EMD Bias vs Ethical Brand Building Practices

Introduction to Exact Match Domains

Exact Match Domains have always been a topic of hot debate among SEO circles. This is because they work very well, especially for local listings. Businesses will often list their branches under different website URLs just to increase their visibility by having EMDs.  For example: A local business dealing in white goods repairs and service might buy multiple URLs correlating to their locations. It is not uncommon to find one business owning three to four websites such as “Kanefridgerepairsclayton.com”, “kanemicrowaverepairsmonash.com” or “kanewashingmachineservicekew.com”. This aggressive domain buying practice has previously resulted in Google listing their websites at the top for keywords like “Fridge repairs in Clayton” or suchlike. The location name, coupled with the exact search word in the domain name is what pulls in the traffic here, and by all means it seems to be an effective strategy. The real question is, is this strategy future-proof? These businesses may not exactly be scamming the system, but they are definitely attempting to exploit it, and Google has had a history of coming down rather hard on practices like these.If you’re unfamiliar with EMDs, check out this video.

SEO services melbourne Exact match domains update tweet

Why EMDs are Not Good Strategically

We’ll talk more about that later, let’s first consider the problems of this strategy:

    1. The content on these domains turns out to be repetitive and thin, making the website lose its credibility on SERPs. Managing all these websites is a technical nightmare, and keeping them updated costs the business a lot of man hours, if they actually invest in maintaining them. If they decide not to, then they end up with outdated websites that generate a lot of incoming traffic but little to no lead conversion, because they just don’t look good to the customers.
    2. According to Google guidelines local businesses should not create more than one page for each physical location of their business. This is because a NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) should be unique and linked to a single business alone. With aggressive EMD practices, the same NAP gets distributed over multiple domains, confusing Google about the authenticity of all of the domains.
    3. Since the Hummingbird Update, Google now understands the meaning behind the search words, not just the keywords themselves. That lowers the power of Exact Match Domains because Google will probably compare previous searches and show up results that are more personalised and relevant.

Statistics on EMDs

SEO Melbourne exact match domains

Exact match domains influence statistics

PMD partial match domains SEO Melbourne

Partial match domains statistics

The above graph (Source: Mozcast) shows the sharp decline of the influence of EMDs after the 2012 EMD update. The Penguin update that followed right after this one helped some of the legitimate websites recover, because the original intention of the update was to penalize spam based websites and low-quality websites.

In this graph (Source: Mozcast) you can see that even websites which had a partial match domain were hit badly after the 2012 EMD update, but they recovered from the Penguin update that followed.

Exact Match Domains vs Branding Opportunities

For those of you who still think that buying local domains to align yourself with Exact Match Domain results is a good idea, consider this:
What if Subway or Coles had decided to go with buying local domain names? Instead of a consolidated clean website, you would end up with a few thousand location based websites that would have probably been a logistical nightmare.
In my humble opinion, in agreement with the tech gods at Moz, an EMD used is a lost opportunity at branding. Even the smallest businesses can learn from the giants of the Industry. If Amazon was called “genericbookstoreinUK.com” then I’m not sure how well it would have done in the market.
This is exactly where ethical SEO practices come into play. Instead of trying an Exact Match Domain (EMD) strategy, think of this as an opportunity to create a brand. Our business owner Kane could create a local brand name that would stick, such as KaneWhiteGoods.com, which would look legitimate on SERPs and give a feeling of authenticity to the website.

In the past, Google algorithm updates have come down hard on practices like link-building and other unethical practices, and with the EMD, Penguin and Panda updates, Google has been penalising “low quality EMD websites” on their search results for a while now. This feels like a test run for a bigger update since Google has promised to ‘level the playing field’. In such a scenario, it feels like EMD isn’t going to be around for a long time, and Kane the Repairman has a much better chance of surviving if he creates a brand instead of buying a dozen domains for each of his services. Besides, as a local business owner, you should take pride in having a brand called “KaneWhiteGoods” instead of “kanewashingmachinerepairsclayton.com”. While you may experience some frustration at watching your competitors abuse the EMD bias to get more customers than you initially, once your brand is established ethically it is here to stay, and like Kane the Repairman, you will soon be flooded with customers and calls.

The Verdict

There is no doubt that EMDs are still powerful tools in the SEO industry, but there is a slow and steady stack of evidence piling up that points to their decline. Here’s a simple takeaway, if your product name is aligned with a good EMD, then go for it. If I was looking for whole organic foods, I would probably end up at WholeFoods.com. That is what a good branding idea looks like, because it is an intercept of EMD and a legitimate brand name.
Relying solely on Exact Match Domains for traffic will not get you the results you need anymore. Build your website ethically, consolidate your products under a unified brand name, create good content, and then watch the traffic come in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *