Exact match domains can provide a significant boost to PPC ad campaigns

by Edwin on March 26, 2014

Not enough advice about PPC advertising optimisation takes into account the domain name, perhaps because it’s taken for granted that it’s “immutable” since there’s an existing website, with an existing web address. But nobody said you are only allowed one website!

We did a test a couple of years back that showed that an exact match domain could produce significantly more clicks for searches that related to the keywords within the domain than alternatives that did not match the search keywords.

The background to the test: Adwords ad campaign targeting “electric bikes”, using 3 different URLs. Ads featuring a generic domain name with an exact match to the product (ElectricBicycles.co.uk) performed significantly better than identical ads featuring an alternative generic (YourBikes.co.uk) or non-generic (InAHurry.co.uk) domain.

The CTR of ads using the ElectricBicycles.co.uk domain name was 15% and 42% higher than the two alternatives. The ElectricBicycles.co.uk ads produced 45% more clicks than the YourBikes.co.uk ads and 105% more clicks than the InAHurry.co.uk ads.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that Google automatically bolds keywords within the domain name that match the search terms, thus drawing even more attention to the ad (for an exact match domain, the whole web address will “light up”)

Similarly, a car loans company in Australia rebranded from “Beep.com.au” to “CarLoans.com.au” and saw an instant benefit in their PPC campaigns.

The owner of the company said: “We noticed the impact the very next day. The moment we launched CarLoans, we had a 35% drop in our AdWord spend the next day,” he says.

“A lot of our inquiries are driven through AdWords, but we’re now getting the same number of leads for much less. Our click-through rate went up and our conversion rate alone has increased by 30%.”

You can read the full story of CarLoans.com.au here.

A smaller study carried out in 2009 comparing the use of a generic domain (DivorceLawyer.com) and a branded alternative (VladimirLaw.com).

It showed that “We found that ads featuring the generic domain name, DivorceLawyer.com performed significantly better than identical ads featuring the firm’s existing domain name VladimirLaw.com. The DivorceLawyer.com domain name increased click-through-rate (CTR) by 298% over the VladimirLaw.com domain name and reduced cost-per-click (CPC) by 21.3%. DivorceLawyer.com also increased Average Position and Average Quality Score.”

Finally, while the focus of the study was on the search results themselves rather than the ads surrounding those results, researchers at Microsoft found in an in-depth study that there is a significant “domain bias” effect whereby a credible looking domain name can drive people to click on a particular search result more than that same result would be clicked when it is paired with an unfamiliar URL.

For PPC marketers with larger budgets and/or in competitive markets where the CPC is very high, the instant, ongoing “boost” from using an exact match domain might easily warrant the costs incurred in purchasing an appropriate exact match domain name in the aftermarket.

Perhaps this type of optimisation is not more widely discussed because the “gatekeepers” of the budget for most large companies are the ad/marketing agencies, and money spent on acquiring exact match domains for campaign optimisation is money not available for the campaigns themselves – and many such firms may be operating on the basis that they take a % of ad spend as part of their compensation.

Combine that with a lack of experience of the phenomenon (it’s chicken and egg: unless the marketer already had in-house access to relevant exact match domains they’re not going to have been able to test this before) and it’s an extremely under-reported, yet potentially surprisingly effective, optimisation.

Remember, just like you can test out different sales landers for a PPC campaign, nobody says that you have to put those sales landers on the same website as your “regular” site! You can take a different domain name and build a simplified site just for PPC, one designed to “warm up” the prospect, capture an email address, prompt for first contact, or whatever action you would like in order to begin the sales process.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam March 27, 2014 at 4:38 am

Thanks for this post edwin many of my client purchase exact match domains for PPC ad campaigns and they have great results

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Roman chertes August 24, 2015 at 11:23 am

I agree with your exact match domain findings. I am surprised my self that many people simply dont know about this. I tried various strategies, of using emd and ppc and its quiet amazing the level of competive advantage u can get with emds.

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