October 3, 2012

Exact Match Domains Hit by New Google Update

Published: 3 October 2012 

Matt Cutts Tweet

Last week Google’s Head of Spam Matt Cutts tweeted a small algorithm change aimed at adversely affecting low-quality “exact-match” domains in Google’s search results. Matt Cutts then further explained that the algorithm change would affect 0.6% of English-US queries and is unrelated to Panda/Penguin updates.

This algo update is no surprise and even comes as a blessing to some websites as their rankings have improved due to competitors rankings dropping.

As far back as in March 2011, Cutts warned that “we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains, and some people have complained that we're giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains, and so we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn't necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”

The Rise and Fall of Exact-Match Domains (EMDs)

SEO Meme

Exact-match domains have been popular over the past few years as a method of tricking Google into displaying their website for a main keyword, example www.teethwhitening.com. Google wants relevant websites displayed for users’ queries and the keyword in the domain appears to be significant. And generally it worked- until now.

However, not all EMDs have been hit by the latest Google update. As Matt Cutts announcement suggests it is only low-quality “exact match” domains that have been affected. As keywords can sometimes naturally appear in niche markets, company’s brand or domain name Google have had to refine their algorithm to hit only low-quality sites.

Our theory is that the EMD algorithm change is used as a signal in conjunction with the site’s linking strategy; does the site also have a high percentage of exact match keyword embedded links? If so, this looks very spammy and un-natural to Google.

Therefore, unless you have some substance to your on-site optimization and back-linking strategy your EMD is likely to take a hit in this new Google update. While it doesn’t seem to have rolled out in Australia yet, it probably won’t be long until it affects us.

What should you do if you have been hit by the EMD Update?

It is not advised to immediately react if your rankings have dropped as Google can monitor your reactions as spammy and can penalise or even delist the website (have a look at Bill Slawski’s article on this particular Google patent). Therefore, it is recommended that you adjust your SEO strategy. If you have been affected by these rankings it’s likely that you have been engaging in black-hat tactics-so stop!

You should outline a new strategy using white-hat SEO tactics such as; regular fresh content on-site and relevant high-quality outreach links. Any on-site changes should be conducted slowly and in sections, for example changing keyword-stuffed title tags to a descriptive page titles. You should also submit these changes in blocks to Google. This appears much more natural to Google as a spammer’s reaction would be to immediately make changes to the site in the hope of improving rankings.

If you believe you have been wrongly affected by the latest Google update then you can submit your site’s details to Google using this form. However, you should ensure your website is not involved in any black (or grey) hat tactics as a manual or re-check by Google may result in a total de-listing if deemed spammy.

Have you seen any changes on SERPs? Are you happy or frustrated by this new Google algorithm change?

Ben Maden

Read more posts by Ben

One comment on “Exact Match Domains Hit by New Google Update”

  1. None of our EMD clients appear to have been affected. But then again, none are low-quality sites, so I guess no surprises. Thanks for the article.

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