Google Exact Match Domain (EMD) Penalty or Update – First Look

I guess the latest Google update penalty shouldn’t have been a surprise for many of us, we’ve all known that exact match domains have had extra punching weight when it comes to rankings in Google for some time now. For those that were not aware, on Friday 28th September Matt Cutt’s announced the following algorithm update:

Like many other SEO’s I run a number of affiliate or adsense site, these help pay for my server and for content development – so I checked out what impact this update has had. For the data below I have used 10 of my exact match domain websites as an example to see what aspects if any contribute to the algorithm change – out of the 10, 9 are .co.uk domains and 1 is a .org.

Change in Rankings since update

The graph above illustrates ranking changes over the weekend for the keyword that is targeted in the EMD – you can see that the results are quite dramatic, with only 2 of the 10 sites not dropping rankings. The largest drop in rankings came in at minus 191 positions but the overall average in ranking drop came in at  minus 81.

Ranking Change Versus Age of EMD

What’s interesting in this graph is that certainly looks like there is a correlation of the EMD site age and what effect this latest has update has had on them. The 3 youngest EMD sites in Medical, Insurance and Beauty  are all over 1 year old but have sustained the most drops and the 4 eldest sites have had the least amount of drops in rankings.

Ranking Change Versus Number of Links

Now I realise that number of links is not really a very useful metric as it’s always quality over quantity and unsurprisingly there is no correlation against the ranking drops.

Ranking Change Versus EMD Search Volume

So search volume is one metric I guessed would play some part in the update and this really does play a big part in the EMD strategy – it’s historically been the higher the search volume the more expensive the EMD is worth. Although you can see that the domains with the least amount of search volume are generally the least effected it’s not clear cut – there are some sites with low EMD search volume that have had big drops in rankings (beauty niche) and other sites with a low number of drops with higher search volume (film niche 1) – so there must be other factors that are taken into consideration.

Ranking Change Versus Content Quality

Ok, so this is probably the least scientific metric as I’ve personally graded my own website content quality. I like to think that none of the sites in this study would be considered spammy, I’ve either written the content myself or paid someone a decent wage to write content for me. What I’ll also admit is that within these 10 websites there are some which I believe have very good content and some that are probably now out of date or towards the lower end of the quality scale. What I find interesting is that 2 of the top 3 sites (in order of website content quality) have had the least impact – but what I find more frustrating is that the site I work on the most/consider the most valuable is one of the EMDs that has suffered the biggest drop (Medical Niche). As well as that Insurance Niche 1 site has low and certainly out of date content but has not really been impacted at all (but this is one of the sites with the lowest EMD search volume).

Ranking Change Versus MozRank and MozTrust

Now this graph above surprised me the most – you can see that there very clearly seems to be some correlation between Moz Trust and drops in the rankings (besides Film Niche 1) but it doesn’t make any sense – surely websites with good MR and MT would have good links and therefore be treated well by Google, but for EMD this really doesn’t seem to be the case.

Takeaways from this study

  • The age of your exact match domain does seem to play a part and anything under 1 years old will most likely have received a drop during this recent update
  • If your EMD is targeting keywords with fairly low search volume you may be ok, those with higher search volume appear to be further impacted (although at a very high 50k+ searches a month I am not sure)
  • Google seems to be counteracting the negative value of EMD’s with the sites true content value. My Medical Niche website has the best content (text, video and images), the most valuable links and the highest MR and MT but has dropped 143 positions

This update from Google has certainly reduced the value of EMD which was needed in many areas of the web, that being said not all EMD’s are spammy and some are certainly more valuable than a user generated Wikipedia page (which seem to have prospered from this update). Will Google release a second update? Maybe – for the sake of some of my websites I certainly hope so.

Google Authorship Disappeared?

There has been an increase in discussion regarding the Google authorship markup as of late, partly due to a belated welcome email  by Google to the authorship program but also because of some of the extra benefits they are starting to bring to authors. There’s no denying that authorship and author rank are going to be the next big thing in SEO.

A few days ago, having returned from a very nice holiday in Greece I noticed that all my authorship thumbnails had been removed from Google – not exactly the welcome home I had anticipated, so I checked Google Webmaster Tools and could clearly see that my impression count and clicks had dropped off the face of the earth:

I thought it strange so I checked the rich snippets testing tool on all my blogs just in case Google was either testing something, all worked fine:

Worth noting here is that all my blogs, not just one or two, that previously had authorship tags triggering the thumbnails suddenly stopped:

I looked online to see if anyone else had experienced anything like this but couldn’t find any information – but what I found interesting after a day or two was that I could see that for most of my blogs the impression count and number of clicks had actually peaked at the highest number in many months – without authorship thumbnails.

Also in Google Webmaster Tools the impressions and clicks of the site increased to the highest point in 2 months

Another strange point to mention is that for all my blogs the “about us” pages still did trigger the image so this is again evidence that technically everything is working correctly.

So 4 days later, the authorship images have begun to return to my blogs but rather oddly one by one and not for all blog posts. It’s almost like the tags are being reviewed section by section and then set live – very odd, will give everyone an update when I learn more.

 

 

 

How People are Using Paid Links Safely

Ok, I just want to start by saying I do not promote the use of paid links at all but there’s a technique which I’m seeing being used more and more that does help increase rankings and has very little if not any risk from Google.

Right, so link building has been happening more a less since the day Meta data spamming optimisation died a gruesome death many years ago. For a long time paid links have worked well and as a result of that a lot of content has been muddying up the waters in Google’s search results and making it very difficult for genuine search marketers to follow their increasing guidelines.

There are methods out there, such as the one I’m going to talk about which do still work – yes it may be an old method but that’s irrelevant, I’ve seen exception results for a long time. It’s the process whereby you build links to an already existing or trustworthy link therefore indirectly passing page rank and link value to the page and those links on it. There are many names for this method, pyramid link building, link wheels, indirect link building but they all work on the same principle. This can be a genuine link building method for white hat if done correctly but paid links are creating a problem for Google and those websites who worry about negative SEO.

So below you can see how traditionally building links to a page works, a website passes a percentage of its value (or PR) to the destination link, as a result your website gets more link value.

So indirect link building (as I like to call it) looks quite different:

So when you build links to an existing link on say the BBC which will pass good value and trigger trust signals left, right and center – you are in a sense boosting whatever you already have. Now the value is going to be a lot less than if you build directly but integrated into a long term SEO strategy this can work wonders for keyword performance.

Although Google has talked about how bad paid links have been for a long time now it’s only really been in 2012 that I’ve seen any real progress from them, with updates such as Penguin and its slightly comical unnatural links warning in July – but results have been improving.

So Google’s got paid links cracked right?

Unfortunately not, as I’m seeing more and more paid links using this method – as you might expect they are not reinforcing already good links on places like the BBC but promoting content through places like PR web which are generally low quality to start with.

A very real problem with this is that people are starting to build paid links to websites that are using ethical means of link building putting them at risk. Some might call this negative SEO but in some cases they are in fact buying links indirectly without any Google risk and getting the SEO benefit.

What I believe Google might be doing about this is something mentioned in their update about the unnatural links warning:

We don’t want to put any trust in links that are artificial or unnatural. We recommend removing any unnatural links to your site. However, we do realize that some links are outside of your control. As a result, for this specific incident we are taking very targeted action on the unnatural links instead of your site as a whole. If you are able to remove any of the links, please submit a reconsideration request, including the actions that you took.

So the fact Google is taking action against the links themselves could mean that they may only penalise specific pages rather than whole websites – but still any way you look at it Google still has a problem here.

Search Engine Marketing