Deconstructing The Google EMD Update

EMD no free lunchWell, it’s official – no more free lunch for EMD, now that the Google EMD Update has launched. It worked well, for a long time. A whole industry of exact match domain tools and brokers came up. Huge premium prices for good names just went through the roof when it was a real “money keyword.”

For quite a while, it was possible to rank in the TOP3 with literally no backlinks, compared to non EMDs, often after only a few days in literally every niche you can dream of.

Exact Match Domains (AKA Keyword Domains) are, in general, domain names that exactly match the keyword a website wants to compete for. For example, if a website wants to rank for the term [minor weather report], an exact match domain would be [].

For years, it was a free lunch for those in-the-know, and now this loophole is closed, just like other loopholes have been closed years before. But instead of complaining about a free lunch being taken away, SEOs should be thankful for having had it. This cheap way to get traffic, thanks to Google being pretty slow to close the loophole, is now gone.

What The EMD Bonus Included

Two of the first SEO techniques that are taught are on-page keyword optimization and link building. Interestingly, those two things are very closely related to typical sorts of webspam techniques. Perhaps, it is time to focus SEO efforts on abiding by some standards, and make websites for people, not search engines.

EMDs are more than likely being targeted for violating keyword stuffing, other simple webspam techniques, and not building quality sites. The keyword phrase is in the exact match domain name, and this seems like an easy breezy technique. Start with the keyword from the Exact Match Domain and repeat it throughout the page.

The same is true for links. For a long time, the huge EMD bonus was that the website’s name is the money keyword one wants to rank for. It seemed OK to really overdo linking for the money keyword, as we thought Google couldn’t differentiate between that keyword being a brand name or not. Having lots of links and mentions in the body for your brand name (i.e., CEMPER) makes a lot of sense.

However, if you have a website, it seemed that Google took Buy Cheap Something also as a brand name and ranked you fast for it.

Google Knew It, We Knew It

Don’t think for a minute that this EMD algorithm just came out of the blue. The patent for the EMD algorithm, Systems and methods for detecting commercial queries, was filed way back in September of 2003, and finally approved a year ago on October 25, 2011. Matt Cutts even talked about how they were going to change the EMD game in a video on March 7, 2011. Is Google being transparent by warning us that they are giving too much weight to EMDs?

We went through the weekly winners and losers list from SEOLytics to look for EMDs that had dropped sharply from rather stable rankings from the week before the update. We also did the opposite and found EMDs that actually gained in rankings after the update.

An Actual Example Of An EMD Loser

So, let’s just take a quick look at a few things a top loser did, and see if we can find if the site violated any of the guidelines.

We randomly picked one of the analyzed users and found this website:

At first appearance, this site looks professional and has some reputable insurance company logos. Of course, we see the keyword phrases [business liability insurance] and [liability insurance] throughout the homepage. Perhaps, it isn’t overly done.

However, the FAQs page returns 38 matches for [business liability insurance] and 47 matches for [liability insurance]. Wow! The Guides page returns a total of 100 matches for [business liability insurance].

Are SEOs creating these types of text areas for users or search engines?

Google EMD loser 01

If you click thru those articles, you see that they are just spun content throughout the whole site, and are targeting every possible location with the keyword [Business Liability Insurance]. Not surprising that this site tanked — if you just look at the on-page factors of overdoing the commercial keyword.

What About The Link Profile?

Looking at the domain’s Power*Trust, we see a poor value of 6. More on that in a bit.

The anchor texts they used are striking when you look at this. There is not even an approach to mention the URL at substantial amounts (3% only, to be precise). The rest of the keywords are all money keywords in various combinations.

Link Profile Pie Chart



The Trust of those links are less than mediocre. There is only one link at 5 and the remainders mostly below 3.

Other Trust Factors

An interesting Unable to connect error came up when trying to access the Get Quotes page. This error to the site could also be a factor. I would classify this as a mix between a sneaky redirect and cloaking. Perhaps, the site is not a trusted site. While doing our research, it did not appear to load.

Google EMD loser 02

Lastly, I really had to laugh at this deceptive maneuver shown below. As users, we value testimonials on websites.


Google EMD loser 03

When we see a photo of the person next to the testimonial, the value and perception that this company is trustworthy is even greater.

However, I know these people and they are not who they say they are. LOL! They are stock photos. This is not cool in my book!

Even the testimonials are keyword optimized.

What Is Trust & Why Is It Important?

Following the recent Penguin 3 update, I went back and reread the Another step to reward high-quality sites blog post on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. Again, I am highlighting this, because I believe it is important to read what Google tells us they are doing and not read a bunch of conspiracy and hate comments.

The fact is that Google wants highly-trusted sites in its rankings. And any attempt at manipulating the game will be dealt with. If you don’t believe me that Google is taking webspam seriously, here is a valuable quote from a paper that was written in 2005.

“Please note that according to our definition, all types of actions intended to boost ranking (either relevance, or importance, or both), without improving the true value of a page, are considered spamming.” (Web Spam Taxonomy by Zoltán Gyöngyi & Hector Garcia-Molina)

It is probably worth noting, Zoltán Gyöngyi is a research scientist at Google who went to Stanford and studied with Professor Hector Garcia-Molina, who was the principal investigator for the Stanford Digital Library Project, in which the Google search engine emerged.

We know from our research that by now Google is definitely targeting webspam and low-quality sites with its algorithms. So, what does it take to develop a high-quality site?

Following are some excerpts from our updated EMD Case Study, you can get the full report here.

Domains Compared By Power * Trust™

Since Google is always mentioning the overall quality of a site, I could think of no better metric than the CEMPER Power*Trust metric. (Admittedly, I am slightly biased here.)

Power means the strength based on the number and power of links (better than PageRank™). Trust indicates the implied Trust of the page in Google, according to a system similar to the Trust Rank patent. By combining both metrics, you can easily rate the overall quality of a domain.

Cemper Power*Trust

The above chart is very clear; the average winner has double the amount of the Power*Trust compared to the losers. This results from a huge number of highly-trusted and very strong backlinks. While most of the losers’ backlinks are potentially low quality, it is pretty clear that the winners have way more links with high Power*Trust.

Our example,, has an even lower Power*Trust value 6 for their domain than the average loser with a Power*Trust value 8.

Domains Compared By Facebook Shares

Social media activity is (and should be) an ever increasing factor in rating the quality of a website. It’s a pretty clear factor to figure out if the audience likes the content and wants to share it with other people.

In general, a very popular website or brand automatically grows in social networks as soon as the reach higher rankings in Google.

Facebook Shares

This chart shows the huge gap between an average winner’s site with up to 180 shares, whereas the losers have only 17. That might result from the growing priority of a social network, as well as the fact that high quality websites in many verticals simply tend to attract more shares than low quality websites.

Domains Compared By Domain Popularity Growth

The Domain Popularity Growth (i.e., growth of new linking root domains per month) is one of the most important factors for a common natural link profile. A healthy website automatically grows over time because more and more webmasters tend to place a link to a higher quality site.

Avg Domain Popularity Growth EMD Win Lose

What we see here is that the winners have constantly more than double the linking domain growth per month than then losers. While the losers have built an average of 1239 new linking domains over the last 2 years (51 per month), the winners have built an average of 3193 new linking domains over the last 2 years (133 per month).

Is Google Really Evil?

Many SEO professionals and webmasters consider Google to be giant, ruthless regime. Many say they don’t follow their own Don’t do evil mantra when it comes to SEOs. Google is the Internet police, etc. etc… Like most regimes, Google constantly tells us that they are trying their best to be transparent. That is what the people want to hear. Google is a transparent corporation that aims to serve its people.

Surprisingly, most governments or corporations are transparent. You just need to read the correct information or listen in a different way. Large, hidden secrets are not implemented without first being written down.

Therefore, it should not be a surprise that the reduce ranking algorithms Google develops are sort of spelled out. Actually, they really are. Mainly, you just need to not violate the quality guidelines and build higher-quality websites.

Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. That is Google’s mission.

Stop for a moment, and dream of a day when all search results on the first page are relevant to want you desire. Is it too much to ask for people to read and abide by some laws?

Google EMD Update – A Shock?

So, it comes as a bit of a shock when I hear outrage and panic about Google’s recent Exact-Match Domain algorithm. SEOs are angry, scared, and confused about how this update is harming their sites. Following the Sept. 29th EMD update, it was amusing to read all the caps and cursing at Google in the blogs.

What did people expect? Learn a few basic SEO techniques, abuse the guidelines, and expect not to get caught?

Key Takeaways

  • Review Google’s Quality Guidelines and make sure you are not in violation of any obvious tactics. For EMDs, keyword stuffing appears to be very common. Similar rules for normal brand domains apply. Many who got away with webspam techniques in the past, lost their free EMD lunch bonus.
  • The overall domain strength is still a very important factor, which means the winners simply got higher quality links and more of them. This makes sense. The typical Quick EMD strategy didn’t need high quality links to rank very high.
  • For all you social fans, it does appear that shares could provide a boost in rankings. Further research will need to be done to confirm this. However, I believe that Google takes the social signals and reads this a value of building a high-quality site. See Google bullet point, “Are the topics driven by genuine interest of readers of the site.”
  • The domain popularity growth of the winners is so much higher and reflects the overall link and site quality.
  • It’s not enough to just build links. More links and better quality lead to a better site, even if it’s an EMD. At least, after the long overdue EMD update.

