INSIGHT: Is it worth buying an exact match domain name?

A domain name that includes your service keyword or phrase sounds like an easy way to get found online, but it isn't really.

Is it worth buying an exact match domain name pricing proposal received via email
Summary

Lots of business owners get excited when they are able to buy a domain name that matches the exact product or service they are selling – guess what, this could be an absolute waste of time & money. Google introduced an exact match domain update to its algorithm around 2012 to help combat the volume of poor quality websites and ‘spammy’ content that was being generated by the digital marketing industry to help websites achieve good rankings.

In the example below, I break down the steps that domain name sellers are taking to try and get people to buy these domain names plus whether it is even worthwhile considering as a business owner.

What is an exact match domain name?

There are millions of domain name combinations available that can match your service or product

An exact match domain name is just what it sounds like, a name for a URL that exactly matches the product or service that a business offers. In the early 2000’s this was a method used to rank websites quickly & generate organic search results. The practice is still used today even after Google introduced countermeasures through updating its algorithms since early 2012. 

Examples of exact match domain names would include things like;

  • luxuryboatdealer.com.au
  • usedboatseller.com.au
  • luxury-boat-management.com.au
  • partyphotographer.com.au
  • plumber-near-me.com.au
 
As you can see, the list is quite literally endless in terms of the potential possibilities, especially when you also factor in .com, .net, .co.uk as well as other TLD choices available. Add hyphenated versions and you can create lists of millions of domain name possibilities. 
 
The thought behind taking this approach is that the most relevant search keyword relating to the business is included in the actual domain name. In the past this would help improve search rankings & potentially beat local businesses who were using their own brand or more generic names. Although ten years ago Google wasn’t taking into consideration more than 200 different factors when ranking sites, so it made it easy for clever web developers or SEO specialists to make this strategy work.
 
Times have changed.
 

In the example above, one of my clients in the boating industry received an email offering to buy an an exact match domain that had become available. Very cleverly the email looks somewhat professional, informative and trustworthy to a certain extent. On the surface it seems like a good idea to pursue. Although this is where every business owner needs to take a moment to reflect & consider their digital marketing strategies (whether established or starting out) as well as any potential benefits to owning yet another domain name if you have one already.

Jumping in without doing your due diligence can cost your business time, money & end up delivering very little value, let me explain why.

Do exact match name domain names help with seo?

Having the domain name only – no. People don’t type URL names when searching in 99% of cases.

Having the domain name & building a new website –  quite honestly it depends. 

Sounds like I am being another digital marketing consultant that can’t commit 100% to an answer, but whether an exact match domain can help with your seo performance really is a case of ‘it depends’ because it all comes down to your execution. See, Google has released more than ten major search algorithm updates in the last five years alone and now considers hundreds of factors before ranking a site, that wasn’t the case in the ‘old days’

Therefore, just the name of your URL isn’t the only thing Google is considering before it decides if, where or how to rank your website. All the basics have to be in place like fast loading speed, correct page structure, high quality content, online citations from reputable sources, high quality backlinks as well as many other factors – actually there are over two hundred estimated areas that are looked at.

So your domain name might help to some extent but if is left blank or the website you build doesn’t stack up you’ll have little chance of getting found online. Plus don’t forget, you can get one million people to your website, doesn’t mean they will choose your service or buy your product. So you have to keep in mind this isn’t just a task of getting lots of people to see your business, you have to present a credible reason for them to want to do business with you.

There is a lot of debate online as to whether an exact match domain name can work & there will be opinions for or against, just like any marketing strategy or new idea. The most important thing to focus on is whether you are delivering something of value to potential customers, how unique / sustainable is it & do you have a strategy to build long term brand equity? If you can’t answer those clearly you could be wasting your time.

Still not convinced? See what Google themselves have to say about the idea.

How credible are exact match domain name resellers?

In the email pitch that my client received it starts out explaining the opportunity, the costs, the process to buy the domain & then finishes off with their justification for taking this type of action.

Interestingly there isn’t a single case study, example or proof that this domain naming methodology actually works, nothing. The only validation they attempt to provide is a link to a playbook article written in 2012 by MOZ. 

That piece of information is now ten years old, the digital world moves rapidly so you have to question the validity of referring people to a piece of information that is that old. Even MOZ have written newer articles on the topic.

Yes, there are hundreds of online articles, even ones written in the last 12 months, about using exact match domain names. So any business owner should do their own research before they feel pressured into purchasing one.

How much does an exact match domain cost to buy?

I laughed when I read this email because they highlight a range of prices & nothing specific that relates to the domain name they are trying to sell. 

Apart from the lack of personalisation it shows they are mass email blasting thousands of existing website owners hoping to get people to engage with the information.

They do this by ‘scraping’ your details from your existing domain name registration details & putting people into groups based on industry or keywords. They have no idea who you really are & much of what gets sent out will end up in spam or junk folders.

What should you evaluate when you see the pricing?
a) The domain name has become available so in some instances it might be possible to buy it for $10-$30 if you check yourself. In this case it is a business trying to make money from it so most likely they are holding onto it.

b) If you are clever you might be able to come up with your own variation that is relatively close to the name and buy it yourself for around $20

c) If the owner of this ‘highly valuable’ domain name was really clever they’d be selling it for hundreds of thousands of dollars if it was truly worth that much.

