Following Google’s exact match domain update on the 28th of September 2012, there’s been some confusion over its impact, its intent and how it was implemented. But most importantly what it means for your website.
There was talk about EMDs (exact match domains) and PMDs (partial match domains) a few weeks earlier, but no one really paid it any mind until Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Webspam team tweeted about a “small upcoming google algo change” that was intended to “reduce low-quality exact-match domains in the search results”.
So what would we class as a low-quality exact-match domain?
Affiliate sites spring to mind. You know, the ones set up on a really basic blog template with very little content. However, they always rank well with a few dodgy back links because they’re domain name is an exact match or a very close partial match for a popular search term.
They’re a nightmare for retail sites to outrank because of their exact match domains, so by this intent, they should have been first on Google’s chopping block.
What Actually Happened
Unfortunately an automated algorithm cannot understand human intent. So while you’d expect an affiliate site named www.walkingboots.org to be cast into fiery oblivion, a really helpful resource run by an outdoor enthusiast named www.walkingbootsreviews.net could also be sent down based on the exact same algorithm.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen many exact match and partial match keyword domains holding their positions perfectly well.
We believe that this is based on their back links, because this is the only way Google Bot can determine whether a website deserves to rank for a specific search term or not.
Brand Favouritism Reduced
Remember a few years back when many brands didn’t rank #1 in Google for their own names?
Well, Google decided that brands deserved to rank #1 for a better user experience. But because Google Bot cannot understand human intent, in order to make that happen, the Google algorithm had to be weighted in favour of exact match and partial match domains.
Suddenly exact and partial match domains were ranking everywhere – Brands, affiliates and web savvy retailers in particular.
So in order to reduce low quality exact match domains in the search results without hurting brands in the EMD Update, Google had to come up with a way of keeping the brand domains ranking.
Bear in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of brands out there. Many of which most of us have probably never heard of, so it’s not like Google could manually tag all of them. They have to rely on their algorithm instead.
So what do brands always have that other exact match domains don’t always have?
Links! Lots of links and some great quality links too. Because people love linking to brands.
Quantity of Links and Quality of Links
As we all know, if you want to rank a site successfully in Google, you need links.
Back in the day you could rank well from a few high quality links. Then over time, quantity of links became more important. Now you need a good mixture of quality and quantity from a wide range of resources in order to meet Google’s “quality score” in order to rank well in the search engine results.
And this is how Google’s algorithm can tell the difference between a brand domain and an exact match domain. Because a brand should always have a good back link profile. Emphasis on the word ‘should’.
This helps to explain why there are now far less low quality exact match domains in the search results. And by ‘low quality’ Matt Cutts and Google actually means ‘low quality back link profile’ exact match domains. It has nothing to do with the quality of the user experience, which is why many sites which really deserve to rank are no longer ranking.
So if your site has been hit by the latest update, it’s worth thinking about getting some quality links as well as quantity of links while diversifying the different types of links that point to your website. Because the exact match domains which act like a brand, and receive links like a brand as a result, are still doing perfectly well.
Why Keyword Domains are Still the Best Domains
In a Q&A video a few months back, Matt Cutts answered a question asking whether someone should set up an online store with an exact match keyword domain or with a brand name.
Perhaps this was an early sign of what was to come? But while Matt agreed that there was value in an exact match domain, he emphasised that there was greater value to be had in establishing a brand.
But why not do both?
Simply choose a popular search term and make it your brand name.
Sport Shoes, Decathlon and Evans Cycles are just a few examples that spring to mind.
This way you can create a website that will rank quickly for a popular search term and then totally dominate it when you promote yourself as a proper brand and build all the good quality links and high quality of links that go with being a brand.
At the end of the day, you’ll never have anything to fear from a Google algorithm update so long as you keep building good links and lots of them, while diversifying the types of links you get and their sources.
If you’re running SeNukeX or similar popular black hat tools for months on end, or buying loads of cheap blog links without doing any real quality link building, then sooner or later you’re going to have a bad time.
Future proof your website by building the links that Google likes.