Finally, Matt Cutts is really sticking to his words to crack down on Web spam in 2012. He closed a lot of loopholes, which surprised me, that were still working during the early part of 2012. I wonder if it’s his secret 30-day challenge to crack down on one old tactic per month?

Personally, I think there’s still a lot more to fix. Based on data we get from our Link Detox technology, which is part of our Link Research Tools software suite (independently reviewed here on SEL), there are still many sites with really bad link profiles and outdated SEO practices that are very easy to detect. I suppose that is also why we should expect these updates to continue on a regular basis.

Again, people, you should thank Matt and Google for letting you get away with EMDs for so long.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Google: Algorithm Updates | Google: EMD Update


About The Author: is a well-known and distinguished expert in SEO and link building and founder of Internet marketing company, CEMPER.COM. Cemper has been developing the SEO and link building toolkit, Link Research Tools.

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  • kung fu jesus

    The question I have is, when creating a new site today, should I avoid an EMD in favor of some catchy, brandable name?

    From what I can gather, its not that EMDs are bad by themselves; its the issue of over optimization and an EMD is just one part of that over optimization. But by everyone calling it the EMD Update, it makes it sound like EMDs are all bad.

    I would have liked to see some examples of EMD sites that went up in rankings to compare their seo vs the EMD site you listed.

  • Ryan @ Linkbuildr

    That’s basically it….EMD’s are still ranking VERY WELL for most terms big and just depends on the overall quality.

  • Christoph C. Cemper

    Just go ahead and download the full cae study
    lots of examples on EMD sites that went up

  • Christoph C. Cemper

    Will discuss other question im detail in call on Monday

  • Gaurang Joshi

    Well I definitely agree with your points made. And EMD update was a good initiative taken by Google to get rid of all those who were simply enjoying Google loophole since last 13 years.

  • Andrew Shotland

    I own a few EMD sites that I’d like to think are high quality and were not hit by the EMD update. The way to think about it is can you turn your EMD into a catchy, brandable name? If so, and you’re willing to put in the effort, it should work.

  • boblaw

    Terrific article Chrisoph. This update was a long time coming.

  • Christoph C. Cemper


  • Christoph C. Cemper

    I agree

  • Christoph C. Cemper


  • Ken Mozlowski

    Is Bing going to follow suit? Not yet at least. It is also a question of whether the user aka the consumer of information is actually finding what they want. Keywords are how they find what they want. Other than direct or brand searches in which case they know what they want and hence should be presented with those brands. In the case of keyword searches they are clearly searching for information and want a diverse set of responses so they can decide what is relevant and what isnt relevant for their needs or interests. Although we all know that there were and are “abuses” which can really be said of any SEO “technique”, a heavy handed approach to EMD takes search a step closer to removing keywords from the search equation and more towards brand which is always going to be ranked by how much money you can spend on brand promotion. Authorship is another example of the further use of branding in search, by giving preference to those who have branded themselves by name not necessarily qualification.

  • Steve Palmer

    Great article Christoph. I have MOSTLY emd’s, always have… Only one dropped, but it was a newer site, no links, in the financial sector with lower quality content, so I wasn’t surprised. But every other emd site I have is still dominating. Most are 1 and 2 keyword domains. The one that got hit was a 3 keyword domain.

    Have you seen this trend Christoph? That 3 keyword emd’s got hit more so than shorter ones? Assuming equal link profiles.

  • SEO First

    Awesome share…..christopher can you just share me more about power trust and how one can determine the same.

    Thanks :)

  • Christoph C. Cemper

    Ken, they simply took away the “unfair advantage” that EMDs had over normal domains. The playing field is leveled now. All other issues are independent from this “bug they fixed”.

  • Christoph C. Cemper

    Bill, would be interesting to look at specifics.

    Please feel free to mail to us here

    and we might do a new study with a new angle on it.

  • Hyderali Shaikh

    Good Post Christoph!

    What I feel is that people should go & buy domains according to their brand or keyword without fear. Most of the people don’t understand that this EMD update is targeted to only those website who are low quality & doesn’t provide any benefits to their user & ranking on top just for having a keyword domain. I agree with you that people don’t read google’s guidelines properly & behave awkwardly when any update arrives.

  • Nabeel Butt

    Well Written article Christopher! Google is trying to kill all those folks who are over-night SEO experts. Though, There’s still plenty of room for improvements and i can see it coming in upcoming months.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I’ve noticed that many EMDs also tend to have an exact match anchor text problem simply because their brand is a keyword. It’s hard to vary things up when your domain name is also one of your “money” keywords. So some EMDs might have been whacked by both Penguin and the EMD update because of that. Not all EMDs are bad but when you can’t make it a real brand you’re running a risk.

  • Andi the Minion

    Great article, I know very little about SEO and dabbled with a few EMDs,over the years though I have learned that in reality whatever your site is, you should turn out quality content for the reader and if you do use an EMD try and make it into a brandable business name as well. I certainly wouldn’t choose an EMD then just stuff the site full of keywords like your examples above and I am glad to say that it looks like the days of those type of Google Sniper sites are dead and buried.


  • netmeg

    Questions like this drive me nuts. If you get hit by the EMD Update, the problem isn’t the domain. It’s what you did or did not put on it.

  • Nick Ker

    A step in the right direction, for sure. But I am still seeing quite a few useless, outdated sites with virtually no incoming links that rank in the top 5 for those keywords. Here’s hoping it will tighten up over time, like most algorithm updates.

  • cjvannette

    I would hesitate before buying a new EMD. If you have an established non-spammy EMD site, it’s probably fine, but going forward, I would definitely choose a branded URL instead of an EMD.

  • Adreana_Langston

    I’m still not understanding how this helps me, the user. Let’s say I live in Littletown and it is May 2013. I am trying to find corsages to give to women on Mother’s Day. I type “Littletown + flowers” in the search query box. I WANT the business whose name is “Littletown Flowers” to come up on the first page of results because I want to be able to drive around the corner and buy the corsages. What’s more, I, as a consumer DO NOT CARE if the company “Littletown Flowers” has anything “new” to say on its website about roses, carnations and daisies. Seriously, what has “changed” in the past 10 years about a bouquet of a dozen roses? The images and the text could all be a decade old and still accurately reflect what I, as a consumer in the market for flower products, would want to know. The only thing that needs to be fresh is the price and availability. So now, if I am reading correctly, “Littletown Flowers”‘s website, with no fresh content, and EMD URL and with text about flowers that is very similar (maybe even a copy and paste) of the text about flowers that I could find on a dozen other websites and with text that uses the words “carnations”, “roses, “daisies” and “flowers” over and overa again because – duh – is going to drop off the first page when I am searching for “Littletown + flowers”. I do not expect the owner of “Littletown Flowers” or “Littletown Pizza” or “Littletown Drycleaners” to spend a substantial part of their workweek posting blog posts or chatting on twitter or posting to Facebook. They are small business owners. They have enough to do. I want to search for pizza, flowers and dog toys near my home and have the businesses that are near my home come up first in search even if their website names are the actual name of their business.

  • Nick Ker

    I think you may be missing the point. A shop named “Littletown Flowers” should not have any problem from the EMD update since that would be considered a brand – unless of course they have been doing all sorts of spammy things, or if the site is complete junk (hard to navigate, poorly written, etc). “Freshness” doesn’t really come into play very much here, but quality does. Sites are not automatically penalized for having a domain that matches the keyword phrase. Instead, lower quality sites or possibly sites that are doing some link spamming will no longer automatically rank higher just because they have a domain with the right keywords in it.

    For a long time, many sites that really did not deserve to rank highly, were ranking well just because their domain contained those keywords. For example, let’s say instead of the shop called “Littletown Flowers” owning, it was “Bob’s Flowers” which is about 20 miles outside of Littletown. Bob wanted more business from the people of Littletown so he put a simple site on That is not what you are looking for, but prior to the EMD update, it probably would have been what Google showed you. The EMD update is supposed to eliminate some of that.

  • Mark Nicholson

    This is something that’s been on Google’s ToDo list for a long, and likely over hyped.
    An EMD is a domain that shouldn’t be affected by over optimization if the anchor matches the URL. Quality of IBLs is more of a consideration than before, but this is another well timed PR move from G.

  • Asoto Adeola

    Interesting Read and Update.Consistent & Quality Content still rules.

  • Ken Mozlowski

    I would like to say that is true, but from what I have seen the update was not applied consistently, i.e. only low quality got hit and high quality survived. If what you are saying is that is doesnt matter how many dashes or keywords are in your domain only quality counts. Then I dont think that is true. I doubt that we will be recommending clients buy dashed domains or ones with more than 2 keywords regardless of their business name.

  • Aj Martin

    EMD’s are valuable for other reasons than SEO – think about the toll free business 1-800-KEYWORD – EMDs are great for offline advertising billboards magnetic vehicle signs etc. One day Google may go the way of Yahoo but the domain name system is likely in place much like the phone numbering system. If you have an EMD don’t give away your gold – most of the celebration has been SEOs and buisness owners not clever enough to get EMDs or were “late to the domain registration party”.
    Also and the other 200+ search engines don’t seem to mind EMDs. I think Google’s biggest issue with EMDs is the backlink anchor text is by default “fixed” to favor keyword anchors rather than having to earn keyword anchors. At this point I assume the entire anchor text/backlinking metric to be in question due to manipulation by bad players. I wouldnt want to have the challenge of ranking the internet at this point so I feel for Google as their is just too much information for them to keep up – but to come back and slap EMDs seems like a cheap stunt to garner favor from SEOs that dont have clients with EMDs.

    I am not going to advise my clients to abandon their EMDs – would it make sense to say hey you are a doctor so don’t use the word doctor in your domain name. Asinine. For this piece of the puzzle I will take Google’s advice and forget about Google when building a web site. Good luck to all.

  • Bo Vibe

    Very insightful post, but I would, however, contest that it is not quite as simple as “follow the quality guidelines”. I have three EMDs, all with “City+keyphrase”, two of these are basically mirror sites (different languages) whereas one is totally unique, and the latter also has, by far, the most content. All sites have in common that all content is unique (except for the “mirror” sites), they all have few links (and only from reputable domains) and basically the same Page Rank and little to no social media presence. The only difference being that the mirror sites are on WordPress. The two versions, in different languages, still rank on top whereas the largest, most unique site (with a very tidy domain name) completely crashed and burned from one day to the next. This tells me that the update hits quite randomly, which is incredibly frustrating when you build a site that complies with every possible guideline, and then the rug gets pulled from under it.

  • RCents LLC

    Google is going to wind up burying itself. They can blame the website spammers all the want. The real problem is that Google became a monopoly and now keep playing games with the rules. Look at the ridiculous market for “backlinks.” Google could very easily analyze a site for quality, however they have a ranking requirement for backlinks to get the first page. The result? Millions of spun articles on garbage sites with keywords and backlinks.
    Why do people pay for that? Because they work. That’s Google’s fault. No backlinks = no front page ranking for decent phrases. Period.
    Google further caused bad blood with their Adsense abuses. How many good and hardworking bloggers got kicked off of Adsense without recourse? No phonecall. No explanation. Just a cold bullet to a business avenue. It happened to me, and Google couldn’t care less.
    My view is that people are still using Google because they don’t think there is a viable alternative. Unfortunately many of these people view Google with resentment instead of favor. Once they learn of a good option, they’ll bolt.
    In a number of ways, I’ve given up on search engine marketing. I’ll take what traffic I can get, but I’d rather rely on conventional marketing and social network referrals.

  • CandleForex

    Thats what we did, we got a branded URL. However we do have some EMD’s that are 301′ed to the branded domain.

  • Eastvantage Outsourcing

    I am actually confused of this recent EMD update. What about domains that don’t have their keywords in their domains? Please please enlighten me…

  • Jobs Natural Gas

    Sorry. Meant to say YES, Google is evil. Their time is coming. I had there… just got excited I guess. Google gets my blood boiling fast. The most overrated company of all time. If you can’t effectively help your customer when they are having problems you will eventually pay the consequences. That is just one piece of the foundation totally missing.. but a big one.

  • Jobs Natural Gas

    OMG.. Exactly to 90% of everyone responding. The problem is that Google finds a way to make constructive criticism about them just disappear. And they have the perfect avenue to do it. You would think that they would go out of their way make sure we understand, but instead they make it as freaking complicated as possible. Why? Because they are greedy and think they own the world. Just like someone that wins the lottery and blows every penny in 10 years. Google is not grounded. They are obnoxious, overrated, spoiled brats that want us to think they are sophisticated. They get off on deleted or cancelling numerous Google Adsense customers that have quit their day job because they made it on line. But now because they want to show their muscle they just hire a bunch of people to make random changes which send good hard working people back to the work place, when it was absolutely unnecessary. Why not work with us? Nope.. they want to play God but they are really the freaking Devil.

  • Winston

    Customers? If you mean you are one of those “hard working” made-for-Adsense site builders, you need to understand that you are not Googles customer. They are the broker between you and the ad buyer. So you have it backwards. You should provide a better vehicle for the ads.

    Google does go out of its way to make the rules clear. You just don’t listen or understand it.
    Maybe you wouldn’t have a problem with algorithm updates if your name wasn’t a bunch of keywords, Mr Natural Gas.


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