Godaddy is a badass SEO

It seems the long rumored demise of exact match domains has been overstated, at least as it applies to legal search results. Despite data from the Moz Cast which shows a trending decline in exact and partial match domain (EMD, PMD) influence over the last 90 days, my observation of the legal space shows firms ranking highly for competitive keywords, often with a geographic keyword in the website URL seemingly the sole basis. 41.6% of first page results for the searches I performed belonged to EMD and PMD domains.

I researched 10 large-volume legal searches across numerous regions and practice areas and offer my findings below. The highest ranking EMD or PMD domain is highlighted for each search. I’ve included basic link and social data as well, not because I assume that these metrics are the only factors contributing to rankings, but because they tend to shed light on the tactics (or lack of tactics) that have been used to position the featured sites. Google+ presence is noted primarily as a result of the recent Search Metrics study which listed “+1’s” as the single most important ranking factor.

Note: My methodology excludes “law” as a term that would qualify a domain as an exact or partial match, except for analysis of “Vail law firm” and “Houston law firm.”

Search #1 – Chicago Bankruptcy Attorney (4,400 global monthly searches)

As of June 28, 2013, the first place position for “Chicago bankruptcy attorney,” a highly competitive search term, was held by Frank Cortese. (I will not include direct links in this article to avoid influencing rankings.) Frank’s domain is chicago-bankruptcy-attorneys.com.

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 18

Linking root domains: 4

Google+ presence: set to private, inconclusive

Percentage of first page results with an exact or partial match domain: 53%.

Of 15 total results, 8 were organic and 7 were part of a map display. Of the 15, 8 of the listed domains had at least a partial match domain.

Search #2 – Los Angeles Injury Attorney (27,100 global monthly searches)

It goes without saying that this search, with this volume, is very competitive. I think it’s safe to assume that each of these firms is working with an SEO agency. So, who ranks? Thankfully, it’s not a total exact and partial match result. As of June 28, 2013, first place position was held by Cameron Yadidi Brock and his legaldefenders.com domain.

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 42

Linking root domains: 206

Note: A large percentage of anchor text is built within money keywords. There are 129 linking root domains containing the anchor text “personal injury lawyer Los Angeles.” Penguin who?

Google+ presence: 11 people have Cameron Brock in circles

Percentage of first page with an exact or partial match domain: 25%.

Of 16 total results, 9 were organic and 7 were part of a map display. Of the 16 results, 4 of the domains that appeared had a partial match domain. None of the results were exact match.

Search #3 – Las Vegas Divorce Lawyer (3,600 global monthly searches)

On the day I conducted my research, the highest ranking partial or exact match domain was lasvegas-divorceattorney.com which belongs to “The Firm.” The Firm’s site ranked 3rd organically for the query.

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 16

Linking root domains: 11

Google+ presence: 2 people have The Firm principle Preston P. Rezaee in their Google+ circles.

Percentage of first page with an exact or partial match domain: 33%.

Of 15 total results, 8 were organic and 7 were part of a map display. Of the 15 results on the first page, 5 of the domains were either partial or exact match.

Search #4 – Miami Foreclosure Lawyer (880 global monthly searches)

The trend continues. Search results for “Miami foreclosure lawyer” are littered with EMD and PMD sites, including the first place position which was owned by Shuster & Saben on the day that I searched. Shuster & Saben’s web address is attorneyforeclosuredefense.com.

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 19

Linking root domains: 11

Google+ presence: no evidence of Google+ presence

Percentage of first page with an exact or partial match domain: 46%.

Of 13 total results, 6 were organic and 7 were part of a map display. Of the 13 results, 6 of the domains that appeared on the first page were either partial or exact match.

Search #5 – Dallas criminal lawyer (5,400 global monthly searches)

On the day I searched, Dallas criminal lawyer displayed a pure organic result with an EMD appearing second overall. David C. Finn PC’s website dallascriminallawyer.com owned the first EMD result.

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 31

Linking root domains: 80

Notes: Based on the number of linking root domains, this result seems to make more sense. For example, David Finn’s site is getting a legitimate link from the Dallas Observer.

Google+ presence: no evidence of Google+ presence

Percentage of first page with an exact or partial match domain: 50%.

There were 10 results in total on the day I searched, all of which were organic. Of these, 5 were either partial or exact match.

Search #6 – Vail Law Firm (Relatively low search volume)

For the 6th search, I chose a less competitive query geared towards a smaller market: Vail, Colorado. Looks like EMD and PMD still show strong, although the first place position is both branded and EMD since the firm holding the spot is owned by Jeff Vail (vail-law.com).

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 15

Linking root domains: 3

Google+ presence: 32 people have firm principle Jeff Vail in circles

Percentage of first page results with an exact or partial match domain: 46%.

Of 15 total results on the day I searched, 8 were organic, 7 displayed in maps. Of the 15 results on the first page, 7 of the domains were either partial or exact match.

