How To Recover From Exact Match Domain Penalty

Update: Google confirmed that they released a major update to the Panda algorithm on Thursday, September 27th. Please see my postscript for more information.

Matt Cutts Tweet Exact Match Domain PenaltyOn September 28th, 2012 at exactly 1:43 PM PST, Matt Cutts of Google issued a minor weather report of an upcoming algorithmic change. This change seeks to “devalue”, or place less emphasis and importance on “low quality” exact match domains or EMD’s. As always Cutts was ambiguous, or rather refrained from explaining in further detail what exactly he meant by “low quality”, and how exactly the algorithm goes about determining quality of individual web pages, however if anything, the Panda and the subsequent Penguin updates served as a good example of the types of signals the search engines consider when looking at “quality”. Furthermore Cutts wasn’t exactly clear in explaining whether this was a penalty or simply a filter.

This weather report should come as no surprise to marketers and online business owners. Matt Cutts alluded to this impeding change back in 2010 while attending PubCon, and there has been chatter around the online marketing industry for years around exact match domain names and their uncharacteristic ability to rank highly in some niches. Marketers that have built their online business by exploiting the exact match domain loophole were well aware of the risks, and any thoughts of this being a long term successful model was simply wishful thinking. Business owners who have been convinced in thinking that EMD was a long term strategy were simply mislead.

So is it possible to recover from the exact match domain penalty? Although its too early to say with certainty and we haven’t seen any successful recovery stories just yet, the key to a successful recovery is understanding whether this update is a filter, much like the Panda, or a penalty, from which the only successful way to recover is to clean up your act and submit a reconsideration request.

We have looked at the rankings and 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.

From the quote above, it is pretty clear that this update is not a penalty by any stretch of the imagination, but rather an algorithmic adjustment to how much value Google places on keywords in domain name. This is perhaps the biggest step Google has taken to “weed out the cesspool” since the Vince Update, and “trust-building”, with authorship and the like, will play an ever-increasing role.

So how do we go about recovering from the EMD penalty?

  1. Take a hard look at your content. Remove low quality, thin, or otherwise spun content by letting it 410, adding a non-index meta robots tag, or moving it to a sub-domain.
  2. Take a look at your homepage and other important pages on your site. Are these pages over-optimized? If the answer is yes, try and vary internal anchor text and keywords on those pages.
  3. Add unique content to the website.
  4. Take a look at pages with high bounce rates, what can you do to increase user engagement on these pages?
  5. Build up your brand equity. Engage experts in your niche. Generate referral traffic from relevant, quality websites in your niche.
  6. Build up your social presence. Get people talking about and mentioning your website on social channels.
  7. If all else fails, try and salvage what’s left by moving your content to a different URL, or 301 redirecting your site to a different URL.

Please note, Google may be singling out queries with “commercial” intent and targeting sites in those niches in particular, see Bill Slawski’s excellent write up on this matter, however it’s hard to say at this point what niches have been affected the most.


It is important to note that the industry at large is still somewhat perplexed and cannot agree on whether this was an “update” or a “penalty”. The reason for the confusion is twofold; EMD websites in specific niches were impacted while others were left unscathed, some non-EMD or partial EMD websites were impacted across different verticals. The “niche-specificity” of this update I’ll address below, however if your non-EMD or partial EMD website saw a traffic drop around the same timeframe, it is more likely you were impacted by the Panda Update 20.

An “update” takes place whenever Google decides to make an adjustment to the way their algorithm computes a websites relevancy and/or trust. An update looks at commonalities shared across a number of different “low-quality” or “spammy” websites and factors these characteristics into the algorithm.

A “penalty” occurs when a website is found to be utilizing practices which fall outside Google’s webmaster guidelines. Penalties are usually assessed via an algorithmic or a manual determination and recoveries are usually brisk via a reconsideration request.

