Exact Match Domains (EMD's) Hammered By Google!

Last Update: October 02, 2012
Google is at it again, the most recently hit search rankings are Exact Match Domains (EMD), also known as keyword rich domains.

Here is the tweet by Matt Cutts...

I know that many of you have been affected by this and I personally have had several domains affected that I can look at and quickly determine why.

Here is just one example, coolhatsformen.com that was obviously targeting the “cool hats for men” exact match keywords.

Before this update, I had retained consistently a top 2 ranking in Google for the past couple of years.

As you can see, nowhere to be found in the top couple of rankings. In fact, under this term I moved down a solid 8-9 positions in the rankings and I am now #10 overall in Google (as shown below).

This content has very little content and it has not been updated for well over a year, both very poor ranking factors in a website. This does prove to me right away the EMD’s are still getting rankings for their keyword richness, it has just been lower.

Before I get into this, you need to understand one thing about Google. They are actively looking to close gaming holes in their system and Exact Match Domains were definitely one of those holes.

People have been gaming this for years. You could buy a domain targeting a keyword and simply throw an empty Wordpress website on it and it would get ranked overnight.


From the perspective of Google, this had to be a huge flaw in their algorithms. When you have the weighting on an exact match domain being so high that an empty site is outranking many other authority type sites online, something is systemically wrong within the ranking procedures.

And on the 29th of September (after months of hinting at this), Google Panda rolled out an update that affected around 10% of all sites.

Google is only getting smarter.

  1. They are collecting hoards of data through their G+ social network and watching people’s behavior within search.
  2. They are acquiring an incredible amount knowledge of the human language through Google Docs.
  3. They are far more public (in particular Matt Cutts) within the SEO community and have a good idea of which black hat and which white hat SEO techniques are working.
  4. Google webmaster tools and analytics are revealing which sites are getting the best results and what qualities your sites have. They can easily cross reference data now to determine quality.
  5. Google Analytics is giving Google a database of search data and user behaviour they can then use to improve search for visitors.

And of course, all changes that Google are stemming from search quality. If Google cannot sustain the highest quality search, people are going to start flooding over to bing.

They will never run short of sites to rank and they could care less if your site is ranked or not. What they care about is that they are serving the most relevant and highest quality search results.

This leads me to the type of EMD’s that Google has punished.

The types of Exact Match Domains that have been hit.

  • Sites with little or no content
  • Sites that have stagnant content (not updated regularly)
  • Sites that are EMD’s under highly competitive search terms
  • Sites that are brand new
  • Sites with low quality content
  • Sites with limited content (10 pages or less)
  • Squeeze pages and video landers

Yes, some quality sites have likely been affected by the latest update as no Google algorithm update is perfect. However, if your website has one or more of the qualities from above, chances are that it lost rankings with this latest update.

As with any updates, for every site that falls in the ranking, another one has improved in rankings. There are many EMD’s that actually benefited from this latest update and many content rich websites that have seen their rankings go up.

The types of Exact Match Domains that are going to benefit from this update are...

  • Authority type sites.
  • Sites with regularly updated content.
  • Sites with a lot of user engagement
  • Sites with quality, well written content
  • Sites with a solid content base
  • Sites with AGE
  • Sites with Google Authorship in place
  • Sites with Social Credibility

This was by no means a personal attack on people who have Exact Match Domains. Google would not do this. This still need to recognize that if you own the domain with the exact keywords, you likely are the brand owner. We know this is not true, but this needs to be an assumption or Google will suffer much greater problems.

Walmart.com needs to rank under “walmart”.
Wealthy Affiliate needs to rank under “wealthy affiliate”.

But these are easy to determine for Google because of the meet the criteria “sites that will benefit” from this. This has been one of the weakest components of Google’s algorithm. Empty or low quality sites should not get rankings PURELY because they have the keyword in the domain.

EMD’s still carry a good deal of weight in terms of rankings. What they don’t do is give you a “shoe in” for a #1 ranking any longer. If you are not going to invest in the content quality of your website, it doesn’t matter what domain you own or what black hat strategy you are trying to implement, your rankings will suffer as a result.
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anindochk Premium
You cleared lots of myths. Exact match domains sounded something else to me. Thanks Kyle.
Kyle Premium Plus
Glad I could help you out Anindo.
Interesting post Kyle.

I have recently purchased an Exact Match Domain and had thought that this could have turned out to be a waste of money. But looking at this I no longer think so. Will just have to put a little more content on there than I originally planned.

I was under the assumption that micro niche websites were 4-5 page, keyword rich domain names and they're set up and forget. Now it looks like that'll have to change. Looking at 10 page sites, keyword rich domain is optional and with so regular content added (how regular would you say is regular though? Once a month at least? Every other month?).

At least the people building authority sites will no longer be battling against EMD's

- Luke
Kyle Premium Plus
Don't look at is a process...that is where you will get trapped into poor rankings. If you look at it from a user perspective and what they would expect to see to consider your site a quality one, then you will be much more successful.

I cannot say whether one article per day or 10 day is going to be good...the key is to add quality content and to work towards becoming a site of value and one where your brand is trusted. This is a people business, not a process.
OK, I understand that.

But not every site needs to be a massive authority website to be able to get good rankings though right?
splashduck Premium
Thanks for this Kyle. I've been worried that this will make it harder to get on first page results as I already find it hard enough. One of my sites has disappeared after being on page one. You've outlined what to focus on here so with attention to these aspects I can hopefully get the site back to page one.
Kyle Premium Plus
Problem is that most people hope for INSTANT rankings. As you work on a site and invest energy into it, it will only gain more and more authority within the search rankings and your brand will continue to grow.

Yes, quick rankings are still possible and there are many ways to accomplish this, but expecting to get a first page ranking just because you have bought a $10 domain is no longer a realistic expectation.
ThomasPaul Premium Plus
Sometimes I wonder if Google has a group of employees actively buying internet marketing courses to find out what the new way of gaming the SERPs is. Kind of like a game of cat and mouse...lol
Kyle Premium Plus
Matt Cutts and many others have a very good pulse on what people are doing to try to game Google. All they have to do is a Google search to find out this stuff and I am sure they run regular, real life tests on their rankings to see how they perform with their own content.

The only way you are not going to be subject to this constant cat and mouse is if you put all of your emphasis on your visitors and deliver regular quality. Authority sites are here to stay and will continue clawing their way up the ranks.
ThomasPaul Premium Plus
That makes a lot of sense. If Matt Cutts does a google search for something in his personal life and a crappy EMD with no valuable content pops up as number one he's not going to be too happy....lol
PCRoger Premium
Since I spend the vast majority of my time trying to create quality, authoritative sites, I'm not terribly bothered by this; though I do have a couple of sites I have done like this.

What continues to bother me though, are sites who have a page with 1 or 2 sentences on a page that is ostensibly a REVIEW page and ranking above me, in the first 5 slots!
Kyle Premium Plus
Keep doing your thing. Google will continue to run updates to remove sites like this, one of the first steps though was getting rid of a lot of the low quality EMD websites that had far too much weight being put on their keyword richness (and not enough on their actual content quality).