaming, or SEO in general, the better it is for the real top-tier .coms.

    Affiliate marketing and buying adwords already stopped being profitable for majority of ecommerce brands. So many started pumping $ tens of thousands per month into SEO. Once companies realize SEO is snake-oil, the only marketing tool left will be promoting a brand that is really easy to remember through display ads and offline. Future demand for the best short top-tier .coms looks very bright.

  7. @Johnny—totally agree with you Sister!!!

    SEO is a snake oil

    Just remember, if Google goes offline, what going to happen to your sites?

    Once companies realize SEO is snake-oil, the only marketing tool left will be promoting a brand that is really easy to remember through display ads and offline.

  8. To: Bill Hartzer
    WHO Asked: “@ Uzoma >> Um, the real question is: why do you have it parked with Godaddy? Godaddy isn’t exactly known for their domain parking program”.

    Bill, that’s because parking was not my primary, secondary, nor tertiary goal with those domains. They were just sitting there until developed; I’m readying a network that will blow the sucks off Google and their cabal to steal the internet.

    I was surprised at the revenue my parking is generating now from Godaddy.com. It hasn’t always been like that. And, who knows how long it will last. You must also remember, Godaddy has different levels for parking; I purchased what they called 80% Revenue Sharing Parking. I am not endorsing it, or anything, just letting you know. You have to do your own homework on this, as in others.

  9. Uzoma – If you can show Elliot that you

    a) Earned hundreds this week from 1-800LAWYERS.COM not including today but 7 days prior to today. Where hundreds means at least $200 or greater
    b) Earned at least $100 in any two separate weeks in February
    on godaddy parking with that same name

    I will donate $25 to

    Ronald McDonald House

    You have to give Elliott convincing evidence
    that you’ve earned this money and I will take his word for the authenticity of your information.

  10. @ Uzoma

    You should NOT have to PAY to park your domain(s). That’s just wrong, especially when there are all sorts of other parking companies out there that don’t charge you to park your domains. Also, 80 percent of the revenue is not a good percentage, you own the domain–you should get a lot more than that.

    >> Once companies realize SEO is snake-oil
    Just like a lot of other industries, there are companies that sell snake oil and empty promises. Then there are the 3 percent of SEO companies who actually bring a company ROI on their SEO investment.

  11. @LS make it $1000 to RMH, and remove item (b), and you have a deal.

    @Bill Hartzer, No parking company is any good. I’ve tried some of them, including Sedo and Whypark, and they all suck. They are NOT transparent, and without sunlight, the darkness is nauseating. But, I hear you. The choice at Godaddy is between 60% and 80%, there is no 81%-100%.

  12. @ Michael

    I personally do not like hyphens in domain names at all. I think they look bad aesthetically, they don’t pass the radio test, and they can be confusing and difficult to remember.

    I also am having trouble reconciling that something like “white watches” is a product. IMO, used watches, digital watches, running watches…etc are all products. A white is more a descriptive term than a product type from my perspective. I would imagine the search volume would be low, and it would be difficult to create a business around a name like that, especially with the hyphen.

    I can’t speak about the SEO aspect, but I personally don’t like names like that.

  13. @Michael

    I usually don’t get into answering these type of questions on blogs, simply because there are sufficient volunteers for it. If Elliot doesn’t get to answer it here, you can always go to his http://domainquestions.com and post it there.

    Here’s my take on hyphens and domains:

    There is a legitimate criticism from those who assert that the dash leads to loss of traffic from the domain with a dash, to the domain without; for instance, my domain http://1-800Airline.com will lose traffic to 1800Airline.com when unscrupulous internet surfer is involved. This is only severe if you registered your domain to make money from PPC, of which I am not concerned with that at all. Secondly, the reverse could be the case. It is true that most surfers will not type in the hyphen in most cases, as a natural.

    Another thing to put in consideration is of course the cost of the domains with or without the hyphen. For example your domain “White-Watches”, or “Black-heels” will be much more expensive in after markets without the hyphens. There are much more to be said, but that will be my take on your question. Thanks.

  14. It seems kind of silly that Google would change anything based on complaints about that – because it’s clear that those complaints are coming from people without EMDs that want the rankings the EMDs have – NOT visitors on Google that are upset about the results they’re seeing. Even if that was the case, their recent “Farmer” update would have killed off many of the sites getting rankings with crappy content anyways. EMDs alone have rarely if ever gotten rankings – it’s been in conjunction with the content on the site and link building offsite.

  15. I use a EMD for my primary business, and although when I first started I got some type in traffic for licenserestoration.com my type in percentage really took off as people remembered my name from radio, tv, newspaper, and internet ads. My direct navigation traffic has always been around 6-10% BUT those visitors have the longest time on site, lowest bounce rate, most goals achieved, and has a great return rate.

    Other sites that have the same volume of traffic has a much lower direct navigation volume, but what volume for DN is there is still heads above in the rest of the stats.

    So there are other benefits than just search engines and position.

  16. Very much agree. Even if they do drop SE ranking bonus for EMD’s then they still have a lot of other positives. Such as direct navigation, being easy to remember, brandable (as you say) and also that if you do the work and get it ranked in the SE’s then people will be more likely to click through to your site since the domain they see is an exact match of what they are after and gives it a sense of authority on the subject.

    If people have registered/purchased domains that are exact matches of keywords in the hope of getting easy rankings without building a quality site or building a quality backlink campaign then I think they will be disappointed, before or after any algorithm changes.

  17. Great post, and definitely agree. EMD’s success are dependent on the owners intent. If the owner depends on making it a great site and brand then owning a EMD will be an asset. If you buy it with the intent of tricking search engines and that’s your whole strategy, then you will fail and won’t rank.

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