On Sept. 28th Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted to announce a “minor weather report” designed to reduce rank for low quality exact match domains (EMDs), later claiming it would only effect .6% of English US queries. As has been typical recently, there’s a lot more to this story.
In April of this year, Google launched a Panda update on the 19th, a Penguin update on the 24th, and another Panda update on the 27th (timeline here). In addition, other dials were turned during this period to increase rank for authority sites and tighten filters for anchor text over-optimization. Previously, Google had been updating Panda on a monthly basis. But more recently, updates and algorithm changes have been packed together, often with misleading announcements. This so-called EMD Update was no exception.
Update Codename: Misdirection
On most popular SEO blogs and forums, people tend to attach themselves to whatever Matt Cutts announces, making it easy for Google to point right, throw a cookie in that direction, but then run left…while everyone is still looking the wrong way and missing the real story. Look a bit deeper into the comments or follow up posts, and you’ll find a few people yelling…but that’s not what happened to my site. These comments are usually followed by others who have taken Google’s bait, continuing the misdirection.
While there may have been an update that targeted “low quality” EMDs, there definitely was a massive across-the-board penalty that hit non-EMDs. Here’s proof:
Both of the above sites were long time small businesses in an e-commerce niche I follow, neither with EMDs. (The screenshot is from Advanced Web Ranking. The numbers on the left side of the columns are current rank. The numbers on the right side are the positions lost or gained. The change shown is between Sept. 27 and Oct. 1.) Here’s another screenshot from an entirely different, non-commercial niche:
Again, neither of the above sites was an EMD and both have been around for nearly a decade. I could post screenshot after screenshot, but they’d all look the same.
This update, or something released around the same time, looks more like a Panda or Penguin style devaluation, and it clearly affected far more than .6% of queries. Every query I track, and I track a lot of them, had sites that range from slightly devalued to decimated across-the-board. It’s impossible to come to any definitive conclusions at this point in time, but to me this looks slightly more content related than link related.
Do you have a non-EMD site that was hit by the EMD update? If so, let me know in the comments, along with any thoughts on the cause of the hit. I’ll update this post or post again as soon as I have more information.