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Google’s EMD Update – What It Means & How To Adjust Your Strategy

November 23rd, 2012 No comments

Guest post by Nathalie Sanderson

For the past decade, SEOs and marketers have been using exact match domains (EMDs) to boost search engine rankings for specific keywords. Anyone who was fortunate enough to snag the domain name with the exact keywords they wanted to rank for enjoyed a significant advantage over other websites for that particular keyword.

From the point of view of Google’s algorithm, it’s obvious why this “EMD boost” initially made sense. If your website is TravelToTimbuktu.com, it made sense that your website would be relevant if someone searched for “Travel to Timbuktu”. However, this phenomenon was quickly used by SEOs, web developers, and marketers to gain unnatural advantages in the search engine rankings. Webmasters and marketers would use the EMD boost in order to quickly rank small, low quality spam sites above more high quality, relevant content.

The EMD Update – Sept 28, 2012

On Sept 28, 2012, Google launched an algorithm change – known as the EMD update – which virtually eliminated any rankings boost enjoyed by exact match domains. According to data released by Matt Cutts – the head of Google’s webspam team – the EMD update affected up to 0.6% of English U.S. searches.

While this may not seem like much on a grand scale, 0.6% on a scale of hundreds of millions is significant – especially in the SEO community, where the impact was profound. Sites that had been ranking at the top of the SERPS (search engine result pages) for years dropped off the map. To add to the confusion amongst those trying to decipher the EMD update, Google also launched a significant Panda update – its algorithm filter designed to filter out spam – around the same time as the EMD update. This update affected 2.6% of all English U.S. search queries.

The combination of the EMD update and Panda update caused much confusion, leading many webmasters and SEOs to conflate the EMD update – designed to reduce the SEO benefits of exact match domains – with the new Panda release – designed to filter out low quality content.

What Does The EMD Update Mean To Your Business?

As with everything related to Google’s algorithm, the best we can do is informed speculation; the “black box” nature of Google’s search ranking methods makes it impossible to draw any conclusions with 100% certainty.

What we do know however, is that the EMD update doesn’t appear to penalize EMDs, but rather it appears to devalue them. Certainly, it wouldn’t make sense for Google to penalize anyone using an Exact match domain, as that would penalize millions of perfectly legitimate websites. Looking at the numerous “White-hat” EMDs that dropped slightly in the rankings, it’s clear that they didn’t suffer anything comparable to a penalty.

On the other hand, many lower quality EMDs suffered drastic rankings dropped consistent with a penalty. Many speculated that the EMD update may have included a filter that penalizes over-optimized EMDs, meaning that any exact match domain that also has the search phrase in the title, H1, H2, H3 tags, bolded, in image ALT tags etc., when combined with low trust and authority, likely triggers a penalty. For most webmasters, this isn’t anything to worry about. However, for those who built low quality EMD websites for the sole purpose of collecting Adsense or Affiliate revenue, this aspect of the update would have significantly affected their sites.

While many search engine experts agree that there is likely an over-optimization component in the EMD update, the other possibility is that some of the EMDs that suffered penalties around Sep 28, 2012 were not penalized by the EMD update at all, but rather were affected by the major Panda update that occurred around the same time. It’s certainly possible that the Panda filter was tweaked to further crack down on over-optimized sites. This theory makes sense, since many of the EMDs that suffered penalties were also sites with low quality, spammy content. At the end of the day, with 2 major updates released at the same time, it may be awhile longer before we can accurately sort out the true ramifications of the EMD update.

How To Adjust Your SEO Strategy Going Forward

Although the waters are always a bit murky when it comes to SEO, there are a few lessons we can take going forward. The primary lesson is that having a search phrase in your domain no longer seems to offer a significant rankings boost. That certainly doesn’t mean that EMDs are useless – they still carry significant branding power. After all, if your site is an e-commerce store named bluewidgets.com, anyone searching for blue widgets will be able to easily return to your store.

