Exact Match Domains Penalty from Google Update

At the end of last month, Matt Cutts (Google’s head of webspam) tweeted an early warning about an “upcoming algorithm” change to how exact match domains (EMD’s) rank in the search results:

matt cutts tweet

And shortly afterwards, Search Engine Land confirmed that Google released a Panda algorithm update (Panda 20) before the end of September. Apparently, impacting 2.4% of English search queries.


What are Exact Match Domains?

An Exact Match Domain (known as EMD’s in the industry) is a specific domain name that matches a keyword that someone would probably search for. This is applied to any kind of search query (Organic SEO and Local SEO), whether it’s  [city + keyword], [keyword + city]: such as [].

The search results have always been populated by a number of Exact Match Domains as (up until this point) there has always been a benefit to acquiring them.

With the latest update, Google is attempting get rid of the low-quality EMD’s from the search results. To many of us in the industry, we are amazed that it has taken them this long.


Our Stance

For our clients, we have never gone down the road of deliberately acquiring an exact match domain name. However, we have considered it in the past. But I’ve always advised clients to choose (if it’s a new site) a web address/domain name that is brand-able, memorable and that they will be comfortable with. Whilst there (was) in the past a benefit in an EMD, I often looked at it as a shortcut and an excuse not to work on the other ranking factors. As a professional SEO company, we think it’s best to “do the other things” that don’t cheapen or devalue the brand. Even looking at Phil Rozek’s substitutions post here, there’s things to do to gain benefits of having the “keyword in the URL”.

However, it’s not always as simple as I’ve stated above. For example, what if a business does want to be known as “Pizza Nottingham” and that is their idea of a great business/brand name?

After all, when customers see the signage/logo for the above, they know what they are going to get.

So, the situation will be far from simple and whilst Google intends to hit “low quality” EMD’s, there have been reports of good sites being hit as well.