Search #7 – NYC Real Estate Lawyer (2,400 global monthly searches)

Here the trend breaks slightly because not all of the PMD results were law firm sites. The highest ranking PMD domain is a page on the nyccounsel.com site.

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 30

Linking root domains (to the page): 5

Notes: While the nyccounsel.com domain has some high quality earned links, the links to the page that ranks organically for the “NYC real estate lawyer” search look manufactured.

Percentage of first page results with an exact or partial match domain: 26%.

Of 15 total results on the day I searched, 8 were organic and 7 displayed in maps. Of the 15 results on the first page, 2 of the domains were either partial or exact match and belonged to law firms. Two other PMD appeared in the results, but they were on the NYtimes.com  and walkingnyctours.com respectively. 

Search #8–Boston Bankruptcy Lawyer (880 global monthly searches)

On the day I searched, the first organic result for “Boston bankruptcy lawyer” was held by the law offices of Joseph D Foley. Joseph Foley’s domain is bankruptcy-lawyer-bostonma.com,  another example of an exact match domain with prominent placement in legal search results.

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 15

Linking root domains: 2

Google+ presence: The firm has a Google+ local page but does not appear to be actively engaging on Google+ or sharing content to Google+.

Percentage of first page results with an exact or partial match domain: 25%.

Of 16 total results on the day I searched, 9 were organic and 7 displayed in maps. Of the 16 results on the first page, 4 of the domains were either EMD or PMD.

Search #9 – Houston law firm (18,100 global monthly searches)

The trend of high visibility for exact and partial match domains continues with the search results for “Houston law firm.” The 1st place organic position is held by an interior page of the Lanier Law Firm website, web address: www.lanierlawfirm.com/houston.

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Other stats:

Domain authority of page: 43

Linking root domains: 26

Notes: 23 of the linking root domains link within “Houston” as anchor text.

Google+ presence: Firm principal Mark Lanier has a Google+ profile and 3 people have added him to circles.

Percentage of first page results with an exact or partial match domain: 50%.

Of 16 total results on the day I searched, 9 were organic and 7 displayed in maps. Of the 16 results on the first page, 8 of the domains were either EMD or PMD. Not all of the PMD results were law firms. For example, Houston Craigslist appears in last position organically.

Search #10 – San Diego Injury Lawyer (9,900 global monthly searches)

My final search revealed another page littered with EMD and PMD results. On the day  I searched, the highest ranking EMD domain www.accident-attorneys-san-diego.com, which is owned by the Mission Legal Center, ranked second overall.

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Other stats:

Domain authority: 23

Linking root domains: 23

Google+ presence: no evidence of Google+ presence

Percentage of first page results with an exact or partial match domain: 62%.

Of 16 total results on the day I searched, 9 were organic and 7 displayed in maps. Of these, 10 of the domains were either EMD or PMD.

Findings

When you add up all the numbers, 41.6% of first page results for the searches I performed belonged to EMD and PMD domains. These legal search results contain approximately 40% more EMD and PMD results than the global averages calculated by Moz Cast. While the sample size is small, I think the data demonstrates an important point: keywords still matter.

Regardless of how sophisticated algorithms may become, search is still based on keywords – specifically, in searches I performed, geo-targeted keywords. David Mihm’s latest list of local ranking factors includes “geographic keyword in website URL” as the 28th most important ranking factor, so SEO’s have certainly taken notice of the issue before. My observation of the legal search results prompted this post because it seemed to me like there were an unusual number of EMD and PMD domains appearing prominently in search. My random searches seem to support my initial hypothesis – keywords in domain names help local visibility for law firms and local businesses.

It would be interesting to see EMD and PMD Moz Cast data focused only on local SERPs.

A Word of Caution

I hope this post won’t motivate more law firms to reserve domains like www.my-city-lawyer-state.us or revert to a spammer mentality when marketing a law practice. Rankings do not necessarily convert to new business. Please consider: we don’t know the rate at which the EMD and PMD featured in this post convert, we only know where they appear in search results. Visibility for high volume searches is one way to produce new business, not the only way.

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the President of JSO Digital, a NYC based internet marketing company.

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3 Responses to “Godaddy is a badass SEO”

  1. David Merriman

    John, excellent post. It’s not just the legal vertical, it’s locally oriented businesses generally. EMD’s and PMD’s outrank our tree service site solely because of the domains. Luckily, sites that do rely on that solely, don’t have broad SEO visibility at all. I think Google’s next local ranking factor change will leverage that. So sites that rank top 3 with PMD’s on a few head geographic head terms and then rank nowhere on everything else will hopefully be penalized. Btw I figured this out partly because we rank much better on head terms without a local modifier but are being tracked as local to us.

  2. Marcelo

    great post bro, I see the same patterns here in Sydney, Australia, EMDs still occupying the top three results in Google SERP in some spaces dispite other sites having link profile and branded domains. David When do you think Google’s next local ranking algo update will hit down under,?

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