Why Keyword Domains May Not Be the Best Reputation Management Strategy

Online reputation management is both a very easy concept to explain and a very difficult strategy to make effective. It’s easy to say you make search engine results more positive for companies who have been unfairly maligned. It’s another thing entirely to actually do it.

In the early days of search engines, most engines ran on simple keyword match algorithms, so the websites with the most number of words that matched your search (including  the domain name) ranked very well. In fact, in the early days of the web and up until a year or so ago, having keywords in your domain name seemed to be a factor that helped people rank better in the search engines. Both exact match domains (EMD), like keyword.com, and partial match domains (PMD) like, ABCkeyword.com, buykeyword.com, or awesome-keyword.com, showed up regularly and highly in most results.

In terms of reputation management, it was good strategy to buy EMDs and PMDs to get them to rank for branded searches. And it worked pretty well for a long time. However, since the Google Penguin update over a year ago, the strength of keyword domains has been faltering.

It’s not that Penguin targeted EMDs specifically, but that a number of EMD owners participated in spammy and manipulative tactics to get their sites to rank well. And, as a result, they were hit hard by the Penguin update. But Google was only trying to reflect the real quality of websites in their rankings. And if you’re even somewhat savvy with web search, you know that when you search for “casinos in Reno,” and you see a site like buy-casino-viagra-deals.com in the results, you know that if you click it, you’ll probably download a virus.

However, there are also a number of legitimate businesses that have EMDs, so Google—up to this point—has not targeted EMDs simply for being EMDs. The drop in rank for many spammy EMD sites over the past year has been as a result of their own spamminess. But Google has now decided to take a stronger stance against EMDs.

A little over a month ago, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, tweeted that an upcoming update was going to affect EMDs. Even back as far as March of last year, Cutts hinted at the fact that his team was looking at a way to “turn the knob down” on EMDs to make results more competitive for sites that didn’t have EMDs. Essentially, he wanted to ensure that domains like petsupplies.com weren’t getting an unfair search advantage over other sites that sold pet supplies but that didn’t have keywords in their domain.

Back in late September, the algorithm update went live and a number of EMDs fell dramatically in the search results. (You can see the impact it had here as measured by SEOmoz.)

The fact of the matter is that using EMDs hasn’t been an advisable strategy for a while now. Not only has Cutts been hinting at it for more than 9 months, but, as pointed out earlier, they aren’t usually viewed as trusted resources in the first place. And now their strength is slipping even more.

Because most exact match domains (petsupplies.com) are extremely expensive, many businesses have resorted to buying PMDs that are less powerful (pet-supplies-wearhousesite.com, suppliespets-discountprices.com, pet-supplies-texas.com, etc.), and have created a deluge of spammy and unhelpful sites that are only aimed at capturing a high ranking position and not at actually helping users. So the reputation of these sites in general isn’t very good.

For your reputation management strategy, don’t go out and buy a bunch of expensive EMDs that you think will rank well for your business searches. Not only are they being devalued but they also have a reputation as bad sites in the first place. Instead, focus on building a solid brand, improving your customer service, build a positive social strategy, and getting noticed for being a positive company with a great product. When you can do those things successfully, you won’t have to worry about your online reputation, because it will already be positive.