Did Google lie to us about the EMD update?
Ah, the never-ending hunt for better Google SERP.
(That's 'Search Engine Results Page' for anyone who is unfamiliar)
Businesses and website owners are constantly trying to do all the right things that will get our websites right up on the first page of Google when someone types in any number of search words or phrases that relate to what our websites are all about.
It used to be a lot easier before Google got a lot more savvy with their algorithm and began figuring out who was using tricks to get their pages to rank higher in these organic search results.
One of the things Google did was to target websites which had an EMD. If you don't know what an "EMD" is, it's an "Exact Match Domain". The idea was to put an end to lower grade sites that were ranking for search terms mostly because those keywords happen to exist in their domain name regardless of whether it provided the most useful and relevant information on the site itself.
Example: WWW. HISTORYBOOKS.COM used to come up quickly for the search terms "History books" but with this new update, those factors would mean much less than the actual content and relevance of the site itself.
Back in March 2011, Google's Matt Cutts warned viewers in a video that brandable domains tended to be the way to go. He said at the time:
“Now if you're still on the fence, let me just give you a bit of color, that we have looked at the rankings and the weights that we give to keyword domains, and some people have complained that we're giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains, and so we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm, so that given two different domains it wouldn't necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.”In October, 2012, they did exactly that with the launch of the EMD update.
But did that Google update really put an end to the advantage of the EMD?
Let me give you an example of why it not only didn't seem to kill the EMD, but it actually seemed to strengthen it.
THE SAGA OF A BOY AND HIS SEARCH ENGINE...
I was recently doing research to see how my competition was ranking and what I could learn from it (I own a renovations company in New Hampshire, so I was using the largest surrounding markets for comparison)
Here was something I found that completely shocked me.
In my industry, one of the harder words to rank for is "remodeling". Of course, my industry keywords aren't as commonly searched as some other industries' keywords, but there is pretty stiff competition to rank for them, nonetheless.
So, imagine my surprise when I found that the #1 ranked website (after the paid listings) for the keyword "remodeling" when search in the Boston, MA area was "www. remodelingboston.com". (Yes, I put a space in there because there is NO way I'm giving them any more power than they already seem to wield).
I should explain that before I do any of these searches, I log off of my Google account and do a complete history, cache, cookies and preferences erase. I want to make sure none of my personal preferences or past searches are being taken into account when I perform a fresh search.
At first glance, it sure looked like this was one of those EMD websites that we heard were taken care of so I naturally assumed they must have quite a website beyond just their domain name to be ranking so high.
This is what I found when I clicked on their site:
Pretty simple stuff as far as websites go. Certainly not the high tech website I expected to be crushing mine in the Boston market.
Well, we all know it's not about the look as much as it is the performance. So, two of the things we do know are really important are Content and Backlinks.
Let's start with the Content. Well, let me rephrase that. I would start with their content but... I couldn't find any.
I was able to find a one page description of how they handled 'Renovation Planning' but there was no blog, no articles or insights... nothing.
Certainly they must have a lot of articles posted on other reputable sites linking back to them?
That's what I thought until I used a few online backlink checkers to see if maybe they had some strong backlinks that I could take advantage of as well.
Here's what I found using a fairly common online backlink checker (www.ahrefs.com):
Wait.... ONE backlink??
How is this possible? It must be a fluke... right? I thought the same thing but no matter which program I used to discover their backlinks, there just weren't any significant backlinks to be found. I could see they were affected by the same Panda, Penguin, Pigeon and other animal-named-Google-update-rank-killers that a lot of us were. The few backlinks they used to have had flatlined into non-existence yet... there they still stand, top of the heap.
What I noticed next made me pull even more hair out. (Fortunately, I have quite a bit)
Look who is ranked #3... WWW. REMODELBOSTON.COM!
Another almost Exact Match Domain?!
I know what you're thinking, "Hey Daniel, did you happen to check out their content or how many phenomenal backlinks this magical site has?"
Why, yes I did!
They had three times as many backlinks! (*ahem* the first site had one, they have three. I'm really exceptional at this kind of math)
Oh, and just for fun... take a look at who they are beating in the Boston marketplace for first page Google SERP using the search term "remodeling"... just some other slackers named HGTV .COM and THISOLDHOUSE .COM!
Can it honestly still be so simple that as long as your website has anything to do with the subject that your Exact Match Domain name refers to, you still have a huge advantage over your competition?
Listen, I'm sure there is a very logical and rational explanation as to why these sites seem to defy the very logic almost every "SEO guru" has told us or even the overt hints that Matt Cutts has given us about the most important things being 'Providing fresh, relevant content and staying involved in the global conversation'.
If that's so, then I have a "global conversation" of my own I'd like to start; I invite any and all comments from my readers to help me figure out why these websites are still ranking so high!
FYI: If I don't answer right away... it's because I'm busy registering my new home improvement website domain, WWW. RemodelingRenovationHomeImprovementConstructionUSA.COM.
Daniel Batal is the owner @ Focalpoint Renovations