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The idea that exact-match keyword domain names can be a significant ranking factor is not new. But, for me at least, the significance has always been hard to confirm for a few simple reasons.
First, it's not every day that I acquire an exact-match keyword domain for a popular search phrase. Second, I've never launched a new site on an exact-match keyword domain with the specific goal of seeing what the domain can do on its own. That makes it nearly impossible to isolate the ranking factors that are likely contributing the most to results.
But I now have a little 'case study' to go on and I wanted to share the results.
- Thanks to the economy, lots of great domain names are being dropped. A few months ago I managed to pick up a gem: an exact-match .com domain, originally registered over five years ago, for a fairly competitive three-word phrase that receives over 20,000 Google searches globally each month.
- I developed the domain by building a simple WordPress-based website/blog. Some decent if not spectacular content was added. I heeded basic SEO rules for content structure, etc. but didn't go out of my way to optimize.
- Once I launched the site, I registered the site with Google Webmaster Tools and submitted an XML sitemap.
- In an effort to see what the domain name would do all by itself, I held off on all of the tasks I'd normally get started on right away, namely link building.
In short, I began with very little. A basic site with a moderate amount of decent content. Nothing that would differentiate me favorably from competing websites that have been in operation for years. 0 inbound links. A domain without much age.
Less than a week later, the result: I'm on the first page of Google for the three-word phrase that my domain is an exact match for. I've even leapfrogged a number of highly-popular sites that have been around for years. Every single visitor my site has received thus far has been sent by an organic search result for the three-word, exact-match phrase.
The logical conclusion: there's absolutely no reason for me to be on the first page of Google's results for a reasonably popular search phrase. Except for the fact that my .com domain name is that phrase.
Obviously I still have a lot of work to do. First-page SERPs often mean very little; the real money is usually in having a "top 3" listing. Which means that I will have to build inbound links, continue developing content, etc.
But this experience has convinced me that exact-match keyword domains can be very powerful. While I certainly wouldn't assume that the results achieved with a single domain reflect what can always be achieved with every keyword or phrase, I think my recent experience is compelling enough to warrant consideration.