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.

EMPTY SITES WERE GETTING RANKED!


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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Thanks that really straightens thingo out
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AriefWibowo Premium
I see the good reason to own EMDs.
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dj-drea Premium
So is buying and selling these kinds of domain names still a good business venture?
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doomstock Premium
Buying and selling domains is a business in itself. Companies like SEDO, Flippa & GoDaddy are examples. Before considering buying and selling domains you'd need to be able to value the name, and that, in itself, is no small feat. You need to use many tools (Majestic SEO is just one example) to determine its value. Without a lot of knowledge, insight and experience, I would personally avoid it unless you could find a course on this business model as good as WA :-) Jim
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pinkabella Premium
I don't think EMD is getting any higher rankings.
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karimsoli Premium
Hello Kyle , is this rule still valid ? EMD get higher ranking ? or now more irrelevant
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TheOldSilly Premium
I'm nor Kyle, but I believe so, yes.
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Kipps Premium
We know from Kyle's posting of EMD that they are no more getting higher ranking just for being or seems like EMD unless they are filled with good content, high quality information and regularly updated and have " a löt of user engagement."
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karimsoli Premium
thanks for your reply
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Lorna43 Premium
Thanks Kyle. I realize this was originally posted 3 years ago, but it is still relevant for us newbies and others.
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thanks kyle :)))
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Kyle Premium
No problem! :)
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goodsuccess Premium
The Google algorithm is flawed and will always be so....why? Because it is a program that only gets it's information from humans that have done research into what they think needs fixing or to ward off people who want to game the system (people will always want to game the system).

Programs will always need humans to update, fix, and correct flaws in their attempt to make it better. It may become better but it will NEVER be 100% correct.
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Kyle Premium
Yeah, better but never perfect. Every time a major update is made someone that is doing something great is impacted...however, they usually are able to find their back to the top of their ranks very quickly.

People will always want to game and there will always be new ways to game. Anything that this has a computer based algo has a way to game and there is absolutely no way Google could do manual reviews of all their content within every niche. I can say they are getting much better than they used to be and over time their human language knowledge is going to continue to get better.
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the filbert Premium
Now if you had one "low quality" site on your google analytics account and it was "identified" in the update, would Google look at the rest of your websites in that GA account????

Hmmm I have 2 sites with good content...one got dropped from number 1 to number 4...the other site with 40 or so pages of good content gets dished to nowhere land...the 3rd... a single page site...again ditched....

Thoughts?
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kamali Premium
I had seen some comments about this (Google Analytics linking all your sites) on the warrior forum when the Panda update was first rolled out.

I disabled GA on all my websites for that reason. Although I wonder if there is a point to this if you are still using Adsense for income.

It seems that adsense would still give google some info (maybe not as much) on your websites.

This recent EMD update hit me hard. I'm basically back to ground zero now.

The positive thing is that this is just affirmation of why I got into IM in the first place. It is never good to rely on one source of income.

Scary that a simple algo change on Goog can mean tens of thousands (and more) for some IMers.
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Kyle Premium
Google knows what you did last summer, but I would find it hard to believe that they would punish the activity on one site to another. This doesn't make sense. We need to look at everything through the lens of Google. What do they want?

Quality content that intrigues users and engages users.

This means TIME ON PAGE and this means people not going back to a new search every time after they visit one of your searches. Yes, they have this data.

If you are writing content that is delivering the goods to your users, you shouldn't have a worry about Google. One rule I have always had is to create content for my audience, not Google. Google is going to always going after the best experience for the audience and will always be working towards better ranking your content if you take this approach.
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kamali Premium
You make a good point Kyle....But...google also wants to punish people for falsely trying to get rankings...so their algorithm changes are basically out there kicking butt and taking names later.

Seems Google is waging an all out war on Internet Marketers.

Google is constantly trying to make tweaks and adjustments because they are realizing that their algorithm changes ARE affecting quality sites.

Google will get to the good quality sites eventually...but at what cost to the average Joe just trying to get his message out there?

if building web pages is a mere hobby, that's fine...but some cannot afford the luxury of waiting around for Google to "get it right"
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Kyle Premium
If your definition of an Internet marketer is someone who games Google, yes they are waging an all out war and have been doing so for some time. I personally know a lot of Internet marketers who leverage the Internet as a medium to run an ethical, above the radar business and many people have not been touched by any of these Panda updates (if anything, they have benefited from it).
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Lorna43 Premium
Thanks Kyle. I realize this was posted 3 years ago, but still very valuable information for us newbies and everyone else as well.
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Mfjanowski Premium
This was the first place I've heard about this and was directly affected. My site has quality content and was getting good rankings and then boom....nothing. Although I agree that sites with domain names that have the keyword in it shouldn't be the only thing that gets that site ranked, being unfairly punished because of it kind of rots also. Back the drawing board once again!
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Kyle Premium
If you lost rankings, it likely was not due strictly to this update. This update was just a lowering of the weigh assigned to EMD, which is still quite high actually. This could have been a result of a Panda update they rolled out at the same time that affected 2.6% of all sites.

Perhaps a backlinking issue...
Perhaps a keyword stuffing issue..
A duplicate content issue...

Just keep focused and keep building your site with value in mind. You will likely get your rankings back. Also, check Google Webmaster Tools for your site to see if you have any warnings.
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jjstockman Premium
This should promote more quality sites, like Kyle explained to me in his pm response. Thanks Kyle
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Kyle Premium
Exactly, something we will continue to preach. If you want rankings, OFFER VALUE!
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GaiC Premium
Thanks Kyle, great summary of the latest round of Google changes. I appreciated you taking the time to write it up for us. Gai
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Kyle Premium
No problem Gai, glad I could help everyone here to keep informed of the latest Google updates. I think the more that we are aware of where Google is coming from and the decisions they make, the better we can prepare ourselves for anything that could take place in the future.

If you understand what Google is looking for (for the most part, quality content), then you can avoid every single one of the Panda/Penguin updates.
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GaiC Premium
I agree fore warned is fore armed. I am pleased that you promote white hat SEO techniques here and in the long run that changes should help those doing the right thing.

There's no point complaining about it, just understand what Google wants and deliver it and all should be fine in the long run. Gai
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reefswimmer Premium
Question: exactly what is "google authorship' ?

This is another of your truly wonderful articles, Kyle. You have a great way of letting us into your thinking process. Big thanks !
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Kyle Premium
You can get full details on authorship here:

https://plus.google.com/authorship

It can be quite powerful to have this in place as it can lead to higher rankings and it will also add your author image beside your rankings in the search results.
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PMV Premium
Kinda think it's a good thing myself - fair's fair 'n all.
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Kyle Premium
Yeah, this update has been hinted at for quite some time.
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I wrote a blog post about this myself. Removed. Sorry I put my two cents outside this thread. This is sufficient and mine was not necessary. Wasn't getting any readers for good reasons.
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Kyle Premium
Daniel, you should have kept it. It is good to have different perspectives on a particular situation.
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I will restore it later. This time I will elaborate on the points in both lists that are on here. Thanks for your reply. I actually thought I was intruding by doing that.

I am trying to improve my writing so it has more value and more of what people want. I'm actually reading up on public speaking because I know that will help.

I need to do something drastically. The beast has risen again and is right on my heels.
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kamali Premium
You should pick up some books on psychology as well. If you compliment that (an understanding of the human mind) with the skills you'll get from public speaking...you should do some serious damage :)
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Truly, this update would help sanitize the whole system. I was wrote a post on my blog concerning the idea of over optimization and keyword stuffing and here comes something that work very similar to that post. People should now learn to play around keywords using synonymous words rather that just target the same exact high density keywords. Search engines have gone smarter than usual and it only takes the smart ones to remain on top..:)
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Kyle Premium
The smart way to approach search engines is to not create your website or content for search engines, rather to create it for readers. If you do this, the search engines will find you as they are continue to make changes to further improve their quality and to find content that is created for readers, not search engine loopholes.
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Hudson Premium
Hi Kyle, thanks - I had no idea what EMD meant or the outcome of googles change. Now I do great!
Regards
Hudson
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Kyle Premium
No problem, now you know! Glad I could offer you some clarification here.
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Pobman Premium
I agree totally with what Google is trying to do here, but I am not seing it.

In April this year I got fed up being outranked by EMD, and many of which had no content... not little content I am talking NO content. For one term I was being out ranked by an Apache error page, and this page actually ranked from April until August this year. An error page!!! WTF Google.

Anyway starting early may I decided I might as well join them, so I kept the authority sites on one server and got another one just for making blank sites on.. OK not 100% blank but I am talking about sites with typically 5-6 words, including the link, and sometimes a picture or a video. They were setup right with meta description, title etc. but they really had no content other than the 5-6 call to action words and the link to the sales page on a different domain. They were all EMD.

Every single one was page 1 within 4-6 weeks. The majority was No1 Page 1. Some of these terms were moderately hard with decent 40-60,000 searches a month.

A couple of the page I did change, added more content and turned them in to a proper sales/squeeze page... but the CTR of the almost blank pages is actually higher, you land on the page, the answer is presented to you and you click.

Anyway they are all still ranking.... I have no doubt people are getting hit by this, but I am just not seeing it.. and I truly wish I was because its about time Google cleaned up this absurd mess that I can outrank my own sites with pages containing almost nothing.
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Kyle Premium
Yeah, it appears they have not done a complete blanket sweep on these domains because they simply can't. There is too much at stake here as EMD are good to have and they do carry a good deal of ranking power.

They have not "deranked" the EMD sites as most people think, they have simply adjusted the ranking algo marginally to weight the EMD less (fractions of a percent). This was enough to trigger some drop in rankings and I have personally seen some of the "empty" domains as you stated of mine that were ranked drop.
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Pobman Premium
No doubt they will tweak this as the weeks go by... its not often I wish for a rankings drop but in this case I dont mind, as my 'proper' sites are ready to take over once these blank junk sites get kicked out of the way. I have never understood though why things like error pages can rank, sure they might for a day just in case there is a bug in the system but for an Apache error page to rank month after month is just totally wrong... and things like that should be easy for Google to fix!!!
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Kyle Premium
Yeah, it was unbelievable and in some cases it still is. I thought this blatant gaming hole would be closed much sooner, but I guess Google was in a situation where they had to prioritize which hole was worse (obviously backlinking and content spam was).

Anyways, EMD's still carry a lot of value...I think we can all agree with that, but they just don't care the "be all end all" value that they once did. Power to the authority...
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WayneBPK Premium
I have 3 EMD atm and didnt really see a big bump. My fibro site is actually just keeping a steady rise since we started it up 20 days ago.

Its on the first page of both Bing and Yahoo, and Google has it as high as 8, but it has been bouncing between 12 to 15 for the past 3 days or so. We do have a bunch of content on there though, so hopefully it wont get hit hard if at all.
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Kyle Premium
I would not be overly concerned. Continue creating your site for your USERS, for the people visiting your site. Google will chase after you if that is your focus as all their algorithm changes in the past 2 years point towards finding quality content.
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kamali Premium
One of my sites got hit by this. i thought it was because of my backlink strategy for that site. But then I noticed that pretty much ALL the sites in the top 10 (for that keyword) also got hit.

My site was bouncing up and down on page 2. It went to page 5 and now it is on page 4 after a day or so.

So it is coming back, slowly.

I focus on writing quality content first and then selling later so we will see how this turns out.

I disabled Google analytics on all my sites except for one so I just monitor my rankings and ad impressions right now.


This clears up a lot of things, thanks for the post.
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Kyle Premium
Yeah, I think that if you continue moving forward on offering an authority site, you will continue to see your rankings return. I would not be overly concerned if your strategy has been what you said all along.
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kamali Premium
Cool, will do. Thanks again for this post Kyle!
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welshy Premium
Looks like a good update in my opinion, if a site has no or very little content then it shouldn't be ranking in the first place.
Using Jay's example site that he built in a WAbinar earforcex41.com it still sits in 5th for "ear forcex 41" and it doesn't look like it has been effected and only has a few pages.
It does however have a PR2, so maybe it has some good backlinks.
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kamali Premium
That does not seem like a keyword that would have much competition though. My guess is that sites ranking for noncompetitive keywords will still retain their rankings
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Kyle Premium
Yes, this is definitely the case of sites with little competition are likely to retain their rankings as having the EMD is going to naturally boost your rankings. If you have a site under a competitive niche and there are sites with much better content that are more active than yours, then you are going to get outranked.
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mama2karsten Premium
Kyle Thanks for heads up...
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IveTriedThat Premium
Key word from Cutt's post: low-quality.

EMDs aren't threatened if you write quality content guys.
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Kyle Premium
EXACTLY!
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onefineham Premium
I would beg to differ on that point. "Low quality that isn't written or hosted on a Google product."
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When I write, I don't have time to consider the numbers. Far better off that way. It was your post here that made me rethink this. One thing I did notice is that if you use the resources Google supples, she likes you better. A lot of my stuff that is ranking well, is google-based.
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onefineham Premium
Bingo Daniel. Bingo.
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Kyle Premium
It is not a matter of you using Google products as this can work against. But giving Google insight when you are creating value can be a very good thing.
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Google is forcing many of us into offline promoting. This isn't good. Almost all of my sites are exact match domains. There's one Google's not going to get right off... Thanks to Jay, I have my danieleuergetes site. It will take a while before my own name is a hot keyword.
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Kyle Premium
Google has nothing against your EMD. It has a beef with low quality content or has replaced your rank with content that they view as being higher quality. Keep working towards becoming an authority Daniel and don't focus on anything else.
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Will do. So far, my sites don't look like they have dropped much. Larry took off his bottle site and it's ranking on the very top position now! Wow! He needed to leave that alone.

Some of my sites DO NOT have the content they should on them. I will make sure the ones that are doing well get content regularly.

My name is getting 128 searches a month according to Jaaxy. That was unexpected. It is yellow.
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Kyle Premium
Yeah, or better yet continue offering valuable content. A majority of the sites that were hit were those with stagnated content, ones they haven't been updated in some time. Google says that if you are an authority in a niche, you regularly contribute content to that niche (update your sites). If not, you are running a micro-niche system which is just a form of gaming.
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"Content Is King." I'm glad Jay slapped my hand for messing around too much with the SEO end of things.
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onefineham Premium
They're definitely still missing the mark. Some of these ranking sites are just plain AWFUL! I suppose at some point they sweep these out of the rankings as well but they really need to clean their OWN house of products first. Youtube and Google+ are cesspools of abominable keyword ranking content.
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Kyle Premium
I absolutely agree...there are a ton of low quality Youtube videos that are ranked and there is some pretty weak authorship content that is ranked. Don't worry about what other people are "ranked" doing, worry about your own content and what you are doing. If you are following what PEOPLE want and are looking for, you will never be hit with any of the Panda updates while others around you will be hit drastically by them.
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rocktivity Premium
My oldest EMD site is still #1, but it is now represented by a Squidoo lens. My highest-ranking EMD is now number two, behind About.com.

And look at who is now ahead of CoolHatsForMen: eBay and Amazon -- and Hats In The Belfry just happens to use Google Checkout!

How are you supposed to compete with corporate sites are that older, richer, can hire professional content writers and can update faster? And now as the final nail in our coffin, they've devalued the keywords! Well, unlike YouTube, Adsense, and their API, Google doesn't OWN the keywords!

Google's getting smarter, all right -- about coming up with ways to sabotage us. Here's hoping that Microsoft,/Yahoo/Bing are smart enough to realize that they've been handed an opportunity.
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Kyle Premium
Unfortunately Bing is now using Klout as one of the factors in their ranking which to me is unbelievable...I have never been an advocate of Klout score accuracy as I think it is way off and can easily be gamed.

About.com, Ebay.com and Amazon.com likely have better content than me. It is Google serving better results, it is nothing more than that. If I improved my coolhatsformen.com site and invested more content in it, I could likely retain my #1 position again.

Exact Match Domains do help with your rankings, but not if you have weak content. You cannot hate Google for this move simply because you were affected, it was a long time coming and was a huge hole in their search quality allowing sites to rank just because they had the keywords in their domains.
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anindochk Premium
You cleared lots of myths. Exact match domains sounded something else to me. Thanks Kyle.
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Kyle Premium
Glad I could help you out Anindo.
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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
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Kyle Premium
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.
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OK, I understand that.

But not every site needs to be a massive authority website to be able to get good rankings though right?
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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.
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Kyle Premium
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.
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ThomasPaul Premium
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
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Kyle Premium
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.
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ThomasPaul Premium
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
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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!
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Kyle Premium
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).
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