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.