How To Survive The Exact Match Apocalypse

By on May 23, 2011

This is a guest post by James Agate, founder and SEO Director at UK based SEO consultancy Skyrocket SEO.

So the supposed end of the world has come and passed and I don’t know about you, but nothing seems to have changed. However, there is another apocalypse on the horizon and this one is infinitely more likely!

Regular readers of DotSauce Magazine will have seen the news that Google is talking about tuning down the SEO value of exact match domains in the SERPs.

This post is going to be a sort of “end of world” survival guide if you will — how you and your domain portfolio can survive the carnage. I’m not saying keyword domains are dead just yet, but Google recognises that, as things stand, this is a flaw in their algorithm.  So, there’s certainly something big on the horizon that you are going to want to be ready for.

Consolidate and Conquer

I suspect many of us are guilty of owning one too many domains, the urge to pick up a couple more ‘great names’ is just too hard to resist. I suspect also, that you, like me have big plans for every domain you buy, but I’m as guilty as the next guy for not always following through on those plans —  usually for lack of time.

Now is your chance to consider consolidating your domain portfolio and look to build out a handful of the really great domains you own into really great websites. Cast an objective eye over your digital real estate and assess which sites have the greatest potential, even if your domains already have a website on — you need to make a decision which ones you are bringing with you when the apocalypse comes.

You’ll see the importance of consolidation later on in this post — it really would be time consuming and expensive to carry out all of my recommendations to a large-scale portfolio. It would be possible, but you would need to seriously scale your investment.

Identify your cash cows and rising stars and retire the dogs in your portfolio.

[Image via Flickr]

Think Brand

Whether Google will admit it or not, the search engine increasingly favours brands based on their judgement that brands usually provide a better user experience and they tend to offer up higher quality pages. Therefor, it makes sense if you are going to make a change from depending on the strength of your keyword domain to relying on the strength of the website itself, you are going to need to either create a brand (preferable) or at least mimic some of the brand signals that Google references.

Brand signals such as:

  • A physical address listed on your website and cited elsewhere (Google Places, Yelp, Yell etc)
  • Useful/interesting/engaging content
  • Customer reviews
  • Press/blog mentions
  • A unique site design or at least a customised template
  • Corporate profile pages on sites like LinkedIn and Crunchbase

These are all things a brand would have, so you need them if you want to be seen as a credible website rather than a mere keyword domain.

Get Social

Social signals are now a ranking factor, so getting your social on is a two-birds-with-one-stone kind of tactic. Because you are A) enhancing your ranking and B) reducing your dependence on search traffic by creating another user/customer acquisition channel.

You don’t need me to tell you that social media is huge. There are 1.8 million status updates on Facebook every 20 minutes and 1 in 13 people on this planet are on Facebook. Astounding!

Social media marketing is a fantastic way to spread the word about your website and add even more proof (in the eyes of Google) that your website is a trusted and legitimate entity.

As the web becomes more social, there are millions of pages that are asking to be shared, liked and tweeted. This means you need to get ahead of the curve and look for ways to make your website stand out.

Services like Punchtab (see the Rewards feature here on DotSauce) help you to encourage interaction and engagement with your site and its content. It taps directly into that trend for social gaming, rewards and basic human need to compete.

Punchtab is free at the time of writing and it’s pretty new, but is an awesome tool, so I’ve no idea how long it is going to stay free for.

Strategic Linkbuilding

We all know links are essentially votes of confidence and not all links are created equal. Like it or not, links still form the backbone to Google’s algorithm and for the foreseeable future they are going to be a major ranking factor.

An exact match keyword domain used to ensure you could rank quickly and relatively easy for a keyword term without the need to do very much link building — now you are going to need relevant, authoritative and good quality links.

Google says you need to earn links and they’re right, there’s no substitute for a bulging yet natural link profile but these things don’t happen by chance. You need to help other websites recognise that you’ve earned the right to a link.

Linkbuilding tactics:

  • Blogger outreach
  • Researching and knowing your market – reach out and connect with potential partners
  • Giveaways – to generate attention for your website
  • Guest posting
  • Embeddable badges
  • Press releases
  • Linkbait
  • Ego-linkbait – as a way of getting attention from the players in your market
  • Sponsorships – not always within budget but there are many smaller conferences and events now that you may be able to sponsor for a small amount of cash

Produce In-depth Quality Content

Tuning down the value of exact match domains and the recent Panda update means you need to work twice as hard if you are going to prove your website is good quality and worthy of the search traffic it receives.

Information retrieval experts were involved in the algorithm changes that made up the Panda update. The word in the trenches (and I have to say I’ve seen this first hand), is that Google is getting pretty close to being able to algorithmically detect the quality of content and assess whether a web page has been crafted by an expert or spun by a machine or some $2 an hour writer. Google’s subject modelling technology means that in addition to things like spelling, grammar and formatting checks, it can also recognise if a piece is factually accurate and if it covers the key points. Google may even be attempting to check out the author and see if other trusted sources around the web cite this person as an expert.

Developing subject expertise is no easy task, hence the reason to consolidate your portfolio and concentrate on a few areas. Alternatively, if you are still looking for scale, you could of course hire market experts to write for your website — but this may eat into your profits considerably.

How will Google tell the difference between a keyword domain that’s gaming the search results and one that’s a genuinely worthwhile and rank worthy website? Well, by assessing the quality factors we’ve just discussed. It’s the reason that when the time comes and Google finds a fix for this flaw, Tennis.com will do well and websites like 1200-calorie-meal-plan.com are going to feel the pain.

Most keyword domains can be turned into a brand and if you put the work in now — you’ll be laughing when the update comes that sees hundreds, thousands or even millions of keyword domains get obliterated in the SERPs.

I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments section below.

[Header image via Flickr]

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About James Agate

James Agate (@jamesagate) is a UK based SEO Consultant and entrepreneur. He works with a number of clients in the travel, eCommerce and B2B sectors as well as running a number of his own websites. Find out more at SkyrocketSEO.co.uk