The reason why the EMD update is particularly perplexing is because it seems to have affected “thin” affiliate sites in very specific niches such as travel, loans, insurance, gaming, etc. while EMD’s in a number of other segments were left unscathed. The meticulousness with which this update was carried out lead a lot of people to believe it was in fact a penalty, however, what most people do not realize is that Google has many algorithms which it applies to different queries and segments of the web, and each algorithm may differ in how it goes about computing relevancy and trust.

The key to understanding this update and those which will come after, is to understand how Google segments the search universe by query intent, commercial, non-commercial, navigational, informational, etc., and where your website falls within the spectrum. It’s highly plausible that the EMD update specifically targeted “thin” affiliate sites that fell within the “short-circuit keywords” (words and phrases likely to be targeted by advertisers) spectrum.

  • john

    I was hit with with this penalty. My site went from #2 to page 9. It had well over 30 pages of original hand written college student content. I put my life into my site. It had a PR of 3 and it offered a high value to it’s readers.

    I honestly can say that I hate Mat C. and I hate google. I’m sorry but my site provided me a means to feed my family. I work so hard and all for what? Mat C. destroyed my business and now I feel like killing myself. But I cant because I must feed my family and keep fighting.

    Google once provided me with a means to work and make a living, all to take it a way from a press of a button! I have 3 kids and and my wife can’t find work. I know google cares not and I know that Mat cares less because he’s rich and happy. All I want to say is “google cares not for the small business man”. I honestly believe that the government should step in and oversee google operations. Sorry for my emotional outburst.

  • Marat Gaziev

    John, no need to apologize, and I’m very sorry to hear that you have been adversely affected by this update. I understand your frustration and your anger, but there are ways to bounce back from this even if it means starting over. I’d be more than glad to help, please email a link to your website at mgaziev (at) and I can take a look at your website.

  • Rachel Roodhardt

    Hi Marat,

    A very interesting article, I noticed that the algorithm has also had a positive effect on the ranking of articles and I’ve formed some theories off that. It’s here if you’d like a read:

    One of my EMD websites was affected by the algorithm, and the rest have remained unaffected, so I’m going to spend a bit of time looking at their differences and refine my theory accordingly. What I can say for absolute sure is that my main site contained affiliate links… the rest didn’t.

    Time will tell – thanks for the great read.


  • Paul


    I was hit by this update as well. Severely. Traffic dropped by more than 95% and all long tail keywords have tanked. I can honestly say that I am pretty surprised by how this update targets websites. I run a website where content is researched and written by me personally. With my knowledge on the subject, i can seriously say that the content found on other sites can’t even come close to the insights that I am offering.

    to put the S*** icing on the cake, poor content actually outrank me.


  • Jill

    I so empathize with you John. I too have had a few frustrated outbursts this afternoon after all three of my sites – which I spent months putting together – have been affected by these latest changes and gone from being on page 1 for many different search terms to disappearing without trace. (I gave up once I reached page 17 and still had not found my site!) Like you John, I am proud of the fact that I have written only original and useful content. I just cannot understand why my site has been penalised. And what makes it worse is that the results that are now appearing on page one of the searches I carried out are not what I consider to be “high quality”!

    It is devastating and soul destroying. I don’t think Google has any concept of how their sweeping actions affect those of us who are just trying to find an honest way forward.

  • Stephen L. Nelson

    I wonder about the accuracy of the “thin content” measurement they’re making.

    My site (which per this Google penalty / algo change must be considered an exact match domain) had very rich content… including a giant FAQ developed out of the graduate tax class I taught on this subject at the country’s largest graduate tax school.


  • nik


    I have 1.7 year old site and have all of my written content ranked in 1st page of google but now it is nowhere in google.

    I dont understand why google makes such algorithm that affect some original content. I have not exact domain but one 2 keyword is exact.


  • David from

    Looks like I’ve also joined the growing list of small operators whose living has been CRUSHED by GO(F**K)!

