In just over a year Google has hit us with two huge algorithm updates: Google Panda and Google Penguin. With the Panda update, the target was content. Webmasters could no longer get away with posting thin, poor content in order to rank for a few keywords. Google improved the way that it looked at content and looked at it more like a human, as opposed to a search engine spider/robot. If a target audience member wasn’t going to benefit from it, Google wasn’t going to rank it prominently. The Google Penguin update has primarily gone after sites that have an unnatural link portfolio and lots of spammy links pointing to their site. It’s also targeting sites that abuse anchor text and link to the same keywords over and over again. An additional trend and effect of the “over optimization” penalties is that websites with a keyword rich domain name are getting nailed.
What exactly is a keyword rich domain name? It’s a URL that, instead of using a brand or company name such as www.companyX.com, uses keywords like www.anytownusakitchenappliancesandgadgets.com. Previously, the search engines may have ranked this website for “Anytown USA kitchen appliances and gadgets”, but the focus is increasingly on the end user, the actual person searching. Aside from trying to get noticed by the search engines, is this long keyword rich domain name beneficial? Not really. There’s no chance that an actual potential customer would remember that crazy URL. The domain name for a business should be the brand name. Think of how the receptionist answers the phone and greets a caller. It would sound ridiculous for them to say, “Good afternoon, you’ve called Anytown USA Kitchen Appliances and Gadgets”, wouldn’t it? If it doesn’t make sense as a greeting, it doesn’t make sense as the URL either.
Most businesses have the smarts to avoid using this kind of URL as their homepage URL, so instead they are utilizing this strategy in a not so obvious way. What is more common is creating a microsite with a domain that is keyword rich. A microsite is a separate site that focuses on a topic that is more specific than the content on the main website. A microsite should serve a purpose other than for SEO. A black hat tactic is to create lots of keyword rich domain microsites that target specific keywords, such as a separate site for every location of a business.
The Google Panda and Penguin updates are targeting sites that are low quality and don’t benefit searchers. Having a keyword rich microsite is a spammy way to get the attention of the search engines and eventually get a searcher over to your main page.
To avoid getting hit by the Panda and Penguin updates, focus on creating lots of good content on one website instead of spreading it out over lots of microsites. Use a branded domain name instead of one that’s stuffed with keywords. The search engines see right through it and will penalize you accordingly.