Using an Exact Match Domain (EMD) for SEO

In the SEO community, there are many discussions about the importance and benefits of using an Exact Match Domain (“EMD”). Knowing when and how to use an exact match domain is important and can be very influential or detrimental your Search Engine Optimization campaign and strategy. While an EMD has been known to be an effective way to deliver great rankings and traffic in the past – do they still work?

What is an Exact Match Domain?

An Exact Match Domain is a Domain name that matches the exact keywords or phrase you’re trying to rank for on Google. A long standing belief is that if you have relevant content on a domain that matches the key phrases contained in the URL you’d have a better chance of ranking for that phrase.

For example, if someone was searching for “Boston injury lawyer”, you might have a better chance of ranking for that exact search phrase if your domain is BostonInjuryLawyer.com.

There is some level of truth to this SEO tactic, but Search Engine Journal reports that Google largely devalued EMDs in 2012. However, based on our experience they do still work very well if implemented properly and with a proper optimization effort.

What is a Partial Match Domain?

A partial match domain (“PMD”) is any domain name that contains part of the keyword phrases you are aiming for.

For example, if you are unable to get the domain name “BostonLawyer.com” as an exact match, you might consider a domain name such as “BostonLawFirm.com” or “AttorneyInBoston.com” Partial match domains like these can also have significant ranking power when a proper SEO strategy is implemented. What I typically advise to avoid is a hyphenated compromise like “Boston-Lawyer.com” – it looks spammy and it’s difficult to market in other print media, radio, TV etc.

EMD Resellers

Since exact match domains are so coveted and can be valuable for a business if used properly, many domain resellers target lawyers because they want to cash in. After all, a few hundred/thousand dollars may not be that much of an investment for an attorney. However, unless you have plans to use that EMD in the near future, you should likely just pass on purchasing various EMDs – or you might end up with a very expensive GoDaddy portfolio.

Domain brokers and resellers will be quick to tell you how quickly you can “dominate rankings” with a domain that contains the exact phrases you want to rank for. However, they never tell you about the effort or time required, or discuss if an EMD is a good long term strategy.

domain reseller Email

*This is a grossly simplified solicitation, with no context as to the time and effort required.

What is the SEO Benefit of an EMD?

An exact match domain name can be incredibly useful both as an SEO strategy and as a marketing tool for use in other media if you understand the strengths and weaknesses of using an EMD. Perhaps the most obvious benefit of purchasing an exact match domain (EMD) is that it has the potential to rank well for the phrase contained in the domain and closely related phrases. If you want to target “Boston divorce lawyer” then BostonDivorceLawyer.com would be a great EMD choice because, not only is it succinct and highly marketable, if well optimized Google would correlate your domain as relevant to that search phrase as long as you have high quality content, good User experience and a strong SEO effort.

Another benefit of an EMD is that other sites often link to them in a more genuine fashion. This can boost your SEO rankings as more companies link to your site naturally. Think about it this way: if an author is writing an article about child custody laws in Florida, it would be very natural for them to cite and link to a site like FloridaChildCustodyLaw.com if there was compelling, accurate and authoritative information presented.

Purchasing an EMD can also be a great tool to use for creative marketing as they’re more memorable in many cases than the name of your firm. For instance, if your website name is currently something like “LopezLawFirmSeattle.com” you can acquire a marketable and memorable exact match domain and forward it (“301 redirect”) to your primary domain. This would be very beneficial if you want to do radio or TV advertising; or maybe you’re running an ad in a very specific type of magazine and you want to cater to that specific demographic.

handshake trustYet another benefit of an exact match domain is that it generates instant credibility, trust and authority on the subject from the perspective of the person searching. This can give you a competitive advantage in the industry and help you improve your click through rate. If you see a domain that exactly (or nearly) matches your search phrase, chances are you’re going to at least click on it.

What are the Drawbacks of an EMD?

Depending on your practice and firm trajectory, an Exact Match Domain may not be the best marketing decision for you. Here are a few examples:

  • You may want to market multiple practice areas. Using an EMD when you have one primary practice area may make a lot of sense because people seeing BostonRealEstateLaw.com in search results would make sense when looking for a real estate lawyer. But what if you bring on a Partner that has significant experience in family law? Even if your family law pages were to rank well in Google, a person searching for a family lawyer might be turned off by your domain and might dismiss you completely as a real estate law firm that dabbles in family law occasionally solely on visual perception of the domain.
  • What if you move? You might have always thought you’d be in California, until a pandemic lead to the largest outbound migration in the state’s recorded history. Things change. Having an EMD like LosAngelesWorkersComp.com and investing tens, or hundreds of thousands of dollars building it up won’t mean much if you move to Texas. The best you could hope is to sell it if it’s highly visible, or sell the leads it generates.
  • Just because you use the domain, doesn’t mean you’ll rank for the phrase. Most of the spammy domain resellers want you to believe that if you buy their domain and write a few pages of relevant content containing that phrase on the page you’ll appear on page 1 of Google for that phrase. Bullshit. We’ve ranked numerous EMDs and they take real SEO work and time. Having keywords in the Domain helps, but it’s not a guarantee of success.

Another drawback is that there are only a limited number of exact match domains. Over time, these EMDs have gotten expensive and can make it difficult for companies and businesses to purchase them without getting long-winded eg: BestDarnFamilyLawyerDallasTexas.com.

One final drawback is that as perfect as EMDs may be at the time, the relevancy of those keywords to your firm can change over time. This means that in the future, your EMD might actually limit brand expansion and actually prevent your firm from growing and developing.

Real World Exact Match Domain Rankings – Active vs Passive Project

As mentioned earlier, EMDs still take time and effort to rank for competitive search phrases. As shown in the screenshots below, we have two projects that both use competitive Exact Match Domains.

  • Exhibit A shows that when passive effort is made, optimization of an Exact Match Domain took over 2 years to start to have rankings appear within the first 2-3 pages of Google for competitive search phrases. It took nearly 3 years to break into page 1 of Google with a passive effort.
    Law Firm EMD Rankings

  • Exhibit B shows that with steady content and active linking effort, our team was able to break into the first 2-3 pages within 12 months for very competitive phrases, and page 1 within 18 months.

Exact Match Domain Ranking Chart

*NOTE: Both of these examples of ranking progress are secondary websites, not a law firm’s primary website. These are also both domains that have never been published and have no history with Google’s index – essentially starting from zero. Ranking progress on secondary websites that have never been previously published tends to take a bit longer than a law firm’s primary website for numerous reasons, which can be discussed if you wish to inquire.

Conclusion

As you can see, it’s important to consider many factors before purchasing and using an EMD. It’s never as easy as buying a domain and forwarding it to your website to improve rankings. For this reason, it is important to consult with a professional experienced with law firm SEO and design a strategy that will deliver the results you’re looking for. In some cases, that might mean purchasing and using EMDs and in other circumstances it might mean passing on a purchase opportunity.

About The Author

Doug Bradley
I work with law firms to increase their presence on search engines through website optimization. Marketing a law firm hasn’t been “like it used to be” for a while now and the only guarantee is that it will continue to change. Learn more about my experience here.
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