The second key takeway is that – with all the heavily keyword optimized sites that were penalized (whether by the EMD update or Panda), it seems clear that Google is doing everything in their power to reward sites that gather natural links and authority over those whose rankings are engineered by SEOs. Between Panda, Penguin, and now the EMD update, Google is slowly taking away the SEO techniques that have worked for years. While search engine optimization will continue to exist as long as search engines are still around, any efforts to boost the ranking of your site going forward needs to focus on looking as natural as possible.

What does this mean? This means that whenever you make an effort to optimize your site for the search engines, ask yourself if a site would naturally look this way. Would a site naturally have a targeted search term in its title, url, header tags, image alt tags, in bold font, and appearing frequently in the text? Would a site have 100 different links with a targeted search phrase as the anchor text? If the answer is no, then reconsider what you’re doing.

While you should avoid the more “artificial” SEO techniques, continue to put out quality content with the reader in mind. If you build links, search for links from quality sources that are selective in their linking, and opt for natural looking anchor text. Avoid links from poor quality sources that could get you flagged by Penguin – this means spam links, as well as links from sites that tend to link out to other low quality sites. As long as your link profile and on-site SEO look natural, Google will continue to reward your site.

Nathalie Sanderson is an SEO and blogger. Nat is passionate about search engine marketing and entrepreneurship.

More Fun With Google Suggest

January 8th, 2010 No comments

We’ve seen other posts about Google suggest before, of course. And last night Michael Gray (@graywolf) tweeted, making fun of the fact that Google suggests that “google is skynet,” among other things (image below). I thought this was a good enough idea for my first blog post in a while.

I was going to blog “a look back at 2009″ or ” a look ahead at 2010″ but there have been way too many of those and at this point, another one would be just sad. And no one knows where search will be by the end of 2010, I guarantee you that. Of all the posts I saw, I do like Rand Fishkin’s that criticized (rightly) Google’s real time search window (among other things).

So I won’t do that.

Instead, let’s have fun with some screen caps from Google suggest.

Starting with… what does Google suggest that Google is?

google-1
How about Twitter?

google-twitter

Go broader.

google-soc-med

All of us in Web publishing are wondering what Google will do in the future. If you really want to know what Google will do in 2010, maybe Google can tell us!

google-will

Wait a minute, is that true, that Google will not search for Chuck Norris?

No, but it does have some interesting things to say about Chuck Norris. (Has Chuck Norris heard this?!)

google-chuck-norrisBeyond fun, there is more to be learned from Google’s tool:

You can get existentialist (or, if Chuck Norris is a fag, what am I?):
google-i-am

Find some scary suggestions about the current President of the United States:

goolge-obama

You can check out the latest in the zeitgeist perhaps… say, about the biggest movie right now.

google-avatar

You could probably have hours of fun with Google suggest. But then you wouldn’t be working.

Hey, kinda like Google suggest, apparently…..

google-suggest-isAnd as that shows… Google suggest is not all that helpful. Come to think of it, I don’t think there are very many times I’ve actually used it practically.

Although it can be fun.

Belated Happy New Year!

“Best meta search engine in the net” for sale

December 4th, 2009 1 comment

I remember the days when metasearch sounded good.

Today on flippa.com, searchall.com is up for sale. For a mere six figures!

Bid on it now!

Categories: Search engines Tags:

Google Caffeine: A Look Ahead

November 16th, 2009 2 comments

Google Caffeine was first previewed in August 2009 and will go live soon.

Any change to Google’s algorithm is of course big news, spawning reams of Internet chatter, a whole lot of speculation and probably some fear-mongering, along with some brand new websites (e.g. Compare Caffeine!)

What exactly Google Caffeine will do, though, is largely unknown even though some have reported that it will be a change to Google’s indexing methods and Matt Cutts (and webmasters who tried the beta version) note that there will be changes to rankings. One thing that will not change will be the look and feel of Google.

A big change noted by many (of us) who previewed Google Caffeine was the speed of results – it’s about twice as fast, if you can believe that.

Matt Cutts summarizes on his blog:

The Caffeine update isn’t about making some UI changes here or there. Currently, even power users won’t notice much of a difference at all. This update is primarily under the hood: we’re rewriting the foundation of some of our infrastructure. But some of the search results do change.

