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Monday, 14 July 2014 8:05

Death of the Exact Match Domain

By - Michael Rader

Every domain name wants to be ranked as high as possible in Google searches. In order to reach the top, and stay there, companies must be aware of Google’s changing algorithms. In the past, domains received more ranking points for exact match domains. For example, a company trying to rank high on a search for top car rentals would have been wise to purchase a domain name like If an exact match weren’t possible, the next best thing would be a partial domain match, like

In October of 2012, Google updated its exact domain match algorithm. Exact domain matches or even partial matches were no longer automatically given priority. Google is constantly getting smarter and is increasingly more interested in highly trusted sites, or brands, as opposed to sites that are simply talented manipulators. The overall brand strength of the domain is now what is most important. Google sees that the sites that get the most repeated visitors tend to be ones that are branded. Here are the top 10 most popular websites in the world:


Notice the pattern? None of the names are descriptions of what they offer. Google wants to show searchers strong and trusted brands, not websites that are named to simply call the attention of their algorithm. More and more we will see this ranking preference for brands.

Brand Names over Bland Names

People want to be part of a trusted brand over a keyword heavy domain, which offers nothing more than the product or service provided, often in a bland, automated and straightforward kind of way. Purchasing online lacks the human touch but it doesn’t have to feel that way. The navigation and purchase experience can be warm and friendly, mimicking a personable connection. While there are several components that build a complete brand, the experience generally begins with the business name. A unique brand style name quickly imparts a sense of excitement that a boring, keyword packed domain cannot.

As an illustration, let’s say a visitor searches for the phrase “management consulting” and finds a company called Velg. Here is the brand-empowering process that goes through the visitor’s mind during his/her experience:

  1. Discovery – “Hm, I found something new. A business I’ve never heard of.”
  2. Curiosity – “Ok, what is this though?”
  3. Adventure – “Let me explore a bit.”
  4. Knowledge – “Great! I now know about a cool new business/brand!”
  5. Power – “If this is a product or service I need now, I have conquered my need/want! If this is something I need later, I’ll know the solution!”

Conversely, here is the not so brand-empowering process of coming across a website with a name that matches the visitors searched keyword,

  1. Discovery
  2. Curiosity
  3. Adventure
  4. Knowledge
  5. Power
  6. Found it – “Found what I was looking for.”

Because there’s really no discovery with a name like this, nothing exciting comes after. It may not seem so bad to pass over all the prior steps and quickly find what the visitor wants, but the visitor has almost no engagement with the business, no interaction with who and what the business stands for.

Not only is this bad for customer retention and loyalty, but it removes the visitor’s enthusiasm to engage (purchase) in the first place. The visitor’s primordial enthusiasm and determination are nonexistent. A name like ManagementConsulting is also very obtrusive. It’s obvious to a point of sounding like spam. No thought, effort or creativity is involved. It’s immediately clear to the visitor that the name is a ploy to get their money and nothing more.

Like a Child, Newlyweds and a Fisher

A brand name, like Velg, encourages a purchase by saying, “once you buy from us you’re part of us.” After you get the buyer to buy once, it’s more difficult to lose the buyer’s loyalty than it is to gain a second and third purchase. With a name like ManagementConsulting there is no brand to adhere to. The idea of branding can be compared to other scenarios:

  • If a child asked for a ball would he choose the solid red ball or the ball with colorful stripes and smiley face? The kid wants the branded ball! The one he feels he could befriend and connect with! The ball then becomes almost irreplaceable. He’s not just losing a ball; he’s losing a buddy.
  • When newlyweds want a honeymoon, do they choose the desert or the tropical island bursting with palm trees and beaches?  They want the branded location! The experience of discovering a new place filled with excitement, exploration and discovery! A desert will satisfy their desire to travel but does it satisfy the experience? The island may be more expensive than the desert but their loyalty there will be unshakeable.
  • A sporting fisherman wants to fish, catch and discover, not find a bucket of fish waiting for him at the lake. He may or may not take the bucket, but if he does he will eat with less satisfaction than he would if he had caught the fish himself. The fish may be free for the taking but he is robbed of the experience. It is a feeling of being cheapened or devalued.

So it is the same with descriptive names and brand names. A descriptive name offers nothing more than the product or service described by the name. A brand name offers an invitation to a new experience, a new adventure discovered by the customer.

Google has recognized that people want experiences over straightforward goods. The most successful domain names are the ones that have an inherent brandability factor built into them. A brandable domain name allows a company to build brand recognition around their name, not the other way around.

Creative business names that are not tethered to exact matches are often more memorable, sound less spammy, and are more likely to establish trust, loyalty and authority to not only visitors but also to the search engines. In addition, creative names are less likely to over-optimize your site by stuffing keywords into the domain. Google continues to lean towards giving preference to trusted brand names. Now is the time to take advantage of this change and select a domain name that is creative, innovative, and brandable. The days of exact match domains are over.

Last modified on Monday, 14 July 2014 8:43

Michael Rader

With over ten years in web development and design, Michael Rader has expertise and technical know-how. But more than a skilled technician, he is an entrepreneur and innovator who helps startup’s and new businesses identify and define their future with a unique, brandable business name. Michael Rader is the founder and CEO of Brandroot®, a leading .com domain name marketplace. He currently lives in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii where he operates the business and authors a blog dedicated to naming and brand name establishment.