The EMD Update: Like Panda & Penguin, Expect Further Refreshes To Come

Last week, Google announced the EMD Update, a new filter that tries to ensure that low-quality sites don’t rise high in Google’s search results simply because they have search terms in their domain names. Similar to other filters like Panda, Google says EMD will be updated on a periodic basis. Those hit by it may escape the next EMD update, while others not hit this time could get caught up in the future.

How Periodic Updates Work: The Panda Example

Google has several filters that it updates periodically, that is from time-to-time. The Panda Update is the best example of this periodic nature and the impact it can have on publishers.

Panda works by effectively sifting all the sites that Google knows about on the web through a filter. Those deemed having too much poor quality content get trapped by Panda, which in turn means they may no longer rank as well as in the past. Those that slip through the filter have “escaped” Panda and see no ranking decrease. In fact, they might gain as they move higher into spots vacated by those Panda has dropped.

Since the filter isn’t perfect, Google keeps trying to improve it. Roughly each month, it sifts all the pages its knows about through an updated Panda filter. This might catch pages that weren’t caught before. It might also free pages that may have been caught by mistake.

Importantly, sites themselves get a chance to escape Panda each time the filter is used based on their own attempts to improve. Those that have dropped much poor quality content might find themselves no longer being trapped. Each new release of Panda is chance for a fresh start.

There are two articles from the past that I highly recommend reading to understand this more. One’s even a picture, an infographic:

How The EMD Update Works

How does this apply to the EMD Update? First, EMD gets its name because it targets “exact match domains,” which are domains that exactly match the search terms that they hope to be found for.

One common misconception is that EMD means that sites with search terms in their domain names no longer will rank as well as in the past. I’ve not seen evidence of this so far, and it’s certainly not what Google said.

Google specifically said EMD was designed to go after poor quality sites that also have exact match domain names. If you do a search for “google,” you still find plenty of Google web sites that all have “google” in the domain name. EMD didn’t wipe them out because those sites are deemed to have quality content.

Is that Google just favoring itself? I wouldn’t say so. After all, it didn’t wipe out:

  • for “cars”
  • for “used cars”
  • for “cheap tickets”
  • for “movies”
  • for “books”

Instead, EMD is more likely hitting domains like, which is a made-up example but hopefully gets the point across. It’s a fairly generic name with lots of keywords in it but no real brand recognition.

Domains like this are often purchased by someone hoping that just having all the words they want to be found for (“online computer training schools”) will help them rank well. It’s true that there’s a small degree of boost to sites for having search terms in their domains with Google, in general. A very small degree.

But such sites also often lacked any really quality content. They were purchased or created in hopes of an easy win, and there’s often no real investment in building them up with decent information or into an actual destination, a site that people would go to directly, not a site they’d just happen upon through a search result.

Some of them lack content at all (are “parked”) or have content that’s taken from other sites (“scraped”). Google already went after parked domains last December (and made a mistake in classifying some sites as parked in April). It’s already been going after scrapers with Panda and other efforts.

EMD seems targeted after low-quality sites that are “in between” these two things, perhaps sites that have content that doesn’t appear scraped because it has been “spun” using software to rewrite the material automatically.

It’s really important to understand that plenty of people have purchased exact match domains in hopes of a ranking boost and have also put in the time and effort to populate these sites with quality content. I’ve already listed some examples of this above, and there are smart “domainers” beyond this who do not park, scrape or spin but instead build a domain with a nice name into a destination, making it more valuable for a future sale.

In short, EMD domains aren’t being targeted; EMD domains with bad content are.

The Many Filters Google Uses

A mystery in all this is that Panda was already designed to punish sites for having bad content. Clearly, Panda wasn’t doing the job in the case of EMD domains, to the degree that Google had to build a completely separate EMD filter.

That means, metaphorically speaking, Google pours all the sites it knows about through a Panda strainer. After that, it pours what didn’t get caught in that strainer through the EMD filter.

In reality, it’s not a case of pouring everything through a variety of different filters all at once. Google’s running different filters at different times, such as:

There are more we don’t even know about, and Google doesn’t announce most of these. But what we’ve learned more and more through Panda is the periodic nature of Google’s filters, the idea that once a filter is introduced, at some point in a few weeks or month, Google will improve that filter and sift content through it again.

