What was the EMD Update?
The EMD Update stands for Exact Match Domain Update and was unveiled in September 2012 to tackle the issue of spammy exact match domains and their ability to rank well for their specific search terms. An exact match domain is a domain name that contains what would be considered to be money keywords for the website. For example, if you were looking to target the search term ‘cheap marquee hire’ you may well buy the domain www.cheapmarqueehire.co.uk. Historically this has been a common practice for those looking to boost their rankings for specific search terms and has led to a multitude of low quality websites springing up on the first page either as main websites for businesses or acting as doorway pages. Either way, it meant that Google was suffering a spam issue. Admittedly, the figures show that the update only affected 0.6% of US queries, but it was a noticeable affliction on search results in many industries. In fact the trades were possibly the worst offenders! They produced numerous EMD websites with very poor quality content that would then rank for their search terms.
The EMD update was designed to withdraw the power that exact match domains had in the SERPs so that Google could continue to return the most relevant and valuable result to the searcher, rather than the one with the most keyword matches in their domain name!
Did the EMD Update work?
The initial analysis showed that the update certainly had an effect on some notable websites. It appeared that the update would have borrowed aspects from both Panda and Penguin. Panda in that if the business had used the search term as their brand then they were likely to fall into a keyword stuffing scenario by using their brand name and the keyword. Penguin because branded external anchor text would create a very unnatural looking backlink profile.
However, it does appear to have been a little more complicated than originally anticipated. Many in the SEO industry (including ourselves) were jumping for joy when the update was announced. We had been plagued by websites outranking our own with less valuable content and a less powerful and relevant backlink profile. Whilst many websites did suffer and certainly new EMDs will find it very hard to gain any traction, there are still a number of websites that have retained rankings when they appear not to have the merit to back it up (in an SEO sense). Whether Google is looking to refresh the update is unclear, but the initial udpate appears to have focussed on the websites that not only have EMDs but also very low quality content and/or backlinks. As a result, EMDs that have some good content and maybe a handful of decent backlinks can still gain an advantage over others.
That being said, we would definitely not recommend purchasing an EMD. As already stated, new EMDs are likely to find it more difficult than those that were created prior to the EMD update. Furthermore, from a branding perspective they can cause significant issues. Either you settle for a brand name that contains keywords but is likely to be sub par, or you retain a brand name but have a different domain name. Either way, it doesn’t look great!
As per usual, the focus is on creating a website that provides real value to the user and has such unique and interesting content that it earns high quality, relevant backlinks. Exact match domains are a short cut to rankings, so there is no surprise that this issue was addressed. The vast majority of so called shortcuts in SEO are spam.