The Story Of An Exact Match Domain, Penguin and Anchor Text
In January of 2013, I was hired to do a quick review of a site that had been suffering badly from Penguin 1. I won’t disclose the site here. But it was a one word exact match domain (this word receives 60,500 searches a month).
Let’s say the site was shoes.com (just an example). Every top backlink had some form of “shoes” in it. Whether is was the brand name, domain name, longer phrases with the work “shoe”.
So if all you have is “shoes, shoes, shoes” for anchor text – and your site is a bit too optimized for “shoes, shoes shoes” – what do you get?
What can you do if your domain/brand is the commercial keyword? Your top anchor text is going to be the commercial keyword.
I had a theory.
I thought, if your brand/domain is an exact match commercial keyword, you need something for unique anchor text. You need to diversify stand out, be unique. But the answer isn’t just other commercial keywords.
And so I made this video: The Anchor Text Missing From Your Backlink Profile urging people to attract backlinks of people’s names to their site. Cyrus Shepard went on to embed the video in his post on Moz: Stop Clicking Here! 7 Superior SEO Alternatives To Generic Links and presents a few more ideas for anchor text diversity.
But let’s tie all of this together.
Proprietary Keywords = Propwords.
Proprietary means “of or relating to ownership”. That’s what these are. That ties this all together. Keywords a site or brand “claims ownership” of. This doesn’t have to be in an official way like a trademark.
These are essentially words, once “claimed”, that form a deep association with your brand. And it’s hard for any other brand or company to claim them.
Let’s check out a little cheat sheet, and I will elaborate below;
Criteria Of Being A Propword
The key is that these are NOT commercial keywords. They are unique and I believe fulfill the following criteria;
It is a word/phrase that does/did not exist yet or very minimally used
Check existence by running search volume.
- Check existence by running intitle searches in Google or the word/phrase in quotes.
They should acquire search volume over time.
They should naturally acquire anchor text backlinks over time.
The Value Of Propwords
All branding, trust and unique selling propositions aside (which no doubt, those benefits are enormous) – these words can send super high value signals to Google that your site has got something special going on because;
- you now have unique anchor text
- you’ll show search volume as a popularity indicator / “brand” signal
- you’ll have mentions as another popularity signal
I believe search engine benefits may be;
- these will protect you from penguin-like algorithm update
- improve your overall quality score
- increase your perception of being a “brand”
For those of you interested, I found two patent related articles on SEO By The Sea which could slightly relate to these concepts;
And obvious brand benefits;
- increased unique selling proposition
- you stand out
Search Volume Examples
Here’s some examples of how SEOmoz (now Moz) has claimed many Propwords;
What I believe happens is;
- The words are created.
- They are promoted by the site.
- Google starts to see people linking to the site with that anchor text, and starts to see search volume around the word.
- Google may associate the propword with your site based upon anchor text as well as what people click in the SERP when they search for your propword.
- This word then becomes like an extra brand signal, showing that your site is in demand.
Here’s another example (albeit a little loose). D’you know what company this is?
The Inherent Problem With Exact Match Domains
Getting back to our EMD’s, they have a challenge. Their brand name is their keyword. Their domain name is their keyword. Just look at nuts.com top anchor text keywords;
The lack of a real propword though, I believe is well made up for by the amount of exact match searches for the domain;
This is why, if you have an EMD, promoting it with the dot com at minimum is essential to standing out.
A More Complete Anchor Text Profile
Most ratios we see nowadays look like this – but the reality is, they are incomplete;
THIS I believe would be a more complete way to think of anchor text distribution;
Creating Propwords – Two Options
There’s really two options here;
Option 1: Leverage An Existing Asset – This is obviously the easiest way. If you’re already doing something unique, but it just doesn’t have a unique name. Give it one.
Option 2: Create Something & Give It A Unique Name – Obviously harder because you have to start from scratch. But this can be an incredibly transformative process as well. This has actually got two separate lead gen clients I am working with excited and passionate about creating something of real value, a things that a “real” company would do.
11 Propword Types & Examples
This is where the possibilities are almost endless, when you really start thinking about all of the types of things that can have unique names. One thing I want to note, is that you can skim through all of the schema types for ideas.
1. Brand Names
This goes without saying. If your site is branded with a unique name, you’re already one step ahead. If your brand is a commercial keyword / EMD – promote your brand with the dot com. This is the best way to not just be seen as an EMD.
Examples: Zappos, Reebok, Skype, Lego, CDBaby
If your company has someone like the CEO or thought leader who gains recognition online, their name can be a propword. You don’t have to be a huge celebrity or giant company with a CEO like Jeff Bezos. Even if you’re name receives 50 searches a month, that’s enough in my mind to establish your name as relevant. (Again, that was the point in this video).
If this person does any amount of blogging, speaking, gets press or is active online, they are likely to acquire some links and search volume.
