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2011 has been a busy year for Google. Faced with increasing criticism about the quality of its search results and the tactics publishers use in attempts to influence them, the world's most prominent and widely-used search engine has taken aggressive steps to crack down on paid links and content farms.

But Google's tweaks may go well beyond moves to reign in black and gray hat SEO tactics. In fact, it may be looking at core components of its algorithm altogether.

Case in point: according to Google's Matt Cutts, Google is reconsidering the weight given to keyword domain names. As detailed by Aaron Wall at SEO Book, Cutts stated in a recent video posted to YouTube:

Now if you are still on the fence, let me just give you a bit of color, that we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains and some people have complained that we are giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains.

So we have been thinking about at adjusting that mix a bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given 2 different domains it wouldn't necessarily help you as much to have a domain name with a bunch of keywords in it.

Having a keyword rich domain name, of course, is a strategy that many have employed in a quest to reach the top of the SERPs. While keyword domain stuffing (a la the-most-popular-ebooks.com) has always been of highly questionable value, the notion that exact match domains assist developed sites is not new.

From eBooks.com to RealEstate.com, it doesn't take much effort to find plenty of evidence that exact match domains are given some additional weight by Google.

If Google changes the weight of this component of its algorithm, you can be sure that publishers who have built on top of exact match domains will watch anxiously to see if they're negatively impacted. And domainers hawking these domains will have a harder time pitching their potential SEO value.

Neither, of course, is necessarily a bad thing. As Wall notes, "Domain names are seen as a tool for speculation & a short cut. It is not surprising Google is looking for more." It's a fair point. A good argument can be made that keywords in a domain usually have little inherent value as a ranking signal.

At the same time, however, one has to imagine that the weight given to keyword domains in the most lucrative and competitive markets is so minimal that "turning the knob down" will have a minor if not completely unnoticeable impact on SERP quality overall.

This begs the question: is Google at risking of going a little bit too far in shaking up its algorithm? Perhaps. Google still seems to have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with low hanging fruit, and publicizing the fact that it might decrease the weight given to what is already likely a minor ranking signal seems like much ado about nothing.

Patricio Robles

Published 17 March, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (5)

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Steve Corney, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Lexis Nexis International

I think this is a great change in principle, but the effect will be negligable.

The main benefit from a keyword rich domain name is the propensity for inbound link anchor text to reflect the domain name.

That's unlikley to change given any tweaking of how inbound links are wieghted would mean the most fundamental change to the Google algorithm since it was invented (although as Google is nearly a teenager, perhaps it will go all hormonal and become irrational...)

over 5 years ago

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Entrepreneur Solo

@Steve You think Google may become irrational, as if it already weren't.

over 5 years ago

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Robin Moore

Steve - great point about the anchor text... There is as much (if not more) emphasis on the off-site backlinks as the on-site SEO around the core keyword phrase and derivatives. And - as you say - having an exact match domain certainly helps you get the right keywords in your backlinks.

The other angle is how the domain looks in the SERPs. I reckon that exact match domains receive higher CTRs than other sites because the user knows the content of the whole website is going to be on topic. They might of course hit a bum, REALLY thin affiliate website, but more often than not the affili site is on-topic and actually quite helpful.

BOO to Google, BOOOOOO! Stop meddling with the SERPs results or they will all end up as Google comparison ads, end-provider sites and wikipedia... that would make for a very boring internet indeed.

over 5 years ago

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iDCx

Nice post - i dont think google can ever move away from the relevance given by an exact match url - after all - at its very core level the site is all about the url - thus - combiboilerinsurance.co.uk is most likely all about combi boiler insurance.

This is a good test case - i registered this domain some 7 days ago, built one link and boom - 3rd place for combi boiler insurance within 5 days or registering a new url - pow - naturally it was an un optimised serp until i smashed along. Now ive built anchors to that phrase the serp will change, but getting off topic now...

You will always save money and time in the off page arena if your url reflects some of the words you are optimising for - this will never change!

Nice post all the same, thanks for the read!

iDCx

over 5 years ago

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JakeSEO

In my personal experience having a keyword in the domain does help, but it is minimal at best. Google's Algo is still dominated by back links. You can rank any site with any URL based on back links alone.

over 5 years ago

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