    So many times over the last 3 years I’ve built my AdSense income up to reasonable levels, only to see it get slapped to the point where I’m now struggling to break the $100 monthly threshold :(

    I’d hazard that all these changes are aimed at forcing more IM’s to have to resort to purchasing ADWORDS, to see if that will help them continue to elk a living, and no doubt fail due to ridiculous keyword charges.

  • Techbymak

    Thank you sir for your helpful Article recently One of my website hardly hit by this Update and traffic come to 300/day from 12000 a day..Hope I will be back soon with your Instructions.

  • Swayam

    It’s not that easy to recover from this update. I was doing research on this and it seems that the sites that came as “replacement sites” are outdated like hell.. These types of sites have been given the status of 1st page SERP can you believe that??

    I think Google is trying to fix a bug in their system and calling it as “update” 😛

  • Vincent

    I am hoping that this update like others will be corrected in the next few weeks as it seems to have simply dropped sites from the index for all search terms not just those in the url. Furthermore the update, as John pointed out seems to simply target a site that has an EMD with no regard to the quality of content, links etc.

  • aj

    My site got hit. From about 1,800 visits down to about 500 a day. With PV slighly increasing to 4.5. Only unique content, copyscape checked. Indexed pages still, 6350.

    I started the website 4/5 years ago and chose an EMD name because i’m not a brand, never wanted to be. Just wanted to be a resource. Adsense earnings have halved overnight. Feel devastated that Google can just pull the rug from under me.

    Panda increased my rankings, Penguin decreased, but I recovered but EMD has completely killed my enthusiasm to continue.

  • Gole

    What happen in case Apple market its iPhone 5 with a new site like iphone5[dot]com. iPhone 5 is a huge keyword and so google will penalize this if not then what will be in case if Apple does not have that domain and some one else running a site on that domain.

    That’s clearly a case of exact match domain as iPhone 5 is a huge keyword

  • rahul

    i have manage 50 website but 90% website down in google ranking,i ma frustrate,what can i do for my future,i hate google

  • John

    Same story here Paul.

    All the results I get for what used be the main query for my website are utter rubbish. blogs with colors from the 70’s… a few sites that copied & have poorly re-written the articles from my site! I kid you not.

    I don’t see how it benefits the end user to read copied and poorly re-written content.

    I have a profitable offline business so this doesn’t bother me as much. But I must admit that it is fun to see Google run themselves to the ground ALL on their own :).

  • Conna Lee

    the website above is one of many that as been hit, 2 years ago i lost everything and was homeless and i finally got on my feet and built my business up again, now ive moved to a new house and google took most of my sites down whilst still letting my competitors stay at the top of whome are using backhat and poor content, recently ive spent months re-writing all my sites so all of them had original content, but im pretty sure ive been penalized for emd, because i had maybe 2 or 3 websites hitting the same city in the uk. now i dont know whats going to happen, but im pretty sure google do not care and aint a clue what impact it is having , i really hope yahoo or bing take over soon

  • David Burdon

    I track a range of websites that have been variously affected by the EMD penalty/update.

    Exact match domains
    Partial match domains
    Synonym match domains
    Semantic match domains
    Unrelated match domains

    In essence, the reality of SEO hasn’t changed. Good content. Good site set up. Good inbound.

    I’ve yet to see a drop of more than 6 places for an exact match domain that previously sat on page 1. I even have 1 excat match domain that has retained its no.1 ranking.

    Relying on exact matching for SEO purposes was always the “lazy man’s” way to SEO.

  • David

    Sorry to put it bluntly; but Google doesn’t care about you, your websites or any small scale webmasters.

    They are only interested in looking after the welfare of the big businesses and brands who spend a billions of Ad Dollars/Pounds/Euros every year with them, rather than paying the little people running the affiliate websites.

    Google bemoans about affiliate websites and thin content, yet they run Google shopping, an affiliate website on steroids!!

    In the UK, they even bought a comparison website called – “pot calling the kettle black” maybe??

