In the early days of the internet, companies would often use an exact match domain (EMD) to drive traffic - and potential customers - to their website. They could successfully manipulate search results to get the website placed at the top of a search engine results page (SERP). As Google became a dominant search engine, they began to make decisions about which practices would be deemed “white hat” and acceptable or “black hat” and unacceptable. Websites using “black hat” tactics could then risk being penalized by Google. A Google penalty is meant to penalize a website for using “black hat” SEO techniques. It results in a negative impact on a website's search rankings caused by updates to Google's search algorithms and/or manual review.
As you will see, however, Google has never made a decision to fully place EMDs into the “black-hat” category.
What is an EMD?
An EMD is a web domain that matches a search query. For example, buydiscountshoes.com is an EMD that matches the long-tail keyword or search term “buy discount shoes.”
Consequences of using EMDs as domain names
Some businesses have found short or even long-term benefits from using an EMD as their domain name. Over time, however, some types of businesses may risk a domain name penalty from Google. One of the reasons that Google frowns upon EMDs is that is a sign of a “spammy” website; one that may be trying to sell things other than the advertised product or download malware to your hard-drive. The other is that it has the potential to manipulate search engine results, giving them an unfair ranking advantage over other businesses. Essentially, the practice can be unfair to the legitimate companies in the category and potentially risky for end users.
Google identifies legitimate companies partly by their use of a domain name that contains a legitimate brand or business name, typically with no more than a single keyword for which they wish to rank. Google wants websites to rise to the top of Google searches because they have solid website design, relevant content and use “white hat” approved backlinks and other SEO tactics.
How is Google handling EMDs in 2016?
Google’s first announcement about EMDs came in 2012 when then head of webspam, Matt Cutts, announced an algorithm change aimed at reducing the amount of low quality exact match domains in search results.
Until now, Google has not made much reference to the issue or publicly updated their policy. On November 25, 2016 Google’s webmaster trends analyst, Gary Illyes, Tweeted: “@gfiorelli1 @pedrodias @aleyda @pelogia It’s funny you say that! I was hunting for (bad) EMDs for the past two weeks without much luck :) — Gary Illyes ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ (@methode) November 25, 2016.”
Why are some EMDs allowed by Google?
Google does not penalize all EMDs. Google’s standard is that the website is a legitimate, “non-spammy” business. Illyes tweeted on November 25, 2016, “ there is no inherent problem with EMDs. The problem is when it's combined with other spam tactics.”
For example, a business who is selling DVDs at discounted rates may be able to use the EMD: discountdvds.com without penalty. One who is not found to be selling discount DVDs but is using that EMD could end up penalized.
The conclusion is that businesses with low quality sites using “spammy” tactics should avoid using an EMD. Google will find you and penalize you. If, on the other hand, you are a legitimate business offering a good product or service that happens to have a brand name that is similar to an exact match domain, Google is not likely to penalize you.
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