Do Exact Match Domains Still Work?

A couple of years ago, exact match domains (EMDs) were the big thing: if you wanted to rank above all competition with just a little work, you had to find an exact match domain, do just a little bit of link building and hold the buckets outside because it was going to start raining dollars.

A while ago, though, Google decided to remove the importance exact match domains hold in the rankings and announced that a “minor” algorithm change will reduce low quality exact domains in the search results. It was actually September 28th, 2012 when Matt Cutts made the announcement:

emd algo change

The result? Days after the change, a ton of professional bloggers started to report huge drops in traffic in revenue because of this change. It was the end of the Exact match domain era. Or was it?

Before we get there, let’s answer an important question for those who don’t know the answer and don’t believe that it’s really that obvious and simple:

What is an Exact Match Domain?

An EMD is a domain that contains the exact keyword that’s targeted by the owner. Usually, it’s the keyword without any dashes or strange characters. This means that if you want to target the “organic food for cows” keyword, the exact-match domain would be (and not or anything else).

Do exact match domains still work?

exact match domains still work

Most of the people were scared because many so-called internet marketers reported huge drops in traffic and revenue after the EMD algo change was implemented. What most of the people failed to see at that time was exactly what Matt Cutts himself said: that the algo change would reduce the low quality domains in the search results. Low quality!

What does this mean? It means that Google finally understood that having one 500 word article on an EMD is not “high quality” and does not provide too much value to the user. Probably 3 articles are not enough either – and maybe 5 is still not enough.

You need a high quality site in order to rank. That’s pretty obvious and this rule stands for any type of website. So nobody should be surprised that a low quality blog, be it exact-match domain or not, will not rank high.

However, this does not mean that an EMD is actually a bad thing. Many of my blogging buddies started to run away from exact-match domains as if they had the plague. Because they don’t! Exact match domains STILL offer a bonus to those who own the domains, IF they are also able to provide high quality articles and useful information to the potential readers.

My Case Study

I have checked out tens of examples, and you can easily do so by finding a low to medium volume keyword and searching on Google. Most likely, the exact-match domain is first or somewhere in the top three results.

If you’re too lazy to do so, here’s my case study, based on websites I know extremely well: one is an exact match domain that I own (presented in my Niche Empire case study), and the others are direct competitors. Even more, one of the competing websites for THE SAME KEYWORD is also mine.

Pretty crazy, right? Well, I don’t use the methods everybody does, as you’ll see if you keep reading my articles (so… subscribe using the link in the right sidebar, aaaight?)

Before we check out the results, here is the data:

– EMD has PR0 and just 3 backlinks according to AHREFS. It has 10 published articles, the last one being published in late 2013.
– My other competing website for the same keyword is an authority website in a larger niche that includes the one of the EMD. We’re talking about one single article, written on a PR3 blog, a few days before the launch of the EMD
– Another competing article is from a well known website that has a PR6 and has also been published before the launch of the EMD.
– We’ll talk about the other websites after we check out the amazing results.

Now here are the Google search rankings for the keyword representing the Exact Match Domain:

emd case study 01 emd case study 02

In case you can’t see under my MS Paint edits, the first domain in the search results, above 829,000 other results, is my Exact-Match Domain. See those red lines? Those are Google Site Links, meaning that Google considered it a solid enough domain to reward it with a couple. A blog with 10 articles that hasn’t been touched since December 2013!

The second result is an YouTube video, followed by some established blog results (PR 5 and PR 2) then followed by a Facebook page with an exact match title.

The last five results are even more interesting: the red #1 represents my authority site that competes directly with the EMD. The red #2 is another almost exact match domain launched just one month ago, while the third is the mammoth PR6 domain.

And my lousy 10 article, PR0 blog is up there at the top!

What does this mean? It means that exact match domains still work and with a high quality blog, you can still rank above tougher, scarier opponents. In my case, there are thousands of words written there, no crappy content and we’re really talking about a high quality website.

It’s not in the most competitive niche and it only has around 3,000 monthly searches, difficult to monetize, but that matters less in our case study. What matters is that an EMD with a PR0 and only three – all of them genuine and not paid for – links is #1 in the search results.

Google looks for quality, but it also looks for relevance. It has all the rights to rank higher an exact match domain that has the quality rather than your random which might or might not be exactly about the selected keyword.

What is your experience with exact match domains? Are you still trying to rank them? Do you have a similar success story to share?

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  1. I have been using EMDs for more than a year. never really get the result that I expected.

    However, with generic name website i did manage to rank #1 for a term. It’s all about the content quality.

    ‘Content is king’ still applies.

    1. That is true. All domains with poor content are difficult to rank. Probably the choice of keywords (how competitive they are) matters a lot too.

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