Targeting Keyword Domains Next on Google Agenda?

It’s been a busy year for Google in terms of algorithm changes. The search engine giant has been tweaking its formula in an effort to reduce the ranking of websites with low quality content. By improving the relevancy of its results, Google believes it provides a more positive user experience. While algorithm changes are nothing new for Google, its Panda release in February was significant in terms of its scope.

The Panda release was definitely a sign that Google’s tolerance of low quality results was wearing thin.  Some recent comments from Matt Cutts, Google’s principal engineer, suggest that there may be even more changes on the horizon, however.  Despite the positive effects of Panda, Cutts told the San Jose Mercury News that Google has even more plans to filter out low quality sites from its search results.  Cutts did not discuss any specific details, but he did leave some food for thought in a recent video concerning the value of keyword domains.

Cutts stated, “Now if you’re still on the fence, let me just give you a bit of color, that we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains, and some people have complained that we’re giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains," Cutts said. "And so we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn’t necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”

Cutts’ comments are just a hint at possible changes, but they are probably weighing heavily on the minds of many who have focused their SEO efforts around keyword domains.  According to Simon Heseltine, Director of SEO for AOL Inc., high quality sites should be fine in the event of such changes, but others may not be so lucky.  He said, “"If you’ve been doing things the right way, building up good content, on a good architecture, that’s pulling in good quality, relevant links, then you shouldn’t have to worry about this change.  If your strategy is based around keywords in the domain name, then you may want to start working on a new strategy." 

Some experts, such as Josh McCoy, a SEO specialist with Vizion Interactive, believe that sites with hyphenated domain names could be impacted the most by future changes.  McCoy also suggests that domains with adjectives such as best, top, etc. would be targeted by Google.  Penalizing these domains could be a positive move for search engine users, as such sites are often deemed to be of low quality and filled with spam.

So, if keyword domains eventually falter in the search engine battle, who will benefit?  Besides users, many believe that strong brands will benefit the most.  In his video, Cutts cited the success of sites such as Twitter and Facebook.  Both lack keywords in their domains, but have built a strong following through their brand development. 

As far as tips for how to brace for the future, Vizion Interactive’s Mark Jackson offers the following advice for SEOs: "Would you, as a searcher, want to find a 10 page website ranking highly for some research that you’re conducting? To me, the intent of your search is to find a website of substance, authority, popularity and a quality user-experience. Focus on these things for long-term success."  

For more on this topic, visit http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/110316-150000

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