While Google has very kindly (mercifully, for those who will inevitably move down) held off until after the Christmas season, that is largely because of flack they have received in the past. It does not seem to be because Caffeine will have as profound an effect on search results as have major updates of the past.

Lilengine.com provides a good overview of changes it found in a comparison of Caffeine to “Old Google” (i.e. the one we’re using today). Some changes they identified are as follows:

* Google Sitelinks disappearing from some results.
* Rich Snippets disappearing from some results.
* Caffeine has difficulties handling 301’s. ( This is a bug )
* Page 1 results mostly contain the same sites, however positioning is quiet different
* Page 3 and onwards seem generate completely different results.
* The index page on root domain now has more weight.
* Pages with heavy keyword stuffing are been penalised.
* Pagerank Sculpting is no longer effective. ( further confirming the rel=nofollow topic )
* Brand name / Domain trust further effecting SERP. ( a step further in the Google Vince Update? )
* Number of inbound links from external domains
* External links using targeted keywords as anchors carry more weight.

The last four points are nothing new by the way. It seems to me, then, that Caffeine will simply entail that SEOs continue to explore the long tail of relevant content, staying away from suicidal blackhat practices like keyword stuffing and over optimization and continuing to acquire legitimate organic links. So once again, Caffeine seems like no big news for SEO, although it might be relatively big news in Search.

What Caffeine actually looks like and how it will actually affect all us webmasters will, of course, have to wait to be seen. I suspect it will affect legitimate sites very little and it will only give webmasters and SEOs more work to do. In any case, we will all find out for sure, come 2010.

To learn more, see:
http://www.readwriteweb.com
http://blog.360i.com/
http://www.computerweekly.com

New in Search… and SEO?

November 13th, 2009 No comments

The last few weeks have seen a small flurry of news in search.

Google Caffeine
The buzz is that this is the biggest change to Google’s algorithm since late 2003 (aka the Florida update/dance). It has been in beta for some time and is going live right now. I didn’t like the beta version (now retired) because it was only available for google.com.

Social Search

Google rolled out social search, which integrates your results with listings from friends in your various social networks. It’s been met with some criticism and it even gives some people the creeps. But expect Google to keep tweaking things. Maybe it’ll be a good Google product in the end; maybe it’ll be useless to most of us.

There is smaller news of course, such as the way Google’s local business results have really taken off in the past few months, squeezing publishers of directories and other local marketing and inciting SEOs to get pissed off about Google hogging search results. Twitter’s real time search was old news from late in 2008 but Twitter has continued to improve its search and overall functionality. Most importantly, Twitter is an undeniable Force-to-be-Reckoned-With when anyone discusses Internet marketing (if not SEO) today. Finally, also, Google dropped PageRank in Webmaster Tools, possibly in favor of Trustrank, one might wonder.

For all that, there is very little news in mainstream search engine optimization (SEO), as should perhaps be expected at this point in the game. A list of top 50 SEO tips from this week’s pubcon confirms it: not much new in the world of actual day-to-day SEO. That may bode poorly for professional SEOs, only because people may think that all they need to do is pick up an SEO starter guide from Google or an SEO primer from a third party SEM company or any of the other hundreds of sources of basic SEO information and think that that is all they need. I say ‘I don’t really think so’ because not one of these tools will match the value of having a professional SEO in charge. From Google’s to every other guide I’ve seen I see mainly dodgy tips, teasers only and flat-out red herrings (people who even mention ‘meta tag keywords,’ I’m looking at you.)

Search engine optimization may get rocked by Google Caffeine but SEOs will still be the best qualified to handle this and any other news in Search. Bits of news and occasional flurries of news are best understood in the context of the last five to ten years of changes at Google and other search engines.

Social search explained

October 27th, 2009 No comments

In a VERY CLEAR instructional video posted on Youtube, Matt Cutts explains the importance of letting Big Brother Google know all about your social circle so you can then participate in Google’s social search, which is all the rage this week.

A funny thing for me is I found this by searching for Matt Cutts on my newly purchased social search engine.

Google killing Pagerank? Finally?

October 17th, 2009 No comments

Is this newsworthy? overrated? overdetermined? Who’s Jim?

