The change was announced at the end of September by Google head engineer Matt Cutts via Twitter:
“Minor weather report: Small upcoming Google algorithm change will reduce low-quality ‘exact-match’ domains in search results.”
“New exact-match domain (EMD) algorithm affects 0.6% of English-US queries to a noticeable degree. Unrelated to Panda/Penguin.”
Not a full update like Panda or Penguin, this algorithm change is targeting sites that use the same keywords in its domain for which it is trying to rank. Cutts warned about such a change in 2011, saying in a video that:
“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.”
It seems that Google is finally making good on that warning, and many industry experts feel that this may not be the last of the changes to target keyword domains.
Effects of the Change
The algorithm change is meant to reduce the number of low-quality exact match domains, and it is hitting keyword domains in a number of ways.
First, it is reducing the number of multiple search results for some sites. So instead of returning multiple pages from the same site, only one (or none) of a site’s pages will be shown in search results.
Next, it is outright de-ranking these domains so that they don’t appear in search results. Whether a site is de-ranked, or fewer results are shown in search results, or the site isn’t affected at all depends on a number of factors in addition to the exact-match URL.
Quality content makes a big difference in how a site is treated. Sites that use exact match domains can still continue to rank well if they have fresh, quality content and they show a number of other quality indicators, such as good backlinks and social media mentions.
Sites that use .com or .org in their URL have a better chance of ranking well than those that use .info, .biz and similar extensions. It also helps to limit the number of keywords used in the URL to only one or two. So a site like books.com would likely rank better than books-for-cheap.biz.
However, regardless of all this information, it is highly likely that Google will continue to make changes that will impact keyword domains. It is unclear how much more these sites will be affected going forward. If Google’s past actions and comments about these domains is any indication, it is likely these sites will continue to be hurt, and many industry experts are calling an end to microsites.
What do you think of Google’s latest changes? Were any of your sites hit by the changes? Share your thoughts in the comments!