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Google’s ‘Collateral’ Update: Destroy Every EMD and its Cousin - Posted By Nick Pateman, Operations Director - 04.03.13

Nick Pateman

By Nick Pateman

Image credit: mozcast.com‘s EMD influence metric.

On September 28th Google launched an update known as the ‘exact match domain update’ or ‘EMD update’. It targeted low quality domains that used keywords in order to rank. However, as this blog post is going to tell you – the definition of ‘low quality’ has so far seemed supsiciously synonymous with the definition of ‘high quality’ – thus the ‘Collateral update’.

Here’s what Matt Cutts had to say shortly before the update hit:

Matt’s Tweet seemed pretty chilled and as a webmaster with a lot of experience with exact match domains, my initial thoughts were “about damn time!”. Exact match domains have always been considered ‘overpowered’, i.e. if you bought buytrainers.co.uk you’ll rank really well for ‘buy trainers’ even if your content and user experience is weak. And this is what I thought Matt was referring to when he mentioned ‘low quality’. It wasn’t until I looked into this update that I found Matt’s ‘minor weather update’ was in fact, a ‘giant shit-storm’.

I’m going to be completely open in this blog post; I’ve had websites of all calibers, niches and domain types – I’ve seen my rankings shuffle around for years; some of these sites I’ve spent little time on quality, while for others, quality has been at the heart.

So let’s see how this update panned out. In this post I’m going to include a site (pregnancy.co.uk) of my colleague James, as what has happened to him is a shining example of how Google got this wrong.

Let’s take a look at these various websites from the viewpoint of a user and Google:

A User’s Perception of…

Quality

  • planets.org.uk – months of time invested into content with regular news updates and interactive resources.
  • pregnancy.co.uk – months of time invested into content with solicited government links.
  • inbound.co.uk – a bricks and mortar business with a brand.
  • weddingdays.co.uk – a wedding directory with great quality links – no exact match domain here!

Poor Quality

  • ipadprojetor.org – a few pages big with a bunch of Amazon links.
  • americanpokersites.net – a few pages big with a bunch of affiliate links.
  • cashforgoldcalculator.org – TWO pages big, with an affiliate link.
  • spreadbettingoffers.org.uk – very few pages and a lot of affiliate links

I think the categorisations of the above are fair; those that a user would consider lack quality are sites with few pages, thin content, affiliate links and a poor brand. 

So how did Google’s update handle these domains?

Google’s Perception of…

Poor Quality

  • ipadprojetor.org
  • americanpokersites.net
  • weddingdays.co.uk
  • planets.org.uk
  • pregnancy.co.uk

Quality

  • cashforgoldcalculator.org – that’s right, this trusty 2 page exact match domain held its rank remarkably well.
  • spreadbettingoffers.org.uk
  • inbound.co.uk

For me at least, Google’s update has caused collateral damage like no other. But can we expect Google to get it right with every update? The answer obviously – is no. Google has to work towards 100% accuracy but if it can get it right 60% of the time then that’s not necessarily going to stop them. Besides, Google can always roll out new itirations of the same update to tweak things for the better.

For those of you that own a website similar to pregnancy.co.uk or planets.org.uk, your fix for this exact match update is to keep calm and carry on. Google’s algorithm has a long term plan – to rank the best quality websites at the top; and as an SEO, you should also have a long term plan that ties in with this.

For those of you that own a website similar to cashforgoldcalculator.org or ipadprojector.org, your fix is to keep calm but to also give up… immediately. Cashforgoldcalculator.org will be punished one day, and spending time trying to rank this site now will result in a huge cost further down the line.

This update has been huge, it has put the final nail in the coffin for short term gains in Google. And now SEO really is only about long term strategy and development.

What Might Trigger an Exact Match Penalty

  • Bricks and mortar businesses with offline brand metrics appear to have been untouched.
  • EMD websites with affiliate links for large networks (Amazon) seem to be a strong trigger.
  • Content quality does not appear to have had a positive or negative impact.
  • Exact match domains with relatively large numbers of exact monthly searches may have been punished the most.
  • Quality of links do not seem to have had much of an influence.
  • Age has not had an influence.
  • Anchor text distribution may play a role – this could tie in with brand metrics.