Example: Katrina Markoff (Vosges Chocolate)
This can be a “real” product – or it can be something like … The Easy Button. Check out some of the metrics for Staples’ Easy Button;
Lots of links with that anchor text, including ones from Zillow and MIT.
Plenty of search volume, and it’s clear Staples “owns” this keyword;
Example: The Easy Button
I’ve most seen companies naming their place of work. But you could even have a unique name for your brick and mortar location. Instead of calling it “store” or “shop” why not create something unique?
Examples: Mozplex, Googleplex, SearchChurch
5. Mascots & Characters
Recently, this post on Moz highlighted a great case study about Grumpy Grandpa, a character created by Bay Alarm Medical. I thought this was a very clever on a variety of levels. But in particular, it’s going to give them a unique propword which will strengthen their site way beyond just keywords.
Examples: Roger Mozbot, Grumpy Grandpa
If appropriate in your niche, name your blog. I think this stems from a spirit of creativity as well as “thinking like a publisher”. Most companies probably already have a blog. Bring it to the next level by naming it and making it something you really care about – and that much more official.
Example: Signal Vs. Noise or “svn” for short (37 Signals)
7. Content Series
Not to mention the benefit of publishing content on a schedule, but here’s another opportunity to give it a unique name, make it memorable and stand out. The series doesn’t have to be on a regular schedule, although that’s ideal. When I was doing NoBoard SEO twice a week, that’s certainly when it was most successful.
Moz could have named Fresh Web Explorer “mentions tool” – but they gave it a unique name, and it works well alongside “Open Site Explorer”.
Example: Fresh Web Explorer or Coverage Counselor (Esurance)
I love the Coverage Counselor example. All it is, is your usual insurance finder tool.
Except Esurance gave it a name. And actually Registered it is a trademark apparently. I also like it because it’s in a normally spammy industry, and shows you can do something more “real”. Coverage Counselor is something a little extra that’s going to separate them from the rest.
9. Coin A New Term
Is there a topic or turning point in your industry with a gap to be filled? Wil Reynolds filled a gap in SEO industry with “RCS” (Real Company Shit). Is there a concept or something new that does not yet have an elegant way to refer to it?
This is a perfect opportunity to leverage a propword. This is because events are very likely to be mentioned a lot online, linked to and shared socially.
Examples: MozCon, SearchLove
I love Distilled’s backlink profile in general. Lots of diversity, and you can really tell they value people, because of you look at their complete profile, tons of employee names are in there.
11. Give Your Self A Pen Name, Alias or “Stage Name”
This works especially well if you have a common name, and want to stand out as being unique. It reminds me of writers, actors, or hip hop artists – giving themselves a unique name.
There’s lots more possibilities here – I’m not going to outline every single one but in short they could be;
- online courses
Anything I miss?
You Have To Promote Them
It’s certainly great to have these at your disposal. But they need to be promoted.
- You need a clear landing page for whatever the subject is. If it’s a person, you need a page about them. If it’s an event, you need an event page. This is obviously important for acquiring links with the propword anchor text.
- Work the word into your company culture and dialect. Use it as “normal” language when writing, speaking etc. Incorporate it into your overall content strategy plan as part of the company “voice”.
- Use it as hashtag.
- Make sure you always rank #1 for your propwords. In theory, if you really are claiming a unique word not used anywhere else, this should not be an issue. But you may want to track rankings for them to be safe.
- Check ubersuggest for other long tail versions of your propword, and make sure you’re ranking for those as well – and that the content exists people are looking for.
- Buy the domain name, even if it’s just to save for later or protect.
- Brand the propword just as you would a brand name. Could it have a logo? A color scheme? Offline promotional materials like tee-shirts?
A Word About Creativity
What’s at the core of this? Creativity. That’s why this could be a HUGE competitive advantage. And I want to emphasize that, if you try to just boil this down into a “tactic” or a “trick” everyone’s going to be able to tell that’s what you’re doing. Including Google.
Anyone who’s created something unique probably did NOT sit down and go “well, gotta get me some propwords now”. No. They or their company likely has a spirit of creativity and adding value at its core.
You have to be real about this. You have to be genuine. Otherwise you may as well just go back to your commercial keywords.
Final Takeaways (TL;DR)
I’m definitely going to be exploring this subject more. I have a few clients putting this into action now (one client is naming their company blog, the other will be creating a character), which I will share the results of once finished. To sum up;
- Propwords are unique, non-commercial keywords that are strongly associate with your brand/site.
- They should accumulate search volume, backlinks and mentions.
- They can be names of people, places, events, mascots and more.
- They can protect sites from Penguin 1 like penalties.
- They can improve the popularity/quality score of your site.
- You can either name an existing asset or create a new one to name.
- They should be actively promoted.
- Be genuine!