Late in June, Google announced that we were going to see a slow moving update across all of their networks (domestic and international.) We’ve been monitoring changes, and since the end of the month we’ve seen one major trend emerge among the ever shifting search results. It appears as though partially matched domains are losing much of their luster. Let’s take a look at what this means for your SEO services.
In case you don’t know, we’ll cover what partial match domains are real quick. As an example, say that you are trying to rank for “used cars Boston.” An exact match domain would be “usedcarsboston.com” and a partial match domain would be “bobsusedcarsboston.com.” Last year, exact match domains started out as a major ranking factor, but the SEO boost they gave was taken away from the Penguin and Panda updates. Now, it appears the same thing is happening to their partial match cousins, who likely just slipped the rope the first time around.
Here is a before and after sample from MOZ that illustrates the changes that occurred between the middle of June and today. It is the results for a search on “Auto Auctions”:
Before the update:
And the day after the update:
As you can see, the differences clearly indicate a shift away from partial matched domains. In the top ten from June, eight of the results have the term “auto auction” somewhere in the name. This means that they were originally given preference. Even though exact match domains were penalized last year, partial match domains clearly had retained much of their strength.
Now, look at the results after the end of June update. Only two of the original ten results remain. Even then, one of those results is a government website that isn’t going anywhere no matter what. Realistically, we are looking at a complete shift in the top ten results for a competitive keyword with all of the losers being partial match domains. This isn’t an isolated incident either. This is occurring across all verticals as illustrated by this graph of the Mozcast:
This update tells us that Google viewed the success of partial match domains as an oversight and has been working to identify low quality partial match domains ever since. Does this mean that partial match domains were penalized? It’s unlikely that they were “penalized” in the way we commonly think of the word, more likely it’s just that the advantage they gave was removed, similar to exact match domains.
With this update, Google is making a statement. I believe that statement is that brands are more important than keywords. If you look at the new results from above, all of the winners are strong brands that don’t have any of the keywords in their names. It goes to show you that the days of gaming the system are coming to a close. Black and gray hat techniques are falling by the wayside, and only SEO driven by quality content will succeed in the long run.