How to Still Rank With Microsites on Exact Match Domains


To my great surprise I rank for a pretty competitive keyword with a microsite on an exact match domain with two backlinks. Let’s try to find out why. It was roughly a year before the so called EMD (exact match domain) update by Google when I set up my microsite.

The site is really small, it has only 3 pages, uses a template I bought for a few bucks

over at Themeforest. I customized it a bit, added some descriptive content and basically forgot about it. I didn’t have the time anymore to promote it. I only remembered the site when one day a large commission appeared on my account.

I want to reverse engineer my success here.  I can’t show you the actual example in order not the change the current status quo but I can tell you what I did to get there.

First the basics

  1. So what is an exact match domain exactly?
  2. What does it match exactly?
  3. Why does Google consider them problematic so that it launches an update to fix its algorithm?

An EMD is a site that has a domain name that matches the main keyword its optimized for exactly. So instead calling our site we would call it because we offer SEO software and optimize for that keyphrase lately. Such an EMD does usually not contain a brand unless both keyword and brand are the same.

For a long time Google favored such generic keyword oriented sites.

While more and more people found out about that soon very low level sites, sometimes even empty ones started to outrank other valuable sites. So Google had to react.


Linking out

While many SEO practicioners still think that linking out hurts them I know that outgoing links to authority sites are actually a positive ranking signal. This seems to be confirmed here as well. I have linked out to three authority sites on my microsite, not Wikipedia, I mean real topical authority sites in two cases and one very popular news site dealing with the topic.




The microsite has just two backlinks! It hasn’t been shared on social media either. The link is from a 10 year old authority domain with a ca. 55 domain authority according to Moz.

The overall Moz domain authority of the microsite is just 9.

BTW. Open Site Explorer shows four backlinks, one from my authority site the other three from the domain itself. Ahrefs shows three but one is really low quality (automated). The other is a good one. It’s an editorial link from a blog article. The anchor text is optimized too.


Link stability

I have linked to my microsite and the link has been there unchanged for almost two years. That tells Google’s that is most likely not a paid link for example. I think link stability is a crucial factor in determining long term value of a “vote of confidence” via a hyperlink.


Clean UX

Ever since the Google Panda updates clean websites with appropriate user experience are a direct ranking factor. While it’s difficult to get a grip on those algorithmically Google does employ quality raters to find and catalog such sites so they become better at identifying them.

My microsite is very clean in its design.

There is a lot of white space, a large attractive image and a geometric grid layout structuring short paragraphs of text.


No hidden affiliate links

While the business model of the microsite is the same as many low quality niche sites in my case one thing is different. While professional affiliate marketers will hide their affiliate links by using redirects, “go” pages or simply URL shorteners I haven’t. The affiliate link is neither hidden from visitors nor from Google.


On topic

My microsite is very on topic, that is it deals with three aspects of the product I describe, the product itself, the designer who made it and the pricing as it’s very expensive. So there is no fluff, no huge texts or reviews cluttering the site. No other products are displayed either. Every word is in tune with the purpose of the site, introducing the one product and its origins.




The microsite also a classic silo in case you are familiar with the old school SEO best practices according to Bruce Clay. So each page deals with a very narrow topic and only with it while they are connected with the homepage on the same level.


Hyphens + .info

Intriguingly some aspects of the domain many people in the SEO industry consider to be detrimental in the eye of Google seemingly weren’t. My two word exact match domain domain was hyphenated (as in vs and it’s an .info top level domain which some SEO experts ascribe lower value to than to older more established ones like .com .net or .org


No Google Analytics

I didn’t add my Google Analytics code to that microsite. I’m not paranoid! I just didn’t have the time to monitor it so I didn’t add any web analytics tool. Many

people more keen on privacy than me believe that telling Google which sites belong to you, be it via GA or any other Google tool you embed is an additional risk.

Some go as far as to state that Google hates affiliates and SEOs. Thus you shouldn’t tell Google who you are and what you do they warn.




The microsite is indeed micro. It’s lightweight and superfast. The Pingdom Website speed test tells me about it:

“Your website is faster than 98% of all tested websites”

Despite its 372.4 kb and 16 requests it was up in 418 milliseconds. That’s 8 times faster than my blog over on SEO 2.0 for example.


Of course we can’t be sure about these things making me rank but at least they don’t seem to have been a problem until now. I still rank at three, only the designer itself and Ebay is above me.

* Creative Commons image by Shadi Samawi.