    Well either way, Google couldn’t care about our small, niche websites. We don’t spend money on adwords. However, if they rank 10 large ecommerce websites for the terms which the EMD affiliates once ranked for, what happens? Those large ecommerce websites suddenly feel the need to start outbidding each other for the top 3 adword spots.

    It’s a contradiction, in that search results should show the most relevant results, yet as Google shows us time and time again, anyone with enough money can get to page one by lining Google’s pockets…

  • Autocrat (Lyndon NA)

    If all else fails, try and salvage what’s left by moving your content to a different URL, or 301 redirecting your site to a different URL.

    That’s highly unlikely to work.
    301’s transfer values – including Negatives.
    If this applies the same as most other penalties/filters – then all that will happen is the tarnishing of the new Domain and you’ll end up in the same boat.

    If you feel the need to “start over” then you do Not do Redirects.

    G seem to utilise the term “Penalty” for Manual Action only.
    Anything that is Algo based seems to get termed as a “Filter”.

    If you get hit with a Manual Action – then you can clean up and fire off a Reconsideration Request.

    If you get hit with a Filter (algo like EMD/Penguin/Panda), then an RR is unlikely to do much of anything.

    If it is a filter that has hit you – prepare for a somewhat lengthy period.
    For starters, you have to wait for the next rollout for G to see if you have cleaned (fully/sufficiently) to be approved.
    If you have, it still takes time (months) as G reasses the site and slowly trickles back the values.

    A Penalty/Manual Actual lift can be nigh instantaneous – you can reapper/rerank within days (though seldom quite where you were).
    A Filter/Algorythmic lift is usually very slow – you won’t often show for weeks/months, and again, unlikely to be quite were you were.

    Something else that people need to get to grips with is the concepts of “trust”, “authority” and “value”.
    Certain sites are nigh bullet proof.
    The algos are unlikely to touch them (they may not even look at them).
    This is because they exceed certain thresholds and are considered as being popular, trusted or authoritative enough that they should be left alone.
    Others seem able to take the hit with little damage – again, this appears due to how they are perceived by the G/the algos.

    (Yes, the problem here is that not only are the middling spammy/low quality sites likely to be hit, but so are the weak “good” sites that haven’t built links or marketed themselves).

  • Brigitte Mehr

    All original content, all good quality content, all regularly added. Still got hit. This really makes me sick as Google just constantly moves the goal posts. Why should sites with rubbish and spun content now be ranking higher than those of use who have taken the time and trouble to get it right?

  • Safwan Bakais

    Well good to hear that I am not alone. Adwords is the way to google search. Serp 1 is dominated by big websites and no chance for small businesses. Can you make a website that has 28 million pages! off cource not especially for a niche.

  • Quime

    I was hit as well for 4/5 of my sites. I was ‘wisely’ recommended to use keywords in the URLS by our webmaster last year. The hit URLS were the foreign language versions of our main site. The main site remains untouched as it has no EMD. This has kicked the rug from under us and everyone else here (I read through them all and know exactly how you all feel) especially after Panda Penguin etc etc.

    What is the best way to deal with this quickly and effectively? If we all pool our knowledge and research we can find the fastest solution.

    If a 301 from old domain to new domain would transfer the penalty I guess this is not an option, does anyone else know more on this?

    Would changing the URL to a non EMD and then sending an RR to google work? as that was the problem in the first place?

    I get the feeling the ‘update’ was so blunt and widespread that subtle changes to content and ‘value’ would have little impact, and a further waste of time and money?

    Is the best option to create a new URL move the site content over and start from scratch?

    I am running out of ideas but would love to hear everyones.

    Thanks and good luck.

  • steve

    Not sure how much more i can take of the stuff.
    I have always paid so called good seo`s to optimise my sites. I first got hit by the over optimisation penalty. so i paid the same person to get links removed who i had previously paid to obtain them. The site did not recover but now this EMD filter has crippled the site altogether. I run a good clean site no black hat stuff and i have always been led bny so called experts. I thