On Sept 28, 2012, Google released an algorithm update designed to target exact match domains (EMDs). For years, EMDs have enjoyed special treatment in the search engine rankings. Websites whose domain names matched a particular search engine query would often outrank more authoritative sites based solely on the strength of the so-called “EMD boost”.
On the one hand, it made sense for Google’s algorithm to favor EMDs for certain keywords. After all, if your site is cheapwidgets.com, it’s reasonable to infer that it’s probably about “cheap widgets”. In fact, it’s also fairly reasonable to infer that the site is at least a somewhat important player in the “cheap widgets” market, given that they managed to register the coveted exact match domain.
But over the years, SEOs and webmasters have taken advantage of the EMD boost in order to rank websites that simply didn’t deserve to be in the top 10 results. Many of these sites were poor enough quality that they probably shouldn’t appear in the search engine rankings at all. But the EMD boost allowed those looking for a quick buck to quickly rank poor quality websites and collect the advertising and affiliate revenue that comes with search engine traffic.
What Did The EMD Update Do?
Not all EMDs were affected by this update. Overall, the EMD update affected .6% of English search queries in the U.S. Many authoritative websites with EMDs remained firm the rankings, while others dropped a few positions. Other people reported massive destruction across the board, completely losing their rankings overnight. What exactly happened here?
There are likely multiple factors coming into play. While there is no way to draw any conclusions with 100% certainty when it comes to Google algorithm updates (unless you’re a senior engineer working at Google), the main consensus surrounding the EMD update is that it removed most of the added ranking “boost” EMDs used to enjoy.
There is also a strong possibility that it may also have penalized “over-optimized”, low-quality EMDs. That is, EMDs that contain the exact match search phrase in multiple locations on the site – the title, the header tags, in image file alt tags, repeated constantly throughout the site with slight variations etc.
Unfortunately, Google also released an update to their Panda algorithm around the same time as the EMD update. This Panda update noticeably affected 2.6% of english search queries in the U.S., so there is a good chance that many EMDs that fell in the rankings were actually affected by Panda as well as the EMD update. The aforementioned “over-optimization” penalty may very well have been due to an adjustment to the Panda filter, rather than as a direct result of the EMD update.
How Should You Adjust Your Strategy?
If you’re the owner of an EMD that was affected by the updates on Sept 28, 2012, the first thing you need to determine if your EMD simply lost the extra “boost” it used to enjoy, or if your site was penalized by an over-optimization/Panda update.
If your site simply lost a few positions, or even dropped a page or two in the rankings, then the rankings drop is likely the result of Google giving less weight to your exact match domain, rather than an actual penalty. This is especially true if the drop was only for the keyphrase in your exact match domain. Since you haven’t been penalized, can simply continue the same SEO efforts you pursued before in order to regain your previous ranking. If you haven’t been doing any SEO for awhile, consider seeking out some strong links from high quality sites, whether you do it yourself, or with the assistance of an SEO agency.
If your rankings for your exact match keyphrase have dropped severely, then it’s possible that you’ve suffered a penalty. Since the EMD update doesn’t simply penalize exact match domains for the mere fact that they contain a search phrase, the penalty likely has to do with over-optimization. Try removing some of the references to your keyphrase in your header tags and content, and wait to see if it has an effect (though there are likely other on-site/off-site factors in play as well). With future websites, be wary of over-optimization issues.
If your site rankings have dropped drastically for most of its keywords across the board and your search traffic has trickled to a fraction of what it once was, then you’ve likely been hit by the Panda update, rather than the EMD update. Unfortunately, once you’ve been hit by Panda, recovering rankings can be difficult. You can find plenty of resources online on how to escape a Panda penalty, though success is far from guaranteed. Some of the basic tips include:
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- Look for duplicate content within your sites and use the “no-index” tag on pages with heavy duplicate content.
- Check your user metrics to find pages that have high bounce rates and either remove them or improve the content.
- Try to avoid content page that cover the same topic with just a slight variation in title. For example, if you have pages titled “cheap travel tips” and “best cheap travel tips, they should be combined into 1 article.
Over the past couple of years, the clear signal from is that they’re looking to reward high quality sites that don’t try to go over-board with their SEO efforts. This doesn’t mean that you should stop doing SEO – what it means that you need to make a concerted effort to produce high quality content, and look to keep your SEO efforts as natural-looking as possible.
Author Bio: Nat is an SEO and blogger for WhoIsHostingThis. Nat writes primarily about search engine marketing, social media, and technology.