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Google’s EMD Update: What Really Happened?

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As with most things in life, the only thing certain about Google and SEO is that there will always be changes. If you’re going to try to keep your site optimized for good rankings, you either have to learn to go with the flow and adjust, or bring someone in to do it for you.

What’s so frustrating for many people though, is that no matter how good your intentions and no matter how much you strive to play by the rules, you still end up getting penalized. Your site drops or disappears from the search results, leading to a loss of income.

The EMD Update

One of the newest changes that Google has implemented is the EMD algorithm update. Originally rolled out towards the end of September, Google continues to reevaluate sites for it in what they call a data refresh.

EMD stands for “exact match domain” and this update was supposedly going to target only EMD sites.

What exactly is an EMD? An EMD has the keyword or keyword phrase you’re targeting in the domain name itself. For example, if your company sells laptop cases then an EMD might be something like

Why Target EMD Sites?

Many niche site builders and marketers have been using EMD sites for years. This single element, having their main keyword in the domain, provided a huge ranking boost, often enough to help them easily rank their sites.

What’s wrong with that?

Many of these sites have very thin content, built solely for the purpose of promoting affiliate advertisements, Adsense ads, or other methods of making money. Google had been hinting about this change for quite a while, but it mostly fell on deaf ears. Nonetheless, the majority of these online marketers continued to pump out thousands of these low quality sites and take their chances.

Sure, most websites are built for the purpose of making money, including legit company websites. However, the EMD sites we’re talking about here rarely have any helpful content and provide no value for the user. That is why Google finally did this, but the problem is it just isn’t that easy.

The Problems with the EMD Update

There are probably hundreds of thousands of sites that would technically fall under the EMD category that are amazing sites with incredible value. These websites are often authority sites that specialize in a particular micro-niche. So do they really deserve to be punished? No.

Some of them haven’t been. For example, consider; It doesn’t seem to have been affected.

Google says that supposedly sites will be evaluated by the Panda and Penguin guidelines, as well as the EMD update. This basically means that if your site has low-quality content or not much content at all, is hammered to death with advertisements and other no-no’s AND you have a domain name that could be considered an EMD, then you better watch out. You’ve probably already lost rankings or likely soon will.

Sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, things don’t always work out quite so easily. Let’s take a look here at something I just found literally a few minutes ago. If all the things above were true and carried out to perfection, then someone please tell me how this site is holding on to amazing search engine rankings?

*Note: I have no idea who owns the following site and am no way affiliated with it. It’s just a random search term I plugged into Google to see what I found and right before me appeared a perfect example of what’s not so perfect about these updates…

I decided to search for green tea reviews. I don’t even drink green tea, but it’s a hot topic in the health niche. Why reviews? Many affiliate marketers and online marketers target keyword phrases like this – with reviews or something in the term. Here’s a screenshot of the search results…

 EMD search results

 Do you see what I see? This EMD site, so obviously an EMD that Google was supposed to be targeting, ranks #3. Not only that, but it ranks higher than the official government website sitting at #5. Just to be sure (though I pretty much already knew), I clicked through to see if it was really a site that deserved to outrank the .gov official site…

EMD update


Bam. Right smack at the top. It’s a site built to promote products from Amazon. This is strictly an affiliate site with very little content. You can tell this is not a go-to source, an authority site or anything even close. So how is it sitting at #3?

On the flip side, I was reading a forum where the owner of a furniture store is baffled (and should be). His site, which did contain the words ‘his area’ and ‘furniture’ in the domain, was hit hard. It’s gone from the search results. This was actually his company’s site, a real site made for customers who couldn’t make it to the store or wanted to browse before walking into the store.

So tell me, how does this make the Google search experience better for the user? Of course, many of the thin EMD sites that should have been hit were hit. Of course, many of the real sites providing value have sustained their rankings. I’m just saying that no update is going to be perfect and you have to be prepared to fight for your position if it comes down to it.

If your domain could be considered an EMD, then make sure that:

  • You are not going crazy with the keyword. That means putting the exact main keyword in every single image tag, the title, the keyword tag, the site description, every single header tag, etc… Don’t over use that term within the content of your site either.
  • Link to authority sites (For example, if you have a health site, link to WebMD here and there).
  • Have plenty of pages and helpful content (hopefully more than 10 pages).
  • Use well-planned internal linking
  • Don’t go over 2% keyword density
  • Make it easy for people to share your content socially
  • Set up Facebook or Youtube channels and use them… interact and link to your site.
  • Any backlinks you build use a wide variety of anchor text, even ones not including your keywords. Build ones that use your plain URL as the link, use ones that say “click here”
  • Get active with social media so your site gets lots of mentions, likes and links from social sites (social signals), but don’t “buy” them. They should happen naturally.


Clearly, Google’s EMD update has affected many, but not all. I expect there’ll be more iterations of the algorithm before they get it completely right, as can be expected for all algorithm updates. If you’ve been hit by the EMD update, we can help you recover! Contact us for more information.

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Veronica has been writing online since 2007. She enjoys helping clients with copywriting and content needs, as well helping with SEO campaigns. Her experience ranges from helping small websites succeed with SEO and internet marketing campaigns to writing for Planet Green (Discovery Channel).

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