Keywords in domain names have very little importance in actual ranking calculations – that’s been the case for years now. The positive effects people see are a consequence of sites linking to the domain using the URL as anchor text – link text containing keywords is what helps the domain rank, not the actual appearance of the keyword in the domain name.
It’s a common mistake SEOs make – differentiating between “direct” ranking factors and “indirect” ranking factors is very important. People just tend to make the wrong assosciations – they optimise a keyword domain site and see it rank for the keyword and assume that this is down to the keyword in the domain. It isn’t.
The strength of keywords in domains is very easy to test. Find a keyword with mild competition (say anywhere from 500k +), buy the domain, stick a page up with content that doesn’t mention the keyword (nowhere in the body copy, title, etc). Then link to the site from another site using the text “click here”.
If the appearance of keywords in the domain name were so important, then the domain would rank well. But it won’t. That’s because it used to work (circa 2002, 2003) and Google SERPs were filled with spammy keyword domains hosting scraper sites so Google heavily devalued the impact keywords in domain names.
Think about it logically. If this was such an important factor – i.e. more important than any other SEO factor as people are saying – why would Google allow this? A keyword in a domain says nothing about the quality of the content on the site – it’s something that anyone can manipulate in an instant and at very low cost.
BobsWidgets.com ranks well for “widgets” because people link to it using the text, “Bobs Widgets”. There’s a reason that marketing.com, seo.com, searchengineoptimisation.com, travel.com, food.com, etc aren’t number 1 for their respective keywords – that reason is that they have uncompetitive levels of keyword inbound link text compared to their competitors and the domain name is largely irrelevant.
That’s just the “pure SEO ranking” value however. You need to also look at other types of value that can come from keywords in domains – it makes link building easier – people link to the site using keywords more often so rankings can come quicker because of that.
But look at the issue in a larger context – sure having “widgets” in your domain name will help you rank faster because people link to it saying “widgets”. But widgets isn’t your only keyword is it? What about the dozens, hundreds or thousands of other keywords you want to target? The appearance of “widgets” in the domain name doesn’t help them in the slightest.
For those reasons, overall keyword in domain names have very low value to even small campaigns and the overall value decreases as your campaign increases.
Personally, I wouldn’t even rank the value of this factor in my top 10 – it’s inconsequential to a SEO campaign where even a made up word as domain name (i.e. a brand) can achieve the same success just as easily.
There’s also an issue of image. I guess many people won’t realise and this is probably less and less of an issue as time passes, but there was a time when keyword domains were synonymous with spam (because as I said, spammers used to buy up keyword domains and throw up spam sites because they used to rank well because of the keyword in the domain). Personally, I ignore link requests and business requests from keyword domains for that reason – this may be the exception rather than the rule, but I believe there are probably a good percentage of website owners who feel the same.
And then the marketing issues. You spend loads of money on SEO for edinburghwidgets.com just for someone else to go ahead a buy up glasgowwidgets.com or buyedinburghwidgets.com and legally there’s nothing you can do about it – and there’s a decent chance they will outrank you and capitialise on any marketing efforts you are making. Why would you risk that as a business when you can optimise “abrand.com” just as easily?
Keywords domains are good for some applications, but I would be seriously concerned if a legitimate business wanted to spend money developing a keyword domain for their core business solely on the belief it will help them rank better.