Several non-client law firms have contacted us about rankings’ drops due due to Google’s Penguin and Exact match domain updates. Exact match domains (EMDs) have been a trusted marketing tool for law firms for years. Exact match domains are websites that are created using desirable keywords in the domain name to help the site rank for those keywords. One example would be “SunnyvilleAccidentLawyer.com”. The goal of this site would be to gain an advantage in Google results when someone searches for “Sunnyville Accident Lawyer”. While these domains have been popular, the door is closing fast. On September 28th, 2012 Google released an algorithm update specifically designed to combat low quality EMDs. For more information on what EMDs are, please read Dale Tincher’s fantastic article on Keyword Specific Domain Names.
EMDs have been popular with the SEO community as a whole; not only law firms, because of their ability to influence rankings. In the years past, Google has given a higher ranking to websites that contained keywords the user is searching for in the site domain. I am sure you have all seen domains in search results like “best-airline-flights.com”. These are domains that the webmaster has created to exploit this opportunity to rank highly in Google with little work. This example domain is probably not the most relevant page for the user to go to get information on the best airline flights. More often than not, the page will contain thin content and advertisements that profit the webmaster.
So why did Google allow this in the first place?
There are many businesses that have keywords in the title. A company’s name might be St. Louis Orthopedic Clinic. Similar to the fact that if you search for “IBM” you would expect to be taken to IBM’s website, if you search for the name of the business above, you would expect to be able to easily find the company’s website.
With that said, Google has much more data now than it had 10 years ago. Think Google maps, Adwords, Google+, etc. This means many more data points are available to assist in understanding which result is a legitimate business and which is a shallow website. It has been well known for the past couple years that a law firm’s website will receive a bump in local search results by having a physical location connected with the site via Google+ Local (formerly Google Places). EMDs could not benefit from this bump because the location was normally tied to their main website.
What do I do with these old EMD websites?
With the devaluation of the EMD bump, it is more important than ever to consolidate your great content around a single authoritative domain. Not only do you receive a boost in the areas that you have a physical location, but the content that was diluted to five separate EMD websites can be compounded to give your main website added authority on these themes. Google has apparently worked out the kinks with separating manipulative domain names from true brand names (There was some collateral damage to actual quality domains in this update for sure). But our advice remains: Unless you are willing to make a significant investment in your EMD websites to get them on par with main websites, you should get rid of your low quality EMDs and focus on making your main site a quality reference for your customers.