Categories: Search engines Tags: , ,

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Kitchener-Waterloo

September 29th, 2009 1 comment

There was a time, not very long ago, when there were few or no search engine optimization companies in Kitchener. Kitchener SEO is best handled by professionals. But as with the industry everywhere, companies seem to be coming out of the woodwork,  nomatter how spammy their backlinking strategy is.

If I google and look around at search engine optimization companies in Kitchener, I see a few names that I know among the results. I know Nardo Kuitert of fergus-ontario.com, (okay, so technically in Fergus), from a few years ago, back in the day when we were both freelancing for a company called Geosign. I barely know Ashish Kothari, only because he found me on linkedin.com.  I do not know who SEO Expertise is in Cambridge, nor do I know who runs Just Say On. (What is that supposed to mean, by the way?) There’s some company in Waterloo called Local Search Engine Marketing.  (Apparently their area of expertise is listing companies in Google’s Local Business Results?) Of course, just down the road from Kitchener-Waterloo (home of the Blackberry!) the inimitable Rae Hoffman makes her home in Guelph. (…At least the last I heard.) Other results include AroundKW, aka Kim Burnett, the extremely helpful web host for a number of sites I own…. and as well, some company with the interesting name of Lift Media.

I have little doubt that the area can sustain this number of search engine optimization companies. And I am still of the opinion that Kitchener Waterloo companies are by and large quite ignorant of the web (part of a national pattern, apparently). Also, the area still really lacks a strong web publishing presence, in spite of the area’s supposed designation as the Technology Triangle. (For my part, I am working on increasing web publishing in this area.) Most of the technology in this area is still software or software-based.

To further argue this, let me point out that there have been no great web successes in Kitchener-Waterloo; no Diggs, no Flickrs, not much at all…. just a RIM …. and a Geosign.

Anyway, search engine optimization (SEO) in Kitchener-Waterloo is – just as it is everywhere – still in its juvenile phase. (That sentence, with its silly link, and this post, with its silly subject and title both exemplify how juvenile SEO still is, currently). But anyway, to all my competition, I say, may the best SEO company in KW win the most business!

Ever notice Google’s own description in a Google SERP?

September 9th, 2009 No comments

I never have, either…. but I was looking for what Google must think is the ideal description tag. Mind you, this is a site that ranks #7 in its own results for its main search term, “search engine.” This begs the question, “Google, have you ever thought about hiring some SEO help?”

Google’s description reads as follows:

iGoogle | Search settings | Sign in. Google. Advanced Search · Language Tools. Search: the web pages from the UK 

In fact, the web page does not have a description tag.  Just terrible.



Bing more likely to bomb than get big

June 6th, 2009 No comments

I looked at Bing for about ten minutes when the hype came out about it last weekend. Then I went back to the old familiar when I wanted to really google some information.

Don’t get me wrong – Bing looked really interesting and it had a bunch of features that were new and seemed potentially more useful than the big G. But it also looked a whole lot like Google. And I’m sure Google is simply watching to see what people like about Bing before they swoop in and scoop those same features to add them as an option.

But the thing for me, really, is, I trust Google. And I trust Microsoft not so much. This goes well beyond search and operating systems. To my mind, Microsoft owns the dominant OS, in spite of the fact that is not very good (and is sometimes terrible).  In fact, if Microsoft debuts new products in other spheres I almost always hate them. Google is not only the best search engine, but I often like a lot of Google’s products, notably Google Earth, Google Analytics and – well, to a degree – Adsense.

Okay, I like most MS Office products better than others’ offerings but that is the exception, and the only excellent product is Excel.

I like gmail better than hotmail, although neither is awesome. And I like Chrome better than IE, although, again, neither is awesome.

So why would I trust Bing better than the Google product that started it all, The Search Engine?

<Post script: Bing was the number two search engine for exactly one day. It’s pretty much bye-bye Bing unless all that advertising for this “decision engine” actually works.>

<Post post script: Thanks to advertising, in part, and probably perception of value, too, let’s admit, Bing is growing, at least for now. >

Categories: Search engines Tags: