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 www.RoofingDallas.com.
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:
- www.bmicalculatormale.com (#4)
- www.charterschools.org (#7)
- playscrabble.net (#3)
- www.purses.org (#3)
- www.teethwhitening.com (#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.