Exact Match Domains Gained Strength in 2011 – Here’s Why

SEOMoz recently posted a look back to 2011 at some of the surprises in the search industry. SEOMoz has in the past discussed domains, namely the factors that can contribute or detract from SEO. So unsurprisingly, one of the “surprises” involved domains.

Here was their #8 surprise:

Despite what i think will be a general consensus that the quality of Google SERPs improved dramatically over the past year, exact match domain names seemed to be ranking better and appearing in greater number, even for extremely competitive keywords.

This was, of course, extremely frustrating for those of us who hold a romantic vision of a world where spammy tactics are redundant and SEOs, clad entirely in white, run around meadows in harmony with Google; gaily laughing at the fools from paid-seo-friendly-links.com.

While we can assume and hope that this problem will eventually get fixed, we can take solace in the introduction of rich snippets and schema.org which also happened this past year – giving genuinely good sites another way to prove their worth in the SERPs.

Interestingly, their very next article contained predictions for 2012, including a look back at their predictions for 2011 to see if they were right.

One of their 2011 predictions was:

1. Someone proves (or a search engine confirms) that clicks/visits influence rankings +2
Both Google and Bing confirmed in 2011 that they use searcher behavior, including clicks, as ranking signals. This prediction was spot on (though, to be fair, some felt that prior statements had already insinuated this was the case).

That makes sense – after all, search engines want to serve up results that people will go to. People may not like what they find once they visit the site, but them not wanting to visit the site at all is most telling about the (lack of) relevance of the result.

Now consider what happens when someone searches a particular keyword phrase. Every exact or partial match of it in the results and ads is in bold. Things in bold are emphasized and stand out. In fact, consider on sites like eBay where you may want something emphasized – you would PAY for a bold title, and sure enough it would capture more eyeballs.

What’s an integral part of the results and ads that can become bold? The domain. So the entire SLD of an exact match domain (SLD meaning portion to the left of the dot) would become bold in a search for that keyword phrase. Google and Bing both emphasize exact match domains.

Additionally, consider that exact match domains scream relevance. It’s not always the case that a site will have what the domain would indicate – after all, we don’t run into scary beasts on Monster.com. But in most cases where exact match domains are used to target particular terms, those sites will be relevant.

So what’s likely happening is that a combination of those two factors – the domain being emphasized and indicating relevance – is causing them to be visited more than other results. So SEOMoz unwittingly indicated why exact match domains becoming more powerful in search engines should not have been a surprise.

The question is, will Google and/or Bing decide to slap exact match domains down in the name of fighting low-quality sites? It all depends on what the visitors do after they reach exact match domains. While SEOs do indeed take advantage of exact match domains to get higher rankings, they may be putting up quality content as well.

Ultimately search engines are moving closer to actually figuring out whether their users like or dislike particular sites and change their rankings accordingly. Inevitably it may use that data to predictively promote sites showing similarities to the well-liked sites or slap sites that are similar to sites people leave quickly.

Whether the power of the exact match domain will be manually reviewed and changed by Google or Bing soon is unknown, but as-is, those domains are set up to continue to rise in power through 2012 as well.

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3 Comments on “Exact Match Domains Gained Strength in 2011 – Here’s Why”

  1. […] Exact Match Domains Gained Strength in 2011 – Here’s Why […]

  2. […] match domains slay the search engines and have improved in performance over 2011. So it’s a natural fit to get a geo domain to target local customers, as it can be an exact […]

  3. Sharon Hayes says:

    Reblogged this on Sharon Hayes Dot Com.


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