 

What does ‘resource level’ really mean?
This is just plain and utter rubbish. Let’s break it down into two core components;

a) The work involved in changing domain name ownership; this is essentially administration work where a few details are entered into the domain registration set up to switch it from one person to another. It takes no more than a few minutes to complete so that a new ownership certificate can be generated for the new owner.

b) Levels based on industry / location / competitiveness; this sounds logical but digging a bit deeper they haven’t even provided where this particular domain name they are trying to sell actually sits in their scale. Nor is there any justification to show why or how different ones are evaluated. Most likely this is just a ‘fishing’ experiment for them to see what they can get away with charging people.

So essentially they are attempting to try and build value in what they are offering, but this is basically rubbish because the email has been sent generically to probably hundreds of people in the boating industry, it isn’t personalised & they are using a fairly generic ‘script’ rather than anything specific that positions the true value of owning this domain name. 

 

Is it good value?
In this example there was no previous website running that was related to the industry or service, so there is no chance of getting a helping hand in the form of existing traffic. Looping back to my earlier point, a domain name normally costs $10 to $20 to register per year for most of the common ones, so can you really justify spending up to $995 or more just for a generic name that’s easy to copy?

Don’t forget, it you actually plan to use the domain name to put a website on it then you have to factor the cost of getting a site built & ensuring the right amount of search engine optimisation is carried out so that it can actually get found. Just having the name isn’t enough anymore.

Does a domain name have any actual real value or authority?

What the heck does domain name authority mean? 

Guess what, every domain around the world is given a Domain Rating (DR) which is a relative score that is provided to try and rank or assess the quality of that website.

Your DR can change over time as a site grows, becomes more trusted and ranks better around the world. You can even check the DR of a website by using tools like the one from AH Refs here

In the case of this domain that was being offered for sale we can see it was getting less than 20 out of 100 as well as not having any links or backlinks to the site. So perhaps this site was never really being used for anything other than to be sold to the next person.

Some business owners might be thinking ‘wow I can buy this really great name that will help me grow my business’ when in fact the reality might be far from it.

There might be other examples where there was an established brand or website that did have traffic and that is a different scenario completely.

What is the point of buying another domain name if you already have one?

Brand protection
Some business owners might consider buying more domain names and/or variations of their business name, products or services to try and protect themselves from others trying to copy or mimic what they do. It is common practice for a brand to buy multiple versions of a domain e.g .com, .com.au, .net etc as well as brand, model, nameplate or other names. If you are able to trademark or patent your ideas then it becomes easier to prevent others from trying to come up with similar ones.

 

Starting a new business
Buying an exact match domain name might make sense if you are starting out from scratch and building a new business, although you should consider the long term brand equity this may create. So for example, luxuryyachtmanagement.com.au may not hold as much cache as something unusual like Luxurio where you are created a unique brand like Apple, Samsung, Lego etc where the name doesn’t mean anything specific but can be crafted over time.

Building a business around a unique name also means it is less likely someone will either try to or want to copy it, but using generic names, phrases or terms can be very simple to replicate and harder to register for things like Copyright, IP protection, Trademarks etc.

 

Buying a domain just to own it
In some situations you might be thinking to buy it just so you can own it. Ok fair enough, but I have already demonstrated how easy it is to come up with lots of variations using similar phrases, keywords or TLD’s. So how valuable will it really be? 

Keep in mind nobody in the world will be typing an exact URL into Google, so what is the point of having lots of domain names, especially if there is never going to be any content on the site. Think about how most people search online, they will type into Google things like ‘yacht management company’, ‘yacht management Sydney’, ‘company that manages yachts’ and most likely never, ever type in a URL, it’s just not the way people search for things.

Can you check a domain's history?

Without realising it you could be buying a domain that was already used before. In the example pictured, a local jewellery company in Australia couldn’t figure out why their website traffic wasn’t increasing.

One of the things I helped them uncover was more than 2,000 old website pages from a previous website. Google Search Console was reporting these as 404 Errors or broken links.

So from Google’s perspective the website had about 20 pages of content that was live and over 2,000 broken links. This is a hinderance to getting a site ranked as it looks like it hasn’t been maintained as people may be trying to go to those old links still.

Doing a check using Google’s free tools can help uncover a domain’s history, if it has one, so that you can do the necessary clean up.

The checklist for business owners when buying a domain name

  1. Do I already have a domain name?
    If you already have a domain name what will be the purpose of having other ones, similar ones or variations on the existing name? Will they be used to build sites on or just to protect the brand?


  2. Is the domain name unique?
    Is the domain a fairly generic, general word or phrase that everyone uses or is it a unique name like your surname, made up brand name etc? How likely or easy is it for someone to come up with something similar?


  3. Was this domain name being used before?
    If so, what DR rating does it have, what traffic did it used to received, what keywords did it rank for, what backlinks does it have (or are they all old/broken now). Are any of these actually useful to your business? Perhaps it is a competitor that is closing down which could be opportunistic.


  4. Do you intend to build a site on it?
    Have you already prepared cost estimates to get a website built that has the necessary search engine optimisation work carried out so that it will help you get found for people looking for your products or services?


  5. How will this fit into your digital marketing strategy?
    Once you have figured out all the questions above, how will this fit into your overall digital marketing strategy. It doesn’t make sense to potentially spend up to $995 (based on the pricing in the email proposal) to not have a clear strategy that will make use of it.

I hope that provides some clarity around your decision making process when thinking about buying a domain name. I love helping business owners figure out ways to grow their business, not get caught out paying for useless digital marketing offers or getting ripped off by contractors or agencies.

Paul D'Ambra

Paul D'Ambra

I love to re-energise businesses by injecting energy into their marketing using data-driven consumer insights. I’ve motivated start-ups, small business owners and six-figure corporate brands to deliver incredible marketing impact.

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