Your Guide to Google’s EMD Algorithm Update

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Google has unleashed yet another algorithm as part of a series of updates that are aimed at providing users with better search results and experience. This time, Google’s update, dubbed the “EMD update,” focuses on ridding the SERPs of spammy or low-quality “exact-match” domains.

For years, SEOs have known the value of registering domain names that use exactly the keywords that a site is optimizing for. For example, if a webmaster wanted an easy path to the top of the search results for the keyword “Roofing Dallas,” he or she would attempt to register the domain

Exact-match domains have always had a hugely positive impact on rankings. Lucky owners of exact-match domains for highly-trafficked keywords have long enjoyed easy rankings and the wealth of highly-targeted organic search traffic that results. However, for whatever reason, exact-match domains are often very spammy.

The majority of them lack quality content, and instead, are filled with keyword-rich, useless articles that look great to a search engine spider, but are useless to human readers. Owners of these websites monetize them with ads and affiliate links, caring only for the money and nothing for the user experience.

Now, with the EMD algorithm update, Google has revoked the long-standing ranking boost provided by exact-match domains in an attempt to level the playing field, remove spammy websites from its search results, and yield an even more natural and semantic way of providing information through search.

What is Google’s EMD Algorithmic Update?

And how does it work? According to Matt Cutts through his tweet on September 12, EMD is set to “reduce low-quality ‘exact-match’ domains in search results.”

It’s still early, but it seems that it’s not intended to wipe the search results entirely clean of sites with spammy domain names. Rather, it’s intended to keep the search results in check for anything that could ruin the user experience.

Furthermore, Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand wrote that Google confirmed that the EMD algorithm is going to be run periodically, so that those that have been hit stay filtered or have a chance to escape the filter, as well as catch what Google what might have missed during the last update.

It’s clear that Google wants its search results to be natural and free of manipulation. What used to be one of the industry’s most powerful ranking tactics is now something that could jeopardize a website’s chances for search visibility.

Who Got Hit (and Why Should You Care)?

According to the data presented by SEOMoz, 41 EMDs from their data set of 1,000 SERPs fell out of the top 10, with new ones seeing a steep decline in their rankings.

The following are examples of EMD sites that have been hit by this new update:

  • (#4)
  • (#7)
  • (#3)
  • (#3)
  • (#4)

No pattern of the size of the drop has been observed, but it has been reported that many sites have seen a sharp drop in ranking; one went from #3 to #183. Others have observed that their sites are no longer within the top 100 search results, though they used to rank within this range before the update.

If I have a website with an exact-match domain, should I be concerned?

Perhaps. But there’s no evidence that all exact-match domains were or will be hit by the EMD update.

While it is clear that the EMD update targets sites with exact-match keywords, it appears to spare sites that have strong brand recognition and high-quality content. Sites with exact-match domains that are likely to be hit are those that were obviously purchased or registered just for the sake of ranking a site to make easy money.

How does Google differentiate between low-quality EMDs and high-quality EMDs?

At this point, this question is open to hypothesis, but I think Google probably uses the same trust indicators as it uses for any other website: links and social signals. Additionally, Google is getting better at determining whether onsite content is low quality or high quality without any other trust indicators.

Content that uses proper text formatting, grammar, and spelling will be graded higher, as will content that employs useful internal and external linking. The destination of the external links matter, too. Links to domains that Google considers low-quality or spammy or in a “bad neighborhood” will actually cause your content to lose points in the ranking algorithm.

How can I recover or ensure my EMD website doesn’t get hit by the new EMD algorithm?

Here’s a step-by-step process for safeguarding (or recovering) your EMD domain:

Step 1: Remove or augment all content on your EMD website that could be considered to be low quality. Ask yourself whether the content is written for search engines or provides genuine value for your readers. Be honest.

Step 2: Get an inbound link profile audit to identify spammy inbound links that could be yielding negative trust signals to Google, then engage in a link removal campaign to attempt to remove as many of them as possible.

Step 3: Add social share buttons to all of your content, if you don’t have them already.

Step 4: Get in a routine of regularly adding new, awesome content to your website (more is always better, but I recommend once a day). If you don’t have time to write your own content, outsource it to a professional writer.

Step 5: Engage in an SEO link building campaign to increase your website’s credibility and authority. Guest blogging services are available to assist with quality, ethical link building tactics that are endorsed by Google and Bing.

Step 6: Engage in a social media marketing campaign to gain “social proof” via social signals.

What the Future Holds

We can think of the EMD update as a companion update for Panda and Penguin. Recall that the Panda update specifically targets sites with low quality or thin content. With the EMD periodically “scanning” Google’s index for spammy domain names along with Panda doing its job, we’ll soon see the SERPs populated with more relevant and high-quality websites.

We’ll also continue to see tons of wasted effort put into SEO strategies that were once accepted and worked well, but are now things of the past. I imagine it’ll take months or years before many folks stop perpetuating outdated tactics and strategies.

Jayson DeMers
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or... Read Full Bio
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  • Dr. Edward Logan

    We used to recommend to dentists to secure a domain with their locality plus the word dentist in order to make the search easier for patients looking for a new dentist. Would you recommend against that now with this EMD algorithm change?

  • Denny

    Our websites were hit by EMD update and was looking for solutions for recovery and at last found the best recovery aspects for getting back the positions. Thanks Jayson, mean while I would like to post a question on this is that if we try to remove the content that we feel is spammy then there is problem of broken links which will lead to loss of the rankings.

    • Saidul Hassan

      If you feel any content is spammy, rest assured the content isn’t helping you with ranking, rather the opposite. And as regard to broken links, make sure when you remove those links, also remove them from your internal linking structure. Googlebot will discount those 404 after a while.

  • Saidul Hassan

    @Jayson, thank you for the coverage on the most sought topic out there right now. But with due respect, while advising on quality contents and proper link structure (internal & external), isn’t your usage of anchor text here looks a bit over done? And most importantly, what was you thinking while linking to every advise to AudienceBloom services?!! How do you relate the behavior to quality content from user’s POV?

    Otherwise, excellent article! And to @SEJ, are you guys this desperate!!

  • Lahaul Seth

    How to know whether a website was hit by the EMD update or the panda update ? My website’s traffic dropped on 28th sept,2012 and both the updates were released by google around that time in a span of 24 hrs .

  • TechDude

    Sorry but some of my extremely high quality EMDs got butchered by this update. Most of the backlinks to specifically one of my sites was from some of the most popular sites on the internet and was fully organic. It was no.1 for two keywords which was similar to the EMD of the domain. I mean it was quality content and regularly updated every few days for many years. It was no way BS in other words and would be considered better than 99% of the websites in the niche. But the EMD update sent it to nearly 150+ for both keywords in Google. And now the inner pages are ranking mostly for the EMD keywords instead of the homepage after the update. And if backlinks by any chance though 90% genuine and organic might have been the culprit there, there was another dirty dance with another website of mine. The second website had very few backlinks with all of them genuine (not a single manual links). In fact, the website was regularly updated every few days and I had not even created backlinks but still I had a few dozen genuine natural backlinks from quality sites. It was again with great content due to which people recommended it like the first website. On the first few days of the EMD update, it climbed to no.1 and so, I thought maybe the algo update has given priority to high quality regularly updated websites which had no manual backlinks at all. But in the last week or so, the second website dropped from no.1 to no.8 or so and then out of first page of Google SERP. I do not understand on what basis these changes are being made. I see either low quality websites at the top or brands even if they are not directly related to the keyword. This is going beyond ridiculous now. I have been a webmaster for more than 5 years but there is no logic behind the recent ranking changes. I am not even counting my websites which had lesser content and with no manual backlinks as I do not expect from them. But at least the genuine organic sites must get benefit. The biggest apathy is that no SEO website is willing to make the exact recommendations nowadays or what to do and what not to do. Websites are sadly becoming a game of musical chairs for the relatively smaller and medium webmasters who cannot afford to put expensive ads on TV and declare themselves as brands. I am not sure which type of backlinks to build nowadays as directory submission, article submission, press release or any form of backlinks regarded as ethical SEO in the past is not being supported in Google algo anymore. And I have tested out with several websites and simply writing quality unique content without any manual SEO is not going anywhere either. Even if we do ethical SEO there is a chance of getting kicked down off rankings without any reasons and if we do not do anything and only update quality content, then it is going nowhere. So, can anyone inform which way to go nowadays? It is gradually starting to get on my nerves after many websites which were extremely ethical and genuine getting kicked off Google out of the blue.

  • George

    I’m pretty sure that most EMDs will be unable to regain their rankings quite soon. I have noticed that some of the high quality EMD-based websites that were ranking #1 are now pushed on the 2nd page. This doesn’t mean that they were penalized, but that their ranking power is now zero, so they’re still getting a decent ranking due to their content and links.

    EMDs are still useful in my opinion, provided that they have short names and / or are highly brandable.

  • Christoph C. Cemper

    Hi guys,

    in case you have missed it, we also launched a more data-driven case-study on the EMD update
    that we just updated last week and will do so again with more findings

    best regards
    Christoph C. Cemper

  • Prem Nath

    Wow nice post Jayson ,,,, This is absolutely useful information….

  • gog uled

    Man, we got hit hard with this one. Not only is the URL specifically the name of the retail business, it was #1 in a few categories and within Local Search.



    It has content skewed to it’s local consumers. No spammy garbage. Links to it’s social media sites.

    It’s gone.


    Thanks Google for nothing (yes, still #1 on Yahoo and Bing, but, really, who cares?

  • Sam McRoberts

    Just as PageRank was plucked out of the algorithm, the value of exact and partial match domains was similarly removed. It’s important for website owners to understand that it isn’t a penalty per se, just the removal of a factor that once added value, though it could be an indication of other low quality factors related to the site.

  • Michael Rock

    I wonder how this will effect brand new sites that want a specific niche. Like for example or something similar. Will it start out with a black mark right away?

    Christoph, I will check out your link.


    • dave

      well i can tell you the effects , catastrophic i opened a new site it was open 1 month with a exact match domain reached up to position 20 on lots of search results then after the update everything went to above 200 in the serps. and has not really returned. very frustrating. my site is not a low quality site it takes many hours for every page because its a photo and video tutorial site, so i actually have to do allot of offline work before hand.

      i think its a dangerous game Google is playing with peoples lively-hood.

  • No BS SEO

    Is it a coincidence that Google has got paranoid since Larry took back over or is it just my imagination. The big G has systematically carved up small business websites and smashed them out of contention and for what?????

    Try reading some of the actual content on the website you about to smash guys. I’m sure in most cases you will find that your bot/crawler/spider has been given some rather poor parameters to work with. If you still can’t work it out check out the Bing or Yahoo search.

    As far as EMD’s are concerned Adsense seems to be the biggest incentive for the scammers. Seeing as Google control Adsense wouldn’t make more sense to kill those Adsense accounts as opposed to the wholesale slaughter of innocent websites.

    What’s that I hear you say Matt?????? Google makes heaps of money from those EMD spammy sites? Yeah, that’s what I thought you said.

  • Mitch

    Though on a first note every Google updates looks harsh and seems to be irrelevant but after reading this post I came to know why Google needs to update its algorithm regularly so as to offer relevant and useful results for every users.

  • Ajay Jhunjhunwala

    I heard about this EMD update and read few blog posts in other websites. This blog came just in my inbox. I also support this EMD update. Because before EMD update, everybody experienced a situation like this. You search with a keyword like “web design service” you may have seen sites with “web design service” keyword in domain name rank first or top. Others site providing web design service and having good page and domain authority ranking bottom of those sites. Sites having exact “keyword” in domain but less domain authority and page authority were ranking better. But situation has changed. I really appreciated this EMD update. By the by recovery suggestion from dropping of EMD in SERP are very good.

  • Sebastian Mills

    All of the Search babies ( oh my god so called gurus) intended to distract the applicable SEO perspective of search. They always have thought on such news and tickers but not the solution. Always tend to oppose but not intended to break into it. See, this conversation at comment section between Danny and someone that take him with a tough time here:

  • Photog

    One of the most intelligence and insightfully posts I have read on the subject. Thank you.

  • David Burdon

    As an agency we work with a range of sites that have keyword related domains that lost, gained or stayed the same. I’ve only seen falls of 3-6 places, rather than drastic reductions in rankings. See:
    I’ve also an exact match domain that has number 1 for its exact match and lots of no. 1s to 3s for partial and synonym match terms. I’ve also a partial match domain that has gain at the expense of several penguin penalised competitors.

    Ultimately, on the basis of my observations, I see this latest update as an update that levels the field, rather than penalises EMDs.

  • Rumble

    OK guys I want to start off by reacting to a few points made by Jayson in “”.

    I don’t think we should ostracize EMDs as the enemy and I don’t think Google can honestly punish EMDs or for that matter take the juice away for having a good user friendly name.

    “these spammy domain names” – Legitimate Business Names
    Please remember that for the most part EMDs are NOT “spammy names”. If you created a teeth whitening toothpaste why can’t you call it Teeth Whitening rather than Jonesey’s Stuff. Why can’t you call your Boat Show in Dubai “Boat Show Dubai” rather than some made up name like “Boodle”. Some business names come from history and might easily be called “Jackson’s winter holidays” or “Mexico dream weekends” or “The London Dentist Company”.

    There is no way Google could/would /should punish companies or even take away credit for their own legitimate business name.

    “jeapoardize a website’s chance for search visibility” – Infringement on Capitalism
    When creating a business name as an entrepreneur how can Google prevent you from choosing a relevant name for your business on conception with the fear of not getting any credit for it. I agree with the point about small businesses – normally they need some relevancy in their name for prospects to discover what they are about. Don’t hurt small business.

    “the majority of EMDs lack quality content” – ?
    Is this based on any data at all? I think this is a sweeping generalization.

    “spare sites with strong brands” – Brand Names can be Keywords
    That brings me to companies whose brand names are exact match keywords.
    Is Macdonalds a keyword? Is Google a keyword? Is “Search Engine journal” a keyword is “SEOMOZ” a keyword? Are company websites going to get punished for their own names? Is Google an Exact Match Domain?

    My View
    I think this algorithm update is probably hot air and might be re-addressed at a later date as it goes agains everything America stands for.

    If the name of a website tells Google and people what the site is about their user experience must be increased and Google wouldn’t want to damage that. The best way of doing that is in the URL or in the Meta data. I think the URL is fairer than Meta to “keyword” as you have to live with it forever.

    Imagine Google as a librarian – all it wants is to put the most relevant books on the right shelves with the most interesting ones at the front.

    I am not sure Google can really honestly punish websites with EMDs or for that matter take the juice away for having a good user friendly name.

    The Real Rules
    Sites with poor content and feeble/fake/self-created links have been punished, or have had their juice taken away. Websites with top fresh content which promote what they are about on other websites and social media are going to be credited as before.

    and what about the domain name market……we can’t let those guys suffer 😉

  • David McLanaghan

    I’m presently working with a client who is setting up a company offering a smartphone repair service and am now totally unsure wether to use an EMD or not. Also anyone got an opinion on .net domains verses .com’s or’s. It is rare that you ever see a .net high up in SERP’s.

  • Jimmy

    I have two websites that are exact match domains. I think I might build them up as a brand different to the domain and end up just 301ing them to a different domain further down the line.

    Would anyone think thats a bad idea?

  • Jump

    It is worrying that the Big G foot is yet again stomping around. We have clients who have named thier high street business a name which may fall into the EMD algo – I do not know for sure? A made up example being:

    Tyne and Wear Pet Supplies (

    Now the “made up” site above could have been only registered 6 or 12 months ago, with little authority, but the website exists purely to help increase the annual turnover of the business and is not intended to be spammy in any way with the little unique content it offers on specific pet supplies. However the name of this site is the name of the business so it would be wrong to penalise this site (if they fall into this hole).

  • Pascal

    … I fear also keyword domains with high quality content got hit by this update. Especially the affiliate online business will have to be restructured in the future!


    The other strategy is totally forgetting about Google and concentrate on traffic from Yahoo and Bing. I would prefer to rank #1 with my EMD on Bing than being #50 on Google. Less traffic but still there will be profits on many niches.

  • Russ Turner

    Like other contributors here I have been badly hit, my traffic almost exiting the graph on 30 Sep. I am convinced my EMD’s are to blame even though they are clean sites (no black hat etc).

    Oddly I have a non related site still ranking for a keyword that was the mainstay of the sites that have been punished and this courtesy of just a few articles.

    Time to get back on our bike and start pedalling again.

    Thanks for your article.

  • jimmy

    The exact domain name change seemed imminent. It was only a matter of time before big G actually decided to carry it out.

  • Jose

    Hi every one,

    This article is excellent….. My Blog was also affected by Google EMD Algo update, Recently i read an article stating the need of changing the ad positions on your website template. for example moving ads from left column to right column (in a 3 column structure). EMD update – has severely reduced and possibly eliminated any SEO benefit of having your targeted search phrase in your domain name. Google may run this update regularly to keep away spammy domains.. Main thing i could understood is Content is the deliver best content to keep your domain up in the SERP

  • Steve Tanabe

    Hi guys. My business partner and I were also slammed by the EMD Algo Update. However there was one website that was not… and this is why…(we think). It had a diverse set of LSI keywords, None of them were repeated in the H tags. The domain was generic, but related to the niche, and the content was unique. Hope this helps any one else out!

  • shaad

    After some research I would say my site have been hit by an EMD penalty, it seems many other people have faced the same issues..if i change my url name is it goin to help me…

    • Jose

      I think it wont… the filter is based on the domain name … 🙁 Anyway try ur luck with this and post here

  • Matthew Simmons

    Yup – we got hammered too. We ranked #1 for our key words – we are a marketing agency and have been since before the interweb . We have ‘marketing’ in our business name and URL. because that’s what we do! Now on page 3 at best. Back to the drawing board! EMD Update seems to have been a bit of a blunt instrument..

  • Adam

    This EMD update has been a joke from start to finish.

