Google Exact Match Keyword Penalty Explained

Last Updated: April 29, 2023By

The Search Engines are like a market place on the internet where everyone goes to sell freely. But the profitability of the website will depend on how close it is to the top in the search engine result pages (SERPS)Achieving such top ranking requires that you satisfy Google’s expectations complying with its SEO guidelines.

One of the faults with many SEO efforts is the temptation to use exact match keywords in domains, titles, and content. Studies have shown that using exact match keywords comes with a lot of benefits and gives some advantages. Google has found that in many cases, very poor quality websites are able to rank top in its search engines with exact match domains and keywords in titles and content.

In SEO, exact-match keywords refer to search results/content that perfectly match all of the keywords in a search query, exactly as entered by the searcher. People tend to go for exact matches because it gives some advantage in returning results. There is some correlation between exact match, either in the domain name or the keywords used in page title and the ranking that displays in the search results. Exact-match keywords have its origins from the Google AdWords keyword match type that allows you to advertise for a specific exact-match search.

In the words of Google, Exact match is explained as:

With Exact Match, you can show your ad to customers who are searching for your exact keyword, or close variants of your exact keyword, exclusively. Of the four keyword matching options, Exact Match gives you the most control over who sees your ad, and can result in a higher clickthrough rate (CTR). With Exact Match, your ads may appear when the meaning of someone’s search exactly matches your keyword. When you use Exact Match, you might not receive as many impressions or clicks, but you’ll probably see a higher clickthrough rate (CTR). That’s because your ads can appear to people who are searching for terms that are almost exactly related to your product or service.

Further reading:

Exact match domain names

In respect of “Exact match” as it relates to domain names, if a searcher types in “green jewelry” and your domain name is, that is an exact match domain. Ordinarily, that search will return your domain name at the top result and that gives you a greater advantage than any other website appearing in the search especially if you have built in quality content.

Should I Use Exact Match Domains?

It is difficult to expressly say yes, you should go for exact match domains or no, you should not. One thing you must bear in mind is that the domain your domain name is your brand. Secondly, exact match domains can lead to a penalty against your website so you must be cautious.

In the example above, if you own a shop named Green Jewelries and you register, then there should be nothing wrong with that. But domains should not be registered just to gain the advantage over others in the search engines when it has nothing to do with your brand. Google may be intolerant of the latter and that could come with a penalty.

You should know that Google frowns at exact matches today and so what worked yesterday is not always working today.

Further reading:

Will Exact Match Always Give You High Rankings

Exact match domains combined with high quality content is a great combination and from our experience will always put you at the top. However, this is not certain to always happen because exact matches are not as powerful as they used to be.

In fact, an exact match domain may even be penalized by Google! A Google update to their algorithm in 2012 was aimed at weeding out exact match domains from spammy websites from their search results. While there are still good examples of exact match domains that rank well, using an exact match domain can be a bit of a risky bet if done with the intention of stuffing in as many keywords as possible.

Our suggestion is that exact match is no longer the best option except in cases where it represents your brand. Certainly, a good brand name for where to buy cars in Los Angeles will not be “” but that is a major keyword used by searchers. If you go for such a domain name, we can say you are likely to be hit by the exact match penalty.

Our recommendation is that you choose a reasonably short domain name, build quality content around it and let Google identify its usefulness by the behaviour of searchers and users and then you will see how Google rewards the site with higher ranks.

Partial-Match Keywords

There are cases where you will find some modifications to the exact match. That is a partial match. In most cases, it will contain most of the keywords but not matching the exact keywords. So, think of partial-match keywords or phrases as search results that match some part of the keywords in the search query, but not all of it. Partial matches can be in a different order. What is important and counts is the presence of the keywords.

Further reading:

SEO Guide to Write Optimized Meta description

What’s the difference between exact match and partial match keywords?

An exact match keyword indicates that your target keyword exactly matches a search query, anchor text in a link, or domain name. A partial match means that your keyword is included amongst other words in those elements. Exact and partial match keywords are often used in SEO, link building, and PPC, and while one type is not better or worse than the other, generally speaking, you’ll want to make sure you use the right match type to avoid Google penalties and astronomical AdWords costs.

Partial or exact match anchor text

A lot of questions have been raised about whether to use the exact match or partial match keywords.Again, our answer will be relative. We suggest you write naturally and while linking to internal or external links, it will be better to link to partial match phrases that more likely represent normal speeches or better represent how people speak.

If a website target keyword is “image optimization” and an external domain links to that page using “image optimization” as the clickable text, the external site has linked using exact match anchor text. If they link to the same page with “consider optimizing your images,” “how you can optimize your images,” or anything other than “image optimization,” it’s considered partial match anchor text.

Getting links is one thing content creators keep in mind. As you try to develop content that people will want to link to, and also link to relevant content from external sources, keep in mind that the exact match anchor text is no longer the direction to go today. It is better to be natural and use machine-like anchors.

In fact, the overuse of exact match is one factor that led to the Google Penguin algorithm update. While exact-match anchors can induce a penalty, the partial match anchor text may be less targeted, it can actually contribute more to whether a page ranks well because it’s more natural and a better representation of how humans actually speak (and search).

How Do You Identify an Exact Match Penalty

The question here is how will you know when your website suffers an exact match Google penalty. We will try to deal with this looking for an ideal situation with Google.

Google is unlikely to notify you in Google Search Console that you have been penalized for using exact match domains or keywords. You need to monitor your website performance daily to detect when something is going wrong.

Signs of a Google Penalty

We have earlier covered this topic in the article: How to Identify and Fix a Google Penalty

We here reproduce the prescribed methods for identifying a Google penalty:

There are a few checks that can help you identify a Google penalty. We discuss the majors and most effective ways:

  • Google Search Console(GSC)

The easiest way to identify a Google Penalty is with the help of Google Search Console. You need to sign into your GSC account, click on ‘Manual Actions’ from the side bar.

Google will either display a message stating “No Issues Detected” indicating that your website is safe from any algorithmic or manual penalty or it will show the type of penalty applied along with proper instructions as to how you can get rid of the applied penalty.

  • Google Analytics

Another way to find out about the penalty is through Google Analytics. You need to note down the date when your organic traffic deteriorated and check whether any Google update, like Penguin or Panda, was launched around that date or notIf you find that an update has occurred, then your site was affected by the update. You will then need to dissect the nature of the update to ensure that your website complies with the update.

Just to alert you, most Google major update(s) are not sudden. So when Google announces an upcoming update, you need to check and ensure that your website is complying because failure to do so will come with a penalty.

  • Search for your brand on Google

You can also determine a penalty by performing a search for your domain name on Google and checking whether your site ranks in the first page for that query or not.

So, like we mentioned earlier, Google is unlikely to notify you if your website is penalized due to exact match issues. So the best and easy way to detect the penalty will be to monitor organic traffic. A sharp drop in organic traffic signals something has gone wrong. The other signal will be that your website or page disappears from the Google search engine. We have seen this to be a common outcome related to exact match keywords.

So, once you find any of these situations applying to your site, you need to check GSC for any notifications, if there are no clues, then check for an exact match title penalty.

Exact Match Title – A Common Reason for the Google Penalty

The temptation to rank for major keywords have caused many to load titles with these keywords. But this often leads to the exact match titles and can be a major reason behind rank loses. Let it be noted that Google no longer considers keywords only in ranking websites. In fact, using Latent Semantic Indexing has been recommended by Google and seems to help websites rank better without problems associated with the exact match.

Latent semantic indexing (also referred to as Latent Semantic Analysis) has been defined by Search Engine Journal as a method of analyzing a set of documents in order to discover statistical co-occurrences of words that appear together which then give insights into the topics of those words and documents.

The goal is to produce a blend of keywords and related terms that makes sense to the human reader, encourages clicks and is seen by Google as a natural language.

Final Words

Content writing has become very important as Google focuses on user intent and behaviour. Google is now more concerned about content that meet the expectations of users and provide in-depth information and not just content that shallow and manage to rank high due to the way it has used keywords in titles and content or the choice of the domain name especially those that match the exact words used in searches.

As Google improves its search algorithm and machine learning system, these tricks will become increasingly less valuable for search. We recommend a migration towards keyword phrases and use of natural language which seems to impress Google more than exact match domains, titles and anchor texts.

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