When it comes to selecting a URL for your website, exact-match domains may or may not be the answer to your SEO goals.
Marketers are always trying to crack the code of website search engine optimization (SEO). While there are many facets we could discuss relating to SEO, in this article we will address–in a general way–the topic of “Exact-Match Domains.”
Exact-match domains are defined as URLs that utilize keywords and/or geographical areas, rather than a company’s identity or brand, as the domain for a specific website or landing page. For example:
- Branded URL: com
- Exact-Match URL: com
Both domains could lead to the same website, but one domain focuses on the keywords and geography this company is targeting, while the other highlights the brand. Exact-match domains have long been a contentious debate among industry experts as to the impact they have on a company’s website SEO efforts. Are they a factor in SEO? Yes. How much of a factor in SEO? It depends.
Determining which primary domain option is best for your business depends upon many factors. For the sake of simplicity, here are a few key points to consider:
- Brand awareness. If your business is associated with a category-respected, national brand, it may be advantageous to align your URL to that brand (assuming the brand’s corporate office allows dealer-managed websites). For example, if you were a dealer for Ford, Chevrolet or BMW, it would likely make sense to adopt that brand in your URL versus your actual corporation identity, depending upon whether you are trying to attract consumers or business investors. However, non-branded search terms often record a higher number of local search queries than branded terms in most categories.
As the Google Trends chart above illustrates, Sprint and T-Mobile, both well-known brands within the mobile phone category, received a healthy amount of search inquiries in 2016. However, the non-branded term of “Mobile Phone” received substantially more searches. Across retail and commercial segments, most brand-specific searches are declining in comparison to non-branded product or service search as brand loyalty wanes.
- Keyword search volume. If you do decide to focus on an exact-match keyword strategy for your URL, verify that you are picking the right keyword for your business. Oftentimes, we mistakenly believe that most people search for a product or service the same way we do. That notion may prompt a business owner to base their exact-match domain selection purely on “gut”. Google Trends is a simple way to verify that you are targeting keywords that potential customers are using during search inquiries. Ranking number one on terms that few people search to find your product or services is no victory at all.
- Scope of business. While many companies historically have a primary product or service that the company or franchise was founded on (ie Wendy’s = hamburgers), due to competition and customer demands, most businesses recognize that they cannot be a “one-trick pony” long-term. Thus, brands expand their product or service mix to ensure no market-share is left on the table, if possible. As such, if you are opting to select an exact-match domain, you need to think of one that will represent your company today AND tomorrow.
Accordingly, if a significant majority of your business is focused on one product or service, then using an exact-match domain strategy may make sense. Strategic America would also advise our clients to incorporate an aggressive content development strategy to increase SEO visibility for the other products and services you offer.
Finally, SA has been testing the exact-match domain strategy across many client programs. When comparing brand domains vs. keyword/geo domains (exact-match) within programs using the same target keywords and content strategies, we found that an average of 70% of the brand domains and 62% of the exact-match domains appeared on page 1 of Google search results. This means that both optimized well. We are not suggesting that the domains alone drove these results; as indicated earlier in this article, there are many factors involved in an effective SEO strategy. However, we can suggest that choosing an exact-match domain does not appear to have a significant, negative impact and thus should be considered when developing a comprehensive SEO strategy.