Only got 5 minutes? skip to the bottom for the TL;DR version.
Just over a week ago now (September 28 to be exact), Google released what is being called the “EMD Update“. You can follow that link for a bit more background, but in essence this update was the long-awaited solution to the apparent problem of low quality Exact Match Domains ranking in the SERPs. Shortly after the update, Mozcast showed a big dip in their chart for EMD Influence:
The EMD ‘problem’ has been around a long time. You’ve probably seen copious amounts of searches over the years where keyword rich domains have ranked for fairly competitive search terms, and have probably wondered to yourself how that is so. It seems that for a long time Google has given artificial weight to keywords within domain names, and that this artificial boost has taken on extra ranking power when it’s an exact match of the search term (e.g., bluewidgets.com ranking for “blue widgets”).
I won’t get into my views on the EMD issue right now, but here’s a great post by Martin MacDonald that is close to my opinion: Why EMDs should stay.
From looking at the Mozcast EMD Influence chart above you would be forgiven for thinking that this had a massive impact on SERPs, but in truth most search terms witnessed very little overall movement, as can be seen on SERPmetrics Flux on the day:
The Real Impact of the EMD Update
Now – mozcast is awesome, but it only tracks 1000 keywords each day and so the EMD influence might not quite represent what we see in our daily SERPs. This is one of the reasons that we at HP track a *lot* of keywords ourselves (around 150,000 daily). This gives us access to a tonne of data to dive into so I figured I’d fire up vim, write some code and crunch some numbers on EMD impact from a less ‘massaged’ keyword set.
Rather than run this across all of our data, I randomly picked 5000 keywords which were pre-filtered in our in-house toolkit, Floodlight, to exclude anything brand related. I should also mention that these keywords were all for UK and not US searches – which nicely also answers the question of whether the EMD Update rolled out across national borders or not (it did).
At this point I should probably also mention that there was also a Panda update (#20) that rolled out the day before the EMD Update (September 27), which could obviously have influenced the tanking of poor quality domains too. This is a classic smoke tactic by Google to leave site owners guessing to the true cause of a rankings drop, but for now we have to take the EMD data at face value.
Average Ranking of Exact-Match Domains across 5000 keywords
From 5000 keywords, we found 866 exact-match domains. Average position pre-EMD Update was #13.4, which dropped to #26.6 post-EMD Update.
Average Ranking of Partial-Match Domains across 5000 keywords
From 5000 keywords, we found 3000+ partial-match domains. Average position pre-EMD Update was #39.7, which dropped to #47.7 post-EMD Update – a fair hit in itself but not quite as bad as EMDs.
EMD change based on starting position
Looking at overall movement is great, and we can clearly see that both EMDs and PMDs have been badly affected, but many of these were not ranking competitively in the first place (off page 1) and could be skewing our data. Let’s split our data by ranking buckets (1-10, 11-20, etc) based on the original ranking position:
Huge decreases in ranking position for EMDs that started out on the first few pages of the SERPs. On average, those that were ranking on page 1 before the update had a position of #3.2 which dropped massively to #11.9 afterwards – effectively wiping out their CTR for the term. Similar impact can seen for EMDs ranking on pages 2 and 3.
Interestingly, if your EMD was on page 10 before the update then you may well have got a little boost!
PMD change based on starting position
As you’d expect, not quite as severe as the EMD drops, but significant decreases pretty much across the board.
So, who got hit?
I don’t really want to give out a list of everything we saw drop, but as a special bonus here’s a few domains that might help your analysis of the EMD update:
Three EMDs that ranked 1-3 and dropped out of the top 100:
- [best dentist london] http://bestdentistlondon.com/
- [garden torches] http://www.gardentorches.co.uk/
- [solar panel quotes] http://www.solarpanelquotes.co.uk/
Three EMDs that ranked 1-3 and stayed pretty much where they started:
- [contract jobs] http://www.contractjobs.com/
- [flying experiences] http://www.flyingexperiences.com/
- [golf breaks] http://www.golfbreaks.com/
TL;DR / Summary
- Average EMD ranking went from #13.4 down to #26.6
- Average PMD ranking went from #39.7 down to #47.7
- Average top10 EMD went from #3.2 down to #11.9
- Average top10 PMD went from #5.2 down to #12
- 8% of EMDs that started out in the top 10 fell out of the top 100 completely (and so did 5.7% of PMDs)