Maximizing SEO with Exact Match Domains: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

With more consumers watching their spending and offline and online marketplace competition higher than ever before, business owners know that they need every advantage to stay relevant, generate leads, organic traffic and sales, and reach their short-term and long-term goals. Some people turn to EMDs, or Exact Match Domains, to give them that edge. Read on to learn the pros and cons of using EMDs as a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy to improve search engine rankings.


What is an EMD?

A business owner has an EMD, or Exact Match Domain name, when they use a domain name or website address that exactly matches the relevant keywords their target audience uses online that they want to rank for with internet search terms, as related to their business type and industry. For this reason, EMDs are sometimes referred to as “descriptive domains.” For example, a phone case retailer might use the exact keyword phrase “best phone cases” for their website address (i.e., “”). A hotel booking site might use “affordable hotels” (i.e., A realtor might use “homes for sale” (i.e.,

How EMDs Work

Search engine companies design their algorithms to find the most relevant websites for a search query based on several ranking factors, including domain accuracy, content quality, and keyword matches on site pages. When a business uses an EMD for its domain, a search engine can sometimes mistake the site as the most relevant for a specific search over other more appropriate and even safer sites and rank it high on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This event typically happens when the algorithm ranks the phrase high for the domain and URL requirements, and the site’s pages possess high-quality content and keyword phrases while meeting other requirements. This approach can significantly impact local SEO and overall online presence.

EMD vs. Other Domain Types 

The most common non-EMD domain types are Brandable Domains (BDs) and Partial Match Domains (PMDs). With a BD, the domain aligns directly with a brand name. For example, major cities and popular retailers around the world often use their business names for their website URLs. These names are easily recognizable, memorable, and connected to their reputations. The words typically have no direct connection to any keywords other than when a consumer might use the brand name as part of their keyword search on Google or Bing.

With a PMD, the domain contains a mix of words that include at least one commonly searched primary keyword. For example, a used car dealer might use the brandable city name Cleveland with the keyword “used cars for sale” (i.e., This PMD might represent the actual DBA for the business or even the motto as well. For example, the dealer might use the name “Cleveland’s Used Cars” to refer to the city of Cleveland or the dealer’s first name. Another possibility is that they use the tagline “The best Cleveland used cars for sale,” “The most affordable Cleveland used cars,” or “The best used cars in Cleveland!” on one or more pages.

Benefits of Using EMDs

Exact Match Domains are often seen as an effective SEO strategy because of their relevance and the high traffic generated from nothing more than a website URL. Consider the following three benefits:

Immediate Relevance

During query processing of keywords, a search algorithm tries to find the most relevant examples as quickly as possible. A perfect match to a search phrase guarantees that EMDs initially fulfill that requirement by offering immediate, attractive relevance.

Higher Click-Through Rates (CTR)

Internet users often perceive EMDs to have the highest level of relevance because the domains match their search needs. As a result, users are more likely to click search results with EMDs before other options, as long as a result appears high on the first page of results above the fold.

Brand Trust and Recognition

Even with websites that feature a brand name different from its EMD address, the EMD becomes linked to the brand. When the brand becomes a trusted authority in a specific industry, the EMD reinforces the connection between the brand name and excellent products, services, or expertise. The business then reinforces the EMD’s connection to the brand through various marketing strategies, including social media. Word-of-mouth advertising, along with the ease of the connection based on the keywords, raises trust, recognition, and authority.

Challenges and Considerations

Of course, Exact Match Domains aren’t the one-size-fits-all answer to ranking high in search engine results or improving engagement with consumers. Many search engine companies consider an EMD a low-quality search engine optimization technique. Consider the following three cons of using EMDs:

Google’s EMD Update

In 2012, Google realized that many EMDs linked back to websites that had low-quality content. Businesses with poor histories, products, or services and scammers loved to use EMDs to attract unsuspecting consumers who would then become their victims. Google decided enough was enough. On September 27, 2012, it released the “Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Algorithm Update.” This Google algorithm change significantly dropped the rank of or blocked entirely websites with low-quality content that used EMDs. Other search engine companies eventually followed and have made it harder for businesses and others who rely too much on their EMDs to connect to internet users. This update reshaped many SEO practices.

Quality Content Requirements

As a result of that update and additional updates released by Google and other companies since 2012, business owners must have high-quality content on their websites to make EMD search engine optimization (SEO) work for them. In some cases, even with high-quality content that engages users and offers a high degree of relevance, Google and other search engine providers still rank certain EMDs low because of the overuse of specific keyword phrases historically in domains. The business must prove why it has the right to use that specific EMD and that doing so isn’t spammy. Sites that backlink to an EMD website might also receive a penalty if the link seems spammy, which means that some sites, including industry ones that offer backlinks, might refuse to list EMDs. To achieve SEO success, valuable content and proper SEO services are crucial.

Over-Optimization Risks

Of course, many people who love EMDs also over-optimize their websites using SEO tactics that search engine algorithms penalize with lower ranking. Google initially targeted sites that used the same exact match phrases repeatedly for no valid reason on web pages (i.e., keyword stuffing). For example, an insurance site that used “low-cost insurance” dozens of times in page and blog content would have experienced a drop in its SERP ranking. A business owner who uses EMDs must work extra hard not to over-optimize their site or use spammy tactics such as black hat techniques.

Alternatives to EMDs

As noted earlier, two main alternatives to EMDs currently exist. Whether or not one of these options is the right one for a business depends on a variety of factors:

Brandable Domains

Brandable Domains directly reflect a brand rather than keywords. BDs make building a brand easier in the long run. These domains push out competition during certain searches because a BD is unique to a specific business without connecting to broad keywords, which means people who want to connect to a certain brand will use that brand name with keywords in their online searches. BDs also make it harder sometimes to rank high. A business must have associated high-ranking keywords on its website pages to link to the brand name. Custom domains with unique words also cost more. For e-commerce businesses, a strong brand can be more beneficial than exact match domains.

Partial Match Domains (PMDs)

A Partial Match Domain name partially connects a specific keyword or phrase to a brand. The less risky way to use PMDs effectively is by naturally using keywords that connect only to the business and possibly a location. This type of action weeds out all the competitors who overuse certain keywords and phrases. Businesses that target local searches, for example, can expect low risk with a PMD SEO strategy, as long as the keyword or phrase makes sense. For example, the only barber in a small town might use the town’s name with the keywords “barber,” “cuts,” “trims,” or “grooming” for their website address (i.e., This approach is particularly useful for local businesses.


An EMD is an effective SEO strategy because of its immediate relevance, high click-through rates, and brand trust and recognition. That said, businesses must work harder to prevent penalties that can occur because of over-optimization, low-quality content, and algorithm updates.

Our final thoughts about EMDs are that they offer effective SERP visibility and user engagement, but they’re not the only or even best option for many businesses. Although EMD usage continues to adapt to market changes and business and consumer trends, alternatives like BDs and PMDs make more sense in many cases when taking into account long-term branding and exposure. Alternative domain options like these can help a business remain competitive and relevant, no matter the changes that happen in the market.

At SEO North, our team of digital marketing and SEO experts understands the pros and cons of EMDs, BDs, and PMDs. We leave no strategy off the table when considering our clients’ needs. Instead, we help our clients create a custom SEO plan that includes the strategy that we think would work best based on a wide range of factors, including business type, location, industry, competitors, products, services, and the most recent search engine algorithm updates.

We know how to help you improve your visibility and internet user experiences in non-spammy ways that provide positive, long-term brand-building and revenue-generating results. For more information, contact our office today by phone at (343) 777-4012 or email at [email protected].


  • Do Exact Match Domains Still Work?

Published on: 2024-06-19
Updated on: 2024-06-19

Avatar for Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is the SEO Director at SEO North, a company that provides Search Engine Optimization services. As an SEO Professional, Isaac has considerable expertise in On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, and Technical SEO, which gives him a leg up against the competition.