Exact Match Domains Still Providing SEO Boost in Local Search

Exact Match Domains Still Providing SEO Boost in Local Search


On September 28, 2012 Google’s Matt Cutts announced via Twitter that they made a “small” algorithm change that would reduce the number of low quality exact match domains in the search results.

I re-ran the Rank Checker tool for the site listed below and found some fairly major changes (Old Ranking On Google.ca):

  • city keyword2 – #18  (#1)
  • keyword2 city – #25  (#8)
  • city keyword2 keyword3 – #60  (#21)
  • keyword4 keyword2 in city – #76   (#52)
  • city keyword1 – #67  (#25)
  • keyword1 in city – #84  (#65)
  • best city keyword2 – Not ranked (Still not ranked)
  • city keyword2 free keyword3 – #53  (#52)
  • keyword1 city – #63  (#28)
  • keyword1 keyword3 city – #96  (#52)
Now, I haven’t run this check since the original blog post went out back in April, but from these new results, we can certainly see a few things happening that are very good.
  1. The exact match domain is no longer giving this website a lift for the city and niche keywords included in the domain name.
  2. The site has also been hit by other Google algorithm changes that were long overdue.

You can read more about it here, or if you really want to get technical, you can read about it here!

www.This is something I’ve wanted to write about for some time, and haven’t been able to find too much about this topic that is specifically geared towards local search, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

In one local market I’ve been tracking since around 2008, there’s one city-specific keyword phrase that has always been illusive.  If I was to put a ranking on it’s importance, I would say that for this niche, it’s basically “city-keyword2”. (Keyword #2 being the second most important keyword for this niche)  Through dozens (hundreds?) of Google algorithm changes, competitor additions and deletions from the rankings, and a handful of frustrated web development and SEO companies, the #1 position for this keyword search has never changed.  The exact match domain (www.citykeyword2.com) seems to embedded in that position until the end of time.

Here’s the frustrating part.  Anyone analyzing this market and niche would agree with me that from an SEO perspective, the website has absolutely no business being in that position.  There are several sites with better metrics that should be knocking it out of the park.  Couple that with the fact that every time Google releases something about their recent algorithm changes, there is something about freshness, a site that hasn’t been updated or changed since 2004 should be moved to page 50!

This particular site is over 10 years old, and we know that domain age also plays an important role in Google’s rankings, but when you take a look at their rankings for other terms, you can see that it’s somewhat eliminated as a factor in the results.

Here’s a small sampling of search  rankings for the site on Google.ca from Rank Checker:

  • city keyword2 – #1
  • keyword2 city – #8
  • city keyword2 keyword3 – #21
  • keyword4 keyword2 in city – 52
  • city keyword1 – #25
  • keyword1 in city – #65
  • best city keyword2 – Not ranked
  • city keyword2 free keyword3 – #52
  • keyword1 city – #28
  • keyword1 keyword3 city – #52

Ok, so from a share of traffic perspective, I don’t see this competitor’s website as a much of an issue.  What scares me a little about this scenario is that IF this website were to be updated and optimized for local seo, how hard would it be to improve these rankings, and how much juice is just the domain name giving to the campaign?

It’s been almost a year and a half since Matt Cutts (Google’s Web Spam Guru) announced that Google would be looking at why exact match domains rank so well in search.  Later he implied that they would be making adjustments to “turn down” this metric a little in the algorithm during one of his Webmaster help videos back in March of 2011.  (I’m adding it below, because it will also help those of you who don’t quite understand what an exact match domain name is in the first place – go to 2:30 for the discussion on the algorithm change)


When it comes to determining a domain name for local search, there are several things to consider:

  • Will it be memorable?
  • Does it suit my brand?
  • Is it be specific to my product or service niche?
  • Is it localized to my area?
  • Place specific keywords (City name?)
  • Country specific domain (like .ca or .co.uk?)

When it come to choosing a domain for local search, it can be easy to be swayed into choosing a city specific domain name.  Just due to the nature of local search, and looking at a sampling of a potential top keyword mix for a niche, you can be drawn to city specific names almost immediately.

  • city-keyword1
  • keyword1-city
  • keyword2-city
  • city-keyword1-keyword3
  • keyword3-city

A new business, or overly eager SEO will see this as a big opportunity to grab a city-specific domain name for a new website or website update and garner quick rankings.  “I’m targeting keywords, and my #1 keyword is my city, right?”  Sure it is, but it’s not necessarily the best way to go.

There’s been a tonne of discussion over the years about what domain name to choose, and it’s easy to find some great resources all over the internet, so I won’t dig too far into the non-localized equation.  What does need to be discussed further is, how do I chose a domain name for a local business?

More often than not, my recommendation is to go with your brand name.  If you’re lucky, your brand name includes some keywords, which makes optimization a little easier.  An example would be Chicago Plumbing Services or Toronto Florists.  This kind of business name, makes the domain name a no brainer, that is, if you can get it.  Business names that are less descriptive, for instance the furniture company Kesay here in Winnipeg don’t have the benefit of a keyword in their business name, but are incredibly memorable.  (I’ve never actually been there, but it’s the first business that popped into my head for some reason – damn radio ads!)  There’s massive power in that name recognition, and their marketing team knew it when they developed the business name.

So, there are a few things we can take away from this:

  • If you are a new business, or re-branding consider how local search will play into your overall marketing strategy.  Perhaps including the city name or other keywords in the business name is a fit for you.
  • For established brands, it’s almost always best practice to avoid the no-descript keyword stuffed domains, and leverage your brand name accordingly.
  • Google needs to take a harder look at their exact match domains when it comes to local search.

What does everyone else think about exact match domains in local search?

Update:  Here’s a great post from Dr. Pete over at SEOMoz that digs a little deeper into this issue.  In a word, yes, they are still still providing an SEO boost, but the changes in the way the SERP results are handled seem to have put less emphasis on them.  Are exact match domains (EMD’s) on the decline?


  1. A great article Thanks Duane. Google really does need to sort this out. It has been abused so much and where exact match domains are used they are often less relevant than brand related domains. Don’t judge a book by its cover Google!

  2. Question: if your ideal “exact match” is unavailable, will a partial generate the same traffic for you? e.g. will owning “poolclean.com” get you any traffic from people searching for “pool cleaners” or “pool cleaning” ?

    • Great question. While it doesn’t provide a 100% match, Google will certainly use what it considers to be synonyms of the word to provide it’s results and if you have a good site authority, it can certainly be a winner. Search for the term “pool cleaning” and you’ll see that Google will bold words like, cleaning, cleaners, and even maintenance. Those are words it considers to be synonyms with “cleaning”.

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