To better understand how all these filters can keep the Google results “dancing,” I highly recommend reading my article from last month:

Recovering From EMD

Google confirmed for me this week that EMD is a periodic filter. It isn’t constantly running and looking for bad EMD domains to filter. It’s designed to be used from time-to-time to ensure that what was filtered out before should continue to be filtered. It also works to catch new things that may have been missed before.

If you were hit by EMD, and hope to recover, the advice seems to be very similar to Panda — get rid of the poor quality content. In particular, these articles below might help:

You can find more in the Panda Update section of our Search Engine Land Library. After you’ve removed the poor quality content, it’s waiting time. You’ll only see a change the next time the EMD filter is run.

When will that be? Google’s not saying, but based on the history of Panda, it’s likely to be within the next three months, and eventually it might move to a monthly basis. But it could take longer until EMD 2 hits, nor is there any guarantee it’ll ever ramp-up to a monthly refresh like Panda, nor that Google will even announce when they happen.

To complicate matters, many sites that may have thought they were hit by EMD instead might have been hit by the far bigger Panda Update 20. Google belatedly acknowledged releasing a fresh Panda update the day before EMD was launched.

My advice is that if you were never hit by Panda before — and you have a domain name you purchased in hopes of an “exact match” success — then it’s probably EMD that hit you.

Postscript: Related, a few hours after this was posted, a new Penguin Update was released. See our story, Google Penguin Update 3 Released, Impacts 0.3% Of English-Language Queries.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: EMD Update | Google: Penguin Update | Panda Update News | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Danny Sullivan

    No, I said that is is probably one of the best things you can do to attract Google traffic. I never said it’s a guarantee. There’s no guarantees when it comes to SEO.

    What is the site?

  • Danny Sullivan

    I don’t need Matt or Google to like me. That’s not my job. Nor does our site here depend on somehow getting answers out of Google.

    Feel free to look through the content on this site and calculate the percentage that you think is from getting direct answers from Google or Matt Cutts. It’s tiny.

    Search marketing is more than Google, and it sure as heck is more than whatever the official answers are from Google.

    It’s good for readers when we can get answers from Google, because I think they’d like to know the Google thinking. But my assumption long, long ago has always been that you expect that you’re not going to get answer at all, and you sure as heck don’t build your reporting around an expectation of that.

    When we get answers, it’s because we have a large audience as well as a dedicated staff of several full-time reporters along with contributing editors. We’re putting in the time to cover search. We’re a leading resource for search news, in the same way the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal are leading sources of news in general. Google (Bing, others) with search news want to share information because there’s an audience here they hope to reach.

    And if you’ve read everything I’ve written over the past few years, I simply don’t see how you think I’m not asking tough questions because you think I’m somehow afraid Google would get upset. I’ve questioned their figures on Google+. I’ve questioned whether they were favoring themselves pushing Google+ into Google’s results over others. I’ve questioned several times the push into paid inclusion. In my last article on the endless Google Dance, I questioned why they don’t just explain more.

    Why don’t you head over here:

    And see if you think from me talking to him at SMX Advanced if you didn’t think that was challenging enough?

    I’ve asked plenty of tough questions, and by no means am I afraid at all that I’m somehow going to anger Google. My job isn’t to make Google happy. My job is to report and comment on search marketing issues here, as I think best.

  • Danny Sullivan

    I took a quick look at your site. The first thing that struck me was you’ve got three different ad units at the top of the page, typically one above and two to the side. While you were hit by by Panda, clearly, Google earlier this year went after sites it considered to be “top heavy” with ads. Your site really doesn’t feel that way to me, but you might try experimenting.

    Given that you’ve removed what you think is the cause and still haven’t seen a change, I’d try putting in a request to Google for reconsideration. Technically, this doesn’t help you. Panda isn’t deemed a penalty that can be lifted like other penalties. It’s part of the algorithm and just comes off if the algorithm thinks you’re fine. Clearly it doesn’t, so getting in touch might help them spot something wrong with the algorithm.

    Aside from that, I can’t tell if your other content is based on other sources or of what quality it is. From what I can tell, it seems pretty original, comprehensive and probably useful (I’m not an expert in the various financial matters you cover).

    But the site itself really lacks any brand element to it. I don’t know what it is supposed to be about when I go to the homepage (as opposed to a Bankrate, for example). Is it for consumers to give advice, or is it really about financial theories? Who is the audience?

    You’ve got social buttons to like the site, but they don’t seem linked to actual social profiles, which is another thing a strong brand would have. Get a page up for the site at Twitter, Facebook and especially Google plus.

    I think you could probably use a bit of a facelift, again something that when I hit the home page tells me what I can expect from the site, what I should be reading, why I should be following it socially and sharing the content.

    That’s not Panda-specific, but part of Panda was trying to filter out sites that were deemed really “so so” from the results. I think there are things you can do to better position this site with any visitor which, hopefully, will help reposition it with Google.

  • Bill

    Danny, thank you very much for looking at my site. I greatly
    appreciate it. The main purpose of the site is to convey fundamental
    information about how things work in the finance world; it is not a news site
    nor is it a site for advice. I do add news items within the article, when they
    provide updated information. However, I write all of the news items in my own
    words. Except for short excerpts, I have been very careful to make sure that I
    do not copy any content from anywhere, that everything is in my own words. I do
    use some excerpts to illustrate important points, but these are very short,
    such as excerpts of the wills of famous people to illustrate certain aspects about
    wills. I did not delete these because I
    believe that the Panda penalty probably has a minimum threshold of copied
    content before the penalty is invoked, and, also, because the sites that I used
    short excerpts from are not what I call Panda-trusted sources, as I explained
    in my article: I have also provided direct links to all of
    the source material, clearly illustrating that they are from those sources.

    Here is an example of trust creation, where I copied the
    excerpt illustrating how the Alfred Nobel trust was created: I have quoted the text and provided the link to the
    source, which is probably a Panda-trusted source. I did not remove it because I
    think it is a good illustration of how trusts can be created and it is a fair
    use of material. Which brings me to another point: did Google ever provide any
    information regarding as to how much fair use material is acceptable to the
    Panda algorithm?

    Another problem that I may have is that many people have
    copied my material, including college students and professors, who have put my
    material on their educational institutions’ website, which are Panda-trusted
    sources. Most of these excerpts are short; some provide links or attribution to
    my website and some don’t. It would be way too much work to try to remove
    everything or to change my own content so that it does not appear as a copy.
    Additionally, I don’t think I should have to do that. There is no question that
    the Panda algorithm is very imperfect, which is why it is hard to understand
    why the penalty is so heavy.

    Regarding the ads, I did, at one time, have 2 large
    rectangle ads at the top of the page and 1 ad links unit, but even then, I
    still had plenty of content above the fold. I have since changed this,
    replacing the 2 large rectangle ads with 2 medium rectangle ads on the right
    side, with an ad link unit at the top. Nonetheless, I do not believe that I was
    hit with the ad layout algorithm because: 1, I lost no traffic when they
    implemented that algorithm; 2, Matt Cutts explained in this video,,
    that it was the area of the ads averaged over the entire website, and not their
    number, that mattered, especially compared to the amount of content above the
    fold. I am sure you will agree that I have plenty of content above the fold,
    especially since one of the ad units is an ad links unit, which occupies a
    small area.

    As for social links, it is true that I do not have my
    website on any of the social platforms. The reason is because I feel that I
    would benefit more by writing articles. Since I do not have any employees, I
    really do not have time to put in a lot of effort on social platforms. I may
    work on this at a later time, when I have covered all of the topics that I want
    to cover. Nonetheless, I am sure that this is not the reason why my site has been
    penalized by the Panda algorithm.

    Danny, I thank you very much for your input. I will
    definitely provide more information about what the site is about on the home
    page. I did provide that information on my About page, but I think you are
    right that it would be better to put it also on the homepage. I want to ask 2
    last questions, which I have already asked, but if you do not know the answer,
    I would appreciate it if there is some way that you can get an answer from

    1, how much of fair use material would be deemed acceptable
    to the Panda algorithm?

    2, will my site be affected because others have copied some
    of my content and put them on Panda-trusted sources?

    These are questions that Google has not answered, as far as
    I know. But they should. I do not understand what the purpose of the punishment
    is, if Google is unwilling to say exactly what the punishment is for! I have
    always tried to abide by Google’s guidelines, and I would have gladly taken
    down the IRS articles if I would’ve known about this beforehand. In fact, I was
    going to take down the articles and replace them with my own before I was hit
    with the penalty, which is what I am doing now. If the penalty had been
    implemented 1 year later, I probably wouldn’t have been affected by it. I just
    don’t understand why they did not issue a policy in this regard before they
    implemented the penalty, as they did for paid links, and I provided numerous
    other examples in my article on the Google Panda penalty of other sites that
    were given a warning about willful violations. For instance, JCPenney committed
    a willful violation of Google’s guidelines, and yet, they only suffered for 3
    months. I did not willfully violate any guidelines, and yet I continue to
    suffer from this penalty for almost a year and a half. In fact, on October 11,
    it will be a year and a half! Now, maybe I am being affected by some of the
    things that I have referred to, but it still does not explain why my site has
    made no recovery whatsoever after deleting all of the IRS articles, which
    constituted about 20% of my site at that time. In fact, I was also saving
    archives of the articles, so that, at one point, they were probably more than
    50% of my site, but I deleted those articles before the algorithm was run.
    However, since it took some time to run the algorithm on all of the websites,
    especially in the beginning when they were testing it, the algorithm may have
    been run when I had the archives up also. And as I have said, I know I was
    being penalized for the IRS articles, because Matt Cutts even provided an
    example of IRS articles in this interview: I deleted
    all of the articles on April 13, 2011, 2 days after I was hit with the penalty.
    And yet, I have not seen any recovery whatsoever. Even if there was some other
    problem with my site, it would be a much smaller problem than the IRS articles –
    there is no question about that. So why didn’t I see at least some recovery?

    I would also like to point out the fact that I was not aware
    of anyone recovering before 5 months after the penalty was implemented. The 2
    earliest recoveries that I know of were and Their
    penalty was lifted almost exactly 5 months after they were hit. Furthermore, I
    have been looking at Google’s official thread about the Panda algorithm for the
    1 year that it was up, and I have only seen a few recoveries during that time.
    This is why I am certain that the Panda penalty is a timed penalty, just like
    their manual penalties. You say that Google said that you can recover if you
    fix the penalty. I have never seen that information anywhere except at this
    Hangout with Matt Cutts,,
    which was published about 4 months ago, but I still have not recovered since
    then. I do believe that new websites will recover quickly in the future because
    any new websites that go up will be immediately evaluated by the algorithm, so
    there will be no need for a lengthy punishment, since the length of the
    infraction will be short.

    I will also submit another reconsideration request. I have
    already submitted 3, but it can’t hurt to try again. I do thank you for your
    input, but remember my 2 questions. Please see if you can get an answer to those

  • Dean Paul

    The SERPs are a mess now. Don”t need a Harvard degree to figure out Big G is wanting to get even bigger profits with adwords. Serve up garbage so searchers click on paid ads. Screw Cutts the “yes man” for Google

  • Codex Meridian

    Thanks for the reply Danny and would it be possible to send it to you the site in private. I can’t post the site in this thread for privacy reasons.

  • donthe

    @danny Sullivan thanks for taking the time to answer my question. I personally have been effected by the Google updates and I am very bitter about the experience. I do generally appreciate your in-depth and in many cases hard hitting reporting.

    I still would love to know if you ever asked Matt Cutts why Google is treating Web Publishers with such disdain? Is he aware that the blatant disregard for basic communication between Google and Web Publishers makes it so difficult for us to make our sites better? There is no way to tell if changes made are effective. As an example some are reporting recovering from the Top Heavy algorithm change of January only now in October. I have tried to help Web Pubs possibly hit by the Top Heavy algorithm and I’m shocked that google would hand out 10 month penalties for this.

    Perhaps in a future article you can share some more information about your process for extracting info from the talking heads at Google and what is there motive when they do or don’t reply?

  • Robin Majumdar

    Kudos to you, Danny, for keeping those highly critical comments alive (and not deleted) and furthermore to respond to them. That, in itself, adds a load of credibility to your site & community.

  • Bill Margita

    3 members on Board at Google are former Amazon
    thats why every thing from books to yes – sex toys
    goes to Amazon

    xxx – to also owned by Amazon

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