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Google Warns of Upcoming Exact Match Domain Algorithm Change

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Late last week, Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts announced a “small,” upcoming algorithm change meant to reduce the amount of low quality exact match domains in search results. Exact match domains contain keywords that exactly match the search query.

Cutts also tweeted, “New exact-match domain (EMD) algo affects 0.6% of English-US queries to a noticeable degree. Unrelated to Panda/Penguin.”

The only thing surprising about the announcement is that it’s taken this long for Google to make the change. Bill Slawski wrote an excellent post on a patent for a method of detecting commercial queries, secured by Google in October 2011.

The patent application describes the exact match domain problem:

...a company may attempt to “trick” the search engine into listing the company’s web site more highly. For example, if the search engine gives greater weight in ranking results to words used in the domain name associated with web sites, a company may attempt to trick the search engine into ranking the company’s listing more highly by including desirable search terms in the domain name associated with the company’s listing.

The patent paperwork was filed in 2003 and lists Amit Singhal, Matt Cutts and Jun Wu as inventors.

Even in March 2011, 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," Cutts said. "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.”

Google hasn’t said whether this algorithm change affects only queries they consider commercial, but it’s clear they’ve been working on the issue for some time. Slawski points out that a sentence near the end of the patent application opens the process up for uses on other queries, as well:

Moreover, while the above-description focused on detecting commercial queries, implementations consistent with the principles of the invention are equally applicable to detecting other types of queries, such as queries for geographic information, navigational queries (e.g., a query of “ibm” is likely looking for IBM’s home page), time-based queries, news-related queries, natural language queries, queries involving proper names, etc.

Have you seen any changes in your EMD site traffic that leads you to believe Google considers your site low quality?

UPDATE: Google has confirmed that during the same time as the EMD update was announced, a significant update to the Panda algorithm, one that affects 2.4 percent of English search queries. For more details, read: "Website Traffic Down? Might Be Google EMD Update, Might Be New Panda Update".


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