Why Google’s EMD Update Affects Websites Globally and has more in Common with the Sandbox than a Penalty

December 1, 2012 - by admin · Filed Under SEO Leave a Comment 
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    Since Google launched an EMD update lowering the ranking for “low quality sites on exact-match-domains” (as quoted by Matt Cutts) in October 2012, it’s left the majority of agencies and webmasters in a state confusion.

    Indeed, even the so-called “link audit experts” are still not certain why sites were hit by the EMD update or how quickly they can recover.

    Understanding Why The EMD Update Penalizes Sites Globally

    One of the questions I’ve been pining to ask Matt Cutts is – if the EMD update is meant to reduce rankings for low-quality EMD sites, why doesn’t it just reduce rankings for the EMD keyword query as opposed to all inner pages too?

    If you think logically however, Google algorithm is still very weighted towards keywords in the domain.  That means that even long-tail, inner pages would gain in rankings from the keywords in your domain, which Google had to prevent.

    For example, imagine I own the website BettingSites.org.uk.  Even if Google lowered my position on the homepage for “betting sites” query, an inner page such as BettingSites.org.uk/uk would still probably rank highly for UK betting sites (we’ve already seen how many websites have three or more inner pages cluttering the SERPS, more commonly known as domain crowding).  Google can’t really re-structure it’s algorithm to fix this, so instead they just decided to block lower quality sites from the main search engine ranking algorithm completely.

    How Does Google Pinpoint so-called “Low Quality EMDS”?

    There’s been a lot of poorly worded conjecture and arguments about what is a quality site or how you measure it.  Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand.com for example would say that if your site has high quality content and focuses on users than it won’t be hit by the EMD update.  This is wrong however.  So very wrong.

    Google’s algorithmic abilities to evaluate low quality sites are completely different to a manual human review.  You could have the greatest content in the world for example, but it’s unlikely this alone would save you from an EMD update.

    In order to understand how the EMD update works, you first need to understand two things.  First of all, the original search algorithm was flawed in that it can be easily manipulated by EMDs.  Secondly, Google’s Webspam team and the Search Quality (now rebranded to the Knowledge team) are completely different entities in Google.

    It is not really the Search Quality team’s prerogative to reduce rankings for spammy EMD sites, hence why the core algorithm hasn’t been changed.  Instead, it’s the Webspam team that has to deal with it, which is why they created a separate update to lower rankings for low-quality EMD sites.

    …So How Does the Webspam team Target Low Quality EMDS?

    Very simply, Google looks at three things: authority, age and trust factors.

    The fact is, you can launch a high quality site with 30 pages of good content on an EMD. However, if everyone did this then EMDs would still be an issue in the search engine rankings.  Remember that the main algorithm is far too weighted towards keywords in the domain, navigational queries and the anchors of links.  Further more, it’s almost impossible for Google to judge the quality of a small, young site.  They simply don’t have the tools to do this.

    Therefore Google needs to ensure that only the very high quality, authority sites will rank for an EMD query.  In other words, this update doesn’t target low-quality EMDs, instead it blocks all sites that aren’t high quality, authoritative, aged sites.

    A good quality site can still be hit by the EMD update purely because it hasn’t built up enough age, trust and authority signals.

    Logically, this means that the EMD update is not a penalty.  Instead it’s just a filter against newer, smaller sites, which haven’t built enough trust.  In many ways you can think of the EMD update as a prolonged sandbox for EMD sites. 

    My own Analysis after the EMD Update

    From early analysis of my own sites, I saw that quality was definitely not an accurate signal for which sites survived and which sites were affected by the EMD update.  The more relevant signals were my websites’ age and link authority.  In fact, from my own survey of seven sites, the five that survived were all 1+yr old, while the two newest sites (less than 6 months old) didn’t.  Bear in mind that the two newest sites had the highest quality content, were bigger, and had better UX.

    What’s the Answer to Beating this Update?

    The prognosis logically is to add trust, authority and allow your site to age.  Here some tips:

    • Build more high-quality links to increase your authority
    • Post frequently on your website to add trust
    • Make sure you interlink as well as link out to authoritative sites
    • Add G+ Authorship to your websites
    • Build up your site’s social signals
    • Avoid optimizing your site for your EMD keyword
    • Increase your Website Age before Starting an SEO Campaign

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