Google’s EMD Update: the numbers

 

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:

EMD influence, by Mozcast

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:

SERPmetrics Flux

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)

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About Ben Milleare

Ben is Technical Director at High Position and heads up all of our service-led R&D - a great fit for his SEO/coding background. You can follow Ben on Google+ and Twitter where he talks about inbound marketing, geeky stuff and his first true love - the mighty West Ham United.
 

22 thoughts on “Google’s EMD Update: the numbers

  1. Some solid info in here, surprised to see this post hasn’t attracted much attention.

    Glad you pointed out about the mozcast data, its something very surprising that they track only 1000 keywords and I mean common, it would be tough picking this using such a small data set.

    Thanks for the post and the stats :)

    ed

  2. Really interesting follow-up, Ben. Interesting to see the confirmation not only against a larger data set, but also in the UK, as the international roll-out was unclear.

    • Thanks for the comment Pete – I was possibly a bit presumptous that it’s rolled out internationally just yet, but I think it’s safe to say it’s landed in the UK at least.

      Either that or the effects of Panda just happened to hit E/PMDs really badly – although I think that’s fairly unlikely.

  3. This update was a long time coming. Pretty nice to see the effects take place in Google SERPs. On the other hand, it seems like Amazon, Walmart and eBay keep getting lifts for nearly every keyword with every algo tweak. Not sure if that’s intended, but as a user I don’t see why that’s happening. I understand big brand lifts due to authority, but the blanket lifts seem pretty aggressive for those domains. Both in Google and Bing/Yahoo.

    • It’s only anecdotal but I’ve also seen About.com ranking all over the place lately. All of these updates do seem to favour the big players though, which is a little disconcerting.

  4. Great read Ben. I don’t know if you have the answer, but have you tried a similar analysis on sites that are not in English? I couldn’t help but notice that you conclude that the EMD update was rolled out internationally despite Google’s statement (not that I believe them).

    In Denmark there haven’t really been any signs of the update so I can’t say that I feel completely confident in the “international update”.

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Mikael

    • Hi Mikael – we don’t have a huge amount of data for other countries right now as we’re predominantly a UK shop.

      Having said that, we might have enough to make some preliminary conclusions on a few of the bigger EU countries.

      I’ll see what I can come up with.

  5. Interesting Post Ben, I really liked your research on EMD update. It seems that it rolled out all over the english nation. Yes, a huge number of sites were affected by this update & google somehow never says or confront that the drop in rankings is due to such updates. Also, I was thinking this emd update would be hard for ecommerce website where they used to incorporate keywords like buy, shopping which could have given them a huge drop. I’d really like to see your research on ecommerce site.

    Thanks.

  6. One of our sites PlatformBedsShop.com is a casualty of the latest Google Algo update on Sept 28th 29th. Lost ranking on majority of keywords.
    We sell platform Beds.

    Every 3 month we are at the mercy of Google. It is simply the fastest way to send us to Google Ad.
    I am no so sure any more if it is about the customer experience.

    • An all too familiar story Tony… Google wipes out many small businesses with every update under the guise of the ‘greater good’.

      It’s a bit like dragnet fishing, they tend to be happy with a certain level of legitimate sites caught in with the target fish.

  7. Great post Ben and thanks for this level of detail. Question: did you take into account the actual content and/or quality of these sites (both negative and positively affected)? Just curious if those that were hit had poor content, high ad to content ratios, etc? Thanks!

    • We haven’t dug that far into it yet, purely due to time constraints. But having had a cursory glance at a large number of those that dropped I can tell you that many did indeed appear to be very low quality (thin affiliates, poor content, ad heavy etc).

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