    The problem most people don’t realise is that most people in the blogosphere and SEOMoz preaching white hat SEO havn’t suffered because their clients are all huge brands immuned to these updates.

    If you actually run your own website or business, and do SEO, then a much higher proportion of sites have been hit. I had a white hat site hit by this update which wasn’t even an EMD. Content was great, user metrics shows 3+ mins on site, links were completely natural. Also Google doesn’t give a damn about collateral damage becasue they only care about if the results have improved. If they hit 10% of quality websites as collateral but the SERPs improved overall then they consider it a success.

    • DW

      I have been hit hard and my business is direlctly related to my domain name. Probably just another way for Google to screw all the little guys and squeeze more advertising dollars just before Xmas. Funny how they always seem to do these updates just before the holidays huh. Scammers!

  • Jomar Lipon

    My blog has a lot of quality content but the problem is the spam comments. There are lots of spam comments, would it affect also to the ranking of my blog? I hope not. I have currently PR 2 blog and use manual link building. Hope my blog would not affect with this new update.

  • Mike

    Google “small business seo”. Doesn’t look like the EMD update is doing it’s job, with sites like and still clogging up the top 10.

    For what its worth, I have a client in Australia that just launched an exact match 2-word domain and the site ranks #1 for the keyword. Of course, that site is high on quality and reflects a legit business.

    I guess it’s going to take some human reviews to realize the sites mentioned above are just the latest form of manipulation.

  • Rayba

    Hi, Everyone. My site just fall from it’s position. According to journal, my site has been just slapped By EMD. Well, what will be the best practice to regain my position.. What’s with the DISAVOW..?? How does this work.. Any bright idea, that can help. My site is Christmas Music relate and i update it regular… As the Christmas is near, i really need to gain position back… I will be honored if anyone can help with any bright ideas.

    Cheers To Professionals,

  • DW

    EMD has taken 90+% of my traffic. Dropped over 2 days from Sept 27-29. I have a legitmate site selling a legitimate product for over 8 years. It is total BS. Just another way to increase their advertising profits. Did anyone notice their profits were falling during the summer. Wonder how that played a part in this update as they always seem to roll these out just before the hiolidays. I now see so many irrelevant results ahead of my site for relevant search terms. EMD suks and will put my legitimate web site out of business if I can’t recover.

  • Adrian M.

    I have three EMD websites. Two of them were hit hard, dropped from position 1 to 300-500. I have no idea how I have to build my websites in the future, if something that is good for the first position today becomes almost unacceptable tomorrow.

    What is almost funny is that my websites, with 6-10 pages and Google rank 1 were replaced by single-page websites without any rank. It is not fair at all.

  • Mike

    So, this is interesting:

    DW says EMDs have bumped a legit site down.

    Adrian says 2 of 3 EMD have had dramatic drops.

    We need to dig deeper to understand. Adrian, I’m wondering what kind (if any) link building you’ve been doing? Are the EMD sites loaded with quality content? Care to share what they are so we can take a more specific look?

    DW: If you have a legit site selling a legit product then it sorta seems weird to me that an EMD would just all of a sudden overtake you. What sort of link building have you been doing, if any? Are the EMD’s ahead of you brand new sites, or aged? Do they have content.

    Lets share more info and see if there’s any sort of correlation.


    • Adrian M.

      Thank you for your reply. – This is one of my websites, a referral one that has been number 1 for two keywords: “free wii points” and “wii points generator” from May, 2012 to September 29, 2012.

      This website used to have 200-300 visitors/day, now it has 10-15. After Google’s update, I tried everything to make it rank again:
      • I compared it with the websites in top 10 with IBP 11 and changed keywords concentration, alt tags, etc.
      • I changed pictures, a part of the text.
      • I removed a page, an article that was on the same theme as the homepage.
      • I tried to make new backlinks.
      • In a desperate attempt, I changed the title from “Get free Wii points” to “Free Nintendo Wii points”.

      Nothing had work so far. I could add content but I think is useless. I use it as a landing page now.

      The backlinks are here:

      If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

  • Lex

    The worse the organic results, the more people click on the ads in the SERP page right hand column. I’m just saying!

    • Michail Dimitriou

      Also the worse organic results, the more people will stop using this search engine…

  • Adam Powers

    I think EMD will always have benefit over non-EMD. Simple because if somebody wants a particular brand or company, they will type that in the search. It is the search engines job to deliver the most appropriate results, often that is the EMD. I think this however is a great algo change because it does seem that EMD did have a huge unfair advantage.

  • Prashant

    EMD update really kicked out may Spam domain out of the box. It was really childish, many website owners registered there domain that looks like a sentence…