If you have ever sat in front of your desktop/laptop slapping domain name options into the search bar of GoDaddy or other provider then you’ve likely keyword stuffed the heck out of that function. The obsession with cramming keywords into URLs has long been a practice for businesses launching new websites. To this day many assume that it will help them rank better on search engines. Some attempts are subtle. For example, a Realtor in San Diego may try and grab homesforsaleinsandiego.net, a domain which is pretty hard on the eyes already. Others are downright ludicrous. That same Realtor may try to claim beachfrontcondosforsaleinsandiego.com, a bit of an extreme example perhaps, but you get the idea.
The bottom line here is that many business owners and webmasters continue to attempt to game the system with this nonsensical method. Would a baker with a new brick and mortar bakery on Main Street, Anytown USA, actually name their storefront “Bakery on Main Street Anytown USA”? Of course not, the shop sign would look ridiculous to passer-byers. Search engines don’t want their users to experience the same off-putting sensation. I may as well update this recent SEO Cheats and Cheap Tricks that Don’t Work Anymore article to include the above tactic because it indeed does not work anymore. If you are in the process of building a new website for your business and are on the hunt for a new domain please read further.
Why Online Businesses Need to Avoid Keyword Stuffing URLs as an SEO Tactic
1. BING Is Outright Penalizing It
Last week BING announced a spam filtering update that is penalizing websites that use URL keyword stuffing (KWS). Now before you say “BING? Who cares?” (trust me, I get it) remember that they account for over 18% of online search and over the summer the KWS update impacted approximately 5 million websites in the process. In addition to the update targeting repeated use of keywords (adding subdomains to repeat terms) and excessively long domain names (attempting to squeeze in every word a webmaster hopes to rank for), it also hits sites that use years as a means to capture search within in an annum (as in ). URL squatters are being targeted too, thankfully. This BING update is just the tip of the iceberg.
2. Google Has a History with Targeting EMDs
Less than two years ago Google released an algorithm update to target low quality exact match domains (EMD). To date they have been relentless in letting webmasters know that the content should tell searchers what a site is all about, not the domain name nor URL extensions (such as subdomains) wrapped around it. Businesses are encouraged to brand their domain in the same way that a brick and mortar would and let the content (titles, headings, text, rich-media) do the talking for the URL.
3. Search Engine Metrics Prove Negative Correlation to Ranking
Last week the 2014 SearchMetrics Ranking Report provided definitive evidence that as of our current year, using keyword targets in a URL/domain have no positive impact in getting a site to rank well on search engines. Instead, there is a negative correlation between the two.
4. Every Spammer Alive Is Doing It
Google launching their EMD update two years ago, with BING following up with their own recent KWS version, is the result of spammers from all over the world using this SEO gaming tactic. Quick buck websites offering everything from payday loans to pharmaceuticals and get-rich schemes to online gambling all use keyword stuffing to build their numerous domains. When spammers jump on a strategy harsher penalties for those that use it are quick to follow. You do NOT want your website looped in with any of them.
5. It May Work for a Tight Niche but it Won’t Maintain on Name Alone
I’ll be the first to admit that I have seen exact match keywords in URLs work for some websites in certain industries. If a website is starting out in a very narrow market within a small niche a URL that provides search engines with keywords that are not being used by many others CAN indeed get them to rank in a short amount of time. This occurs because search engines have little to compare it against. They have to make the most logical choice and deliver the domain as a result for the few that are actually searching for the keyword string met by the URL. I could launch a bare minimum site (very little content) today targeting tiki huts for sale in Vancouver and use the domain vancouvertikihuts.com. It would rank on a search engine results page (SERP) within a month or two. However as time passed search engine’s would see that the site offered very little content relevant to the topic, and slowly kick it out of page one. They would better recognized that local online sellers of related items (bamboo retailers, barware merchants, etc…) are more relevant to user queries. Even if you are working within a tight niche, keyword stuffing of domains is a short term strategy, very short term.
If You Must – If you already have a long domain name with exact match keywords in it, and/or a collection of subdomains on your site that appear to violate the statements above, all is not lost. Content will be your savior. Make sure that the content on each page speaks to the keyword targets that your URL is attempting to capture. As usual, this content need to be original, informative, useful, interesting, and media-rich. Provide search engines with that domain-to-content marriage material and they will forgive any perceived sin against the mandate to move away from EMDs and KWS practices.