Of course our data is incredibly limited and we can only go on what we’ve seen first hand – and everything here is just anecdotal correlation. But if you’ve felt the impact of this update differently then we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Further Updates

October 1st:

A few hours after this post was written, both weddingdays.co.uk and pregnancy.co.uk came back for their ‘exact match’ domain term. However, their long tail traffic remains close to zero. So it appears that Google’s exact match update has (in some cases at least) left the keyword term untouched while wiping the long tail traffic. As I understand it, this is the opposite of what Google was trying to achieve.

October 2nd:

Interesting discussion over at Webmaster World where webmasters are claiming that some rankings have recovered. There’s also a report from one user that they spotted pregnancy.co.uk in first position – webmasterworld.com/google/4501349-11-30.htm

October 4th:

Yesterday it was rumoured that a Panda update was rolled out at the same time as the EMD update. And today it has been confirmed – here’s what Matt Cutts said:

Google began rolling out a new update of Panda on Thursday, 9/27. This is actually a Panda algorithm update, not just a data update. A lot of the most-visible differences went live Thursday 9/27, but the full rollout is baking into our index and that process will continue for another 3-4 days or so. This update affects about 2.4% of English queries to a degree that a regular user might notice, with a smaller impact in other languages (0.5% in French and Spanish, for example).

So it looks like spotting the difference between EMD, Panda or both is going to be difficult – but if you started losing traffic on the 27th then you can be pretty sure Panda took a hit.


UPDATE: Google EMD Update: 4 Months On

  • Jesse

    I agree with this post. One of my websites that got hit has the domain name of a widely searched term. But even though my website has nothing to do with that term since my site is in Australia and the search term is popular in USA, my site still got slapped.

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      We found this with weddingdays.co.uk – it’s almost as if Google saw it as encroaching on the EMD side and took the ultimate action of completely wiping it. Of course this isn’t an EMD at all but it certainly got hit by the update.

      Google’s algo for determining what is and isn’t an EMD seems a little over-sensitive right now. I’d expect this to be reigned in over the next couple of months.

      • Elisha Franklin

        I don’t even have a exact match in my domain http://www.thebingoonline.com/ “the bingo online” is not even a keyword for my site bingo online and I suffered a lot of hit on long tail I lost almost close to 50% impressive over night ..and i do update my site every day with fresh content ..

        • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

          ‘The Bingo Online’ doesn’t really make any sense and when you look at the top sites ranking for the term ‘Bingo Online’ they are big brands.

          In terms of what you can do to try and compete:

          Your site has over 700 indexed pages but the structure is all over the place. I wouldn’t be surprised if your issue is a user engagement one. Create a sitemap that plans out all of your content in a logical and easily accessible way, consider redesigning and moving to another domain.

          You have also gone HEAVY on affiliate links – which as far as I’m aware is a big nono. Bingoonline.com sends users to a review on their website as opposed to directly linking to the company. And when they do directly link to a website, they cloak their links with redirects; this is a much less risky way of affiliate marketing.

          I should add – the cloaking stuff will get you penalised if you’re caught.

  • http://www.ingeniousinternetincome.com/ Steve Eason

    My site was affected by this update, but I believe a major reason for this was because of the thin amount of back links I have to the site. I just launched the site about 1.5 months ago and there isn’t a lot of back links. Most of my links are from comments on other sites and social media. I’m in the process of adding new links, but I want to make sure that I’m not doing anything that Google will penalize me with in the future. But currently, if you search for the keywords, Ingenious Internet Income, you find all my social media sites and not my main site. It’s a tad frustrating. Anyway, I’m doing what you suggested and I’m staying calm and continuing on. Thanks for the update.

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      Hey Steve, new sites might be affected more than others – the fact that you have a partial match domain may also be what’s got you caught up in this mess.

      On the other side it may be that because your domain is new, you’re experiencing Google’s ‘sandbox’ where you could drop for a few months. The best way to find out is to look at your traffic in Google Analytics and see if it’s a slow decline over a few days or a rapid drop on September 28th/29th.

  • colin

    We now have 45% less visitors today on our 12 year old ecom domain! Our SEO plan started 12 years ago and we never had issue with panda, penguin or any other google update over the last 10+ years. How long can we support 7 staff when sales will be down 45%… may be 45% less staff will be the only answer. Personally i think this EMD update was more weighted towards the domain name than content.

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      Totally agree the update has seemingly ignored content. If I had one piece of advice it would be to set up a PPC campaign while you continue all your white hat SEO efforts. Google gives us SEOs a rough time – but this has highlighted again that we all need to diversify our risk as much as possible.

  • http://twitter.com/cashninjaUK Tim Campbell

    I have a 5 year old site with over 40 pages of content that was hit hard by this update. It’s down to about 10% of the traffic levels it was getting prior to Friday. It’s not an EMD and wasn’t affected by Panda or Penguin and prior to this had been ranking well for loads of terms. The update has killed a huge amount of my traffic, including long tail traffic

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      It looks like you’ve spent a lot of time on your content, but unfortunately the site has probably been a target for both Panda and Penguin. You appear to be linking out to unrelated sites in the footer and they look as though they are paid links – the same goes for the links pointing into your website. Then there are design, navigation and brand metric issues.

      I would really recommend starting over with a WordPress-driven site and removing as many of those paid/low quality links as you can.

  • pete@peterees.com

    Hiya
    It has destroyed me completely…
    My Site http://www.warcraft-video.com was getting 4000+ hits a day.
    on 28th at 1000 hrs it got 184 hits, then 90 at 1100, 40 at 1200 and 2 at 0100.
    It now is getting only 150 to 200 hits a day and nearly all of these are from Bing and Yahoo. As a note the sites content mostly came from Youtube but it was about ease of use rather than content.
    I am devastated
    pete@peterees.com

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      It looks like Google has picked up your EMD as low quality. At first I was pretty impressed with the site, but I can see that each post duplicates content already on YouTube. It also looks like today you sold a post to a pretty ‘bad neighbourhood’…

      I can see there being an audience for your content, but you just need to focus on quality – having a site full of display ads and duplicate content was always going to be a risky strategy. Think long term!

  • Paul

    It’s had a huge effect on everyone and I think Google need to quickly put something in place which determines low quality from high. One of my sites is an EMD and still ranks number 1 for the term, but its high quality I spend every day adding unique content etc. A few other sites I have for local businesses have gone for a trip to the moon, and have simply lost all their ranking. One in fact went from position 2 to in the 100’s. This gives you an idea of maybe what Googles looking for. The EMD’s that dropped work on them more often, develop a new marketing strategy and user interaction. I don’t think a 2 page, business website is any good for local ranking anymore. You have to create an online community…

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      Creating an online community is one way to tell Google you’re a respected brand – but there are a bunch of other brand metrics to keep a look out for as well. Communities are great and all, but for a good number of businesses it just doesn’t make sense.

      Sorry to hear you got caught in an hypersensitive update – I’m sure things will roll back over the next few months, don’t give up hope and keep doing great SEO!

  • Ash

    Great post, I’m going to hold out and trust that my quality will prevail. My site shorttermloans.net was #1, which is now taken by a crap site, followed by another crap site. When I say crap its not due to bias, these are actually 3 page websites with a bad link profile that are thinner than Kate Moss.

    On another note: How does that star thing work? Kept on going to -5 Star for me…

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      I’d have to agree that the top two results are awful and surprisingly they’re not owned by the same people. Assuming there’s nothing dodgy going on with your links, it looks like you’ve been punished purely on the basis of having an exact match domain – I would consider redirecting to a new name with a brand, adding more content and submitting a reconsideration request.

  • Kobi

    Hi….One of the better articles I’ve seen written on the matter…Boy am I peeved…Panda never bothered me, I restrategised after Penguin but this has trashed me.

    Please let me know if you think my site howmuchisgoldworth.net is quality or not?

    Regards

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      I haven’t dived into your site hugely but the content looks decent and well thought through. But as I say, the quality of content (however Google measures it) does not appear to have been a factor.

      What might trigger ‘poor quality’ is that the phrase ‘how much’ appears at least 20 times on every single page. You’ve gone heavy on keywords and over optimisation but I’m surprised that this wasn’t picked up by early Panda. There was a Panda update a day before this EMD one rolled out so it may be a combination of both. For a simple check on algo impacts to your site, use http://www.panguintool.com/

      If you look at the number one ranking you’ll see that the quality of their content is terrible. It’s a couple of paragraphs without any real time data (absolutely essential for gold of course). There are no links pointing to this page either. Imo this page’s ranking will be short-lived, but if you look at why it’s ranking now it appears to be because it has not been optimised towards the term ‘how much is gold worth’.

      You might want to consider moving domains to something more brandable and deoptimising the keyword.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Kevi.Pau Kevin Paul

    As you have mentioned “Anchor text distribution may play a role – this could tie in with brand metrics.”

    Than what to do if I am re-seller of other well known brands and selling product of them on my own website, my website is also well know brand. Are you trying say that I should not make hyper link on that other BRAND names OR on my own Brand name?

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      Hey Kevin, it’s your own brand name that Google cares about. And they care even more about emd exploitation i.e. if you have a site called ‘camerarepairs.com’ and you gear all your text, headers and titles towards that term then Google will jump on you.

      Having an emd is fine, it’s when you try to use it to an unfair advantage that Google takes action.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Kevi.Pau Kevin Paul

        i.e. I am reseller of Nokia and My domain name is abcdefg . com

        When i using as anchor text as “Nokia” and use the hyperlink as my abcdefg . com, so my website is affected by Google or not?

        • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

          The simple answer is no. But like with all Google updates, there are unexplainable exceptions to the rule – there is a possibility that the EMD update has had an impact on you.

          However it’s more likely that you were hit by Google’s Panda update which was released a couple of days earlier and affected 2.4% of results (that’s huge). So take a look at your analytics and and find out which day your traffic dropped off – 28th/29th (depending on timezone) and it’s an EMD issue, a day or two earlier and it’s Panda.

  • SEO Specialist

    The backlinks are not natural enough for pregnancy.co.uk. With a little twist, it would probably come back rather easy. That kind of domain (one word, exact match) is not the main target of this EMD update but perhaps it’s a victim of the Panda 20?

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      You could well be right, but a linking issue would almost certainly trigger Penguin penalties as opposed to Panda. I’m going to try and get hold of the pregnancy.co.uk webmaster for his thoughts on this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/JMacMarketing James Macfarlane

      Hey Markus,

      I own/run pregnancy.co.uk – I would agree with your feedback on the backlinks though I am not 100% convinced this is what caused our drop out in the search engines.

      Google has clearly hit the site pretty hard for whatever reason – you can see the extent in this search:
      http://tinyurl.com/8nvc6lx

      That a site that has copied our content shows up as first and we show up as fifth (which I think is pretty ridicules).

      The backlinks you mention are the remnants of the links we have tried to get deleted about 5 months ago but couldn’t to start off with. That being said the day after we got hit i went through all our backlinks and made a spreadsheet of any I considered “low quality” – we got a list of about 50 roots and have been able to remove around 30 of them already!

      The other step I have taken is to get one of our editors to go through each page and check for grammar and spelling errors as well as improving the tone of writing on each page. While I believe our content was top notch to start off with I think this is always a healthy step to take with any site and something that was due on pregnancy for a while.

      I honestly don’t know whether either of these things will allow us to recover but both are positive steps for the site regardless so I am happy to invest time doing them. I will let you know if anything changes!

      James

  • http://www.jigneshgohel.com/ Jignesh Gohel

    Nick..Thank you for sharing your experience about recent Google updates and insight about your various websites.

    None of my client websites were affected in this updates but still i am not happy with updates !! why??

    – I found few websites have lost their rankings just because they owned EMDs that match with some other brand’s product. (there is no relation between this domain name and other brand’s product). The domain owner is not even aware of this match and came to know about other brand during research after this updates. How can Google penalize this domain having quality content and providing good services since more than 2-3 years. (by only considering domain name !!!).
    – As you mentioned that, Amazon and other affiliate website may lost their ranking !! why ?? even if your website serving quality content (of-course unique and informative content) !!! Just check eltalearning.com and share your thoughts.

    Apart from these, i researched a lot and discussed with many webmasters about this updates and frankly speaking. It is not what Matt Cutts mentioned in his last tweets. It is something more and not perfect as i expected from Google !!

  • wood1e

    What would you do with a client that has a corporate site with the services on it, and three independent niche websites with the same services, but specific to the one niche within the corporate niche? Remove the corporate site with everything on it? And just use the niche sites? Or as the niche sites have not been penalised and the corporate site is not actively SEO’d leave well alone and continue? Just trying to think of best solution!

    • http://www.inbound.co.uk/ Nick Pateman

      So it sounds like nothing is penalised? In which case I would just move all the niche sites to sections on the corporate site and make all the appropriate redirects.

      If having all of the content on one domain makes sense contextually, then do it – it’s not often I’d ever recommend splitting your efforts and trying to create smaller sites away from the leading brand.

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