The Google “Exact Match Domain” Update

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Google’s just released their exact match domain update. The first release went live 9/28 or very close to around there.

Exact match domains (EMDs) are where you’d go and get a domain like and try to get that site ranking high when someone types in “best car insurance quotes”.

Here’s a screenshot of a similar example. This site came up when I typed in ‘auto insurance comparison’. It has the exact keyphrase in the domain name.

Exact match domains (EMDs)

An exact match domain is where a webmaster optimizes the entire site for that single keyphrase. They buy the exact domain name, optimize most all the pages on their site for that keyphrase and usually even build backlinks to it with that exact keyphrase as the anchor text.

I like to make my sites more broad then this because I like to get a lot of traffic, so this isn’t really a tactic I’ve used much.

The thing is, if you optimize your site for a single keyphrase then all your traffic is wrapped up in the rankings for that one keyphrase.  So if you lose those rankings you lose all your traffic.

There are a lot of people that have been earning money with EMD’s using this strategy exclusively. There are a ton of training products created around this as a ‘system’ for making money online.

And I just want to first find out how this update has impacted you if you’ve got them and offer some suggestions.

Before I get into some suggestions, how can Google figure this out?  How can they lower the rankings for exact match domains?

How Can They Figure Out You’ve Got an Exact Match Domain?

That’s the real question here.

And here’s one way.

Using our example above (sorry if this is a real site, I have no idea), but the strategy is to do this:

Use your domain:

Then write up a few pieces of content where you’re optimizing that content for Best Car Insurance Quotes. So how do you do that?

You’ve got that in the title, in the meta tags, in the headline (using the h1 tag), you may have that phrase sprinkled through the body copy in subheadings and throughout the copy. You’ll also link with that phrase in the navigation menus and throughout your site. So it’s all heavily optimized for that one single phrase.

And I see people who do also mix it up a little, but even then, it’s obvious what’s going on because it’s the phrase right in the domain name.

So that’s all the on-site stuff. Off-site, or link building makes it even more optimized for that one keyphrase because then you’d go and get links with the anchor text ‘best car insurance quotes’ from pretty much every source you can.

So article directories, press releases, web directories, and a million much more spammy ways which I’m not going to get into here.

The thing is the site is highly over-optimized for one keyphrase.

That keyphrase is in the domain name.

And most of the anchor text leading back to the site is also optimized for that keyphrase.

Really, your site may not even need to be highly over-optimized for the keyphrase, but an algorithm could be created where all this stuff reaches a tipping point and if so, then it’s considered an EMD or domain spam (whatever you want to call it) and then instead of helping you out, it starts to hurt you in the rankings.

One good thing is if you’ve been impacted by this it’s just an algorithmic change. And that means you can adjust things and then come back.

You don’t need to send in a reconsideration request. Your site hasn’t been manually reviewed or anything like that. You can read more about Google Manual Penalties in the article I wrote on those to make sure you don’t have that problem (which is far worse).

An algorithmic change just means you’re getting caught by the algorithm or an update and again, and if you change things you may come back.

This update is brand new and I don’t have any EMD’s to test things out on, but I thought I’d put together what you can do to try to get your site ranking and bringing in some traffic again.

The Problem is Likely That You’ve Got Too Much Optimization for the Keyphrase in Your Domain Name

You’ve got next to know variety in the keyphrases on your site. It’s all geared toward one or a handful of keyphrases.

As an example of a more natural site, a site like is going to have a lot for the name CNN, because that’s it’s brand. So a lot of people are going to link back to it with that as the anchor text.

However, it’s going to also have a lot of other things going on.

It’s going to have pages optimized for pages that aren’t CNN.

So the word ‘CNN’ is not going to be in the title, meta tags, h1 tags, and throughout every piece of content.

It’s going to have a lot of links back to it for the word ‘CNN’, but it will also have a lot of links back for the various titles of articles on its site, like ‘Dog saves man from avalanche’ or whatever the news of the day is (hopefully it’s something good like that).

So in order to get rid of EMD’s and domain spam, then the Google engineers would look at sites like CNN and see the patterns and then look at the traditional EMD and figure out what the differences are in the patterns. How much optimization for the keyphrase in the domain name is too much?

And then they work that into their algorithm.

So provided they’ve done a good job with this (which I’m not saying they have), but anyway supposedly if you’ve seen a negative impact from this update you’ve got an over-optimization problem with the keyphrase in your anchor text.

And to solve it, you need to start branching out and getting more broad with your site. So that it’s not just all centered around one keyphrase.

Right now you likely have these elements over-optimized:

  • domain name
  • titles
  • h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6 tags and headlines and subheadings
  • too much keyword density throughout your body copy
  • alt tags may include keyphrase
  • internal links
  • external links and anchor text

The Easiest Thing to Deal With Are Your On-Page or On-Site Factors

So I would work with those first.

Your domain name cannot be changed and the links coming back to your site are harder to deal with.

So work with your on-site factors.

Go to a keyword tool, Google Keyword Tool, and type in the phrase you’ve got the EMD for and collect other related phrases.

Now you need to start diluting out what you previously did. You may not need to re-write all your content, but start to include those other phrases within it. So where you have “best car insurance quotes” all throughout your content start taking that out and put in other related phrases.

  • Take out almost every instance of car insurance quotes on your site and substitute it not for ONE other phrase, but lots of different phrases.
  • Take it out of your body copy and use something else.
  • Take it out of your internal links too.
  • Check your title element, meta tags, headlines and subheadings and just start taking it out and replacing it with related keyphrases.

If you do this are you going to come back for your original keyphrase?

You may not, but you might start ranking for other phrases and from what I’ve seen people who are getting caught by this EMD penalty (or update which is what it really is), are getting completely tanked (like gone to the point that no one is going to find them).

So some upward movement is a good thing.

So I would suggest doing this on one of your sites and seeing how it impacts it.

As far as link building, the thing is, Google’s algorithms are getting smarter about whether a link is given by editorial discretion and one that a webmaster just gave to themselves.

They don’t have it completely figured out, but their algorithm is improving by leaps and bounds. So ideally, you would be able to get real links or natural links back to your site and not just links you gave yourself from forum profiles, blog comments, blog networks, etc ….

So I wouldn’t really suggest going and getting more of these types of links at this point. The Penguin update earlier this year (and another Penguin update is around the corner from the sounds of it) are making it so that these types of links (that they say are unnatural) can be hurting you.

So Google is Really Boxing Everyone In.

But if you think about why they’re doing this it just might help you change your strategy.

They want the best pages to come up at the top of the search engines.

And I know there’s still a lot of crap ranking, but the point is, if you’re putting out low quality sites and pages then just know that they are going to keep coming out with algorithms designed to try to filter you out.

They may not be successful at it, but they’re going to keep trying.

  • They are working on filtering out low quality content (the Panda update that they are going to keep refreshing).
  • They are working on filtering out low quality/unnatural links that were given without editorial review (the Penguin update, again, they are going to keep refreshing).
  • They are working on getting rid of EMD’s (this EMD penalty or update).

So they are really boxing you in if you’re doing stuff like mass producing low quality content, article spinning, article blasting, spamming for backlinks, and basically writing content and building sites that aren’t all that helpful for visitors.

There are so many crazy products and systems (and even worse are the forums) out there that people snatch up like hotcakes that are telling people to do all this low-level stuff. And it really sucks when then people do it and see success and then have it all taken from them because it wasn’t a good business model (or really even a business model) to follow from the start.

Different Strategy

Anyway, things to try. Basically you’re going to need to branch out with your site and not have the entire site centered around one keyphrase.  I would not try any 301 redirects, I would just focus on your site and try to remove some of the over-optimization for the keyphrase in your domain name.

And definitely change your strategy for any new sites you build in the future.  The best thing is to use SEO as one traffic pillar (not where all your traffic is coming from) and build the type of site that can attract traffic from sources outside of search engines.

Just with good quality content and a good plan you can get traffic from these sources in addition to Google:

  • Traffic from links you get from other sites that actually have traffic coming to them.
  • Visitor referrals (where your stuff is so good people actually pass it around).
  • Your newsletter (often EMD’s are too narrow to ever have a newsletter on them).

And there are more, but again, this is just traffic that you can get by publishing content (which is what you’re doing anyway). And if you’ve got good stuff on your site you’re going to get traffic from these sources, not just Google.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing and telling people to do. And it’s been working out.

Please let me know your strategies and how the EMD update has impacted you (whether your own sites or just from the viewpoint of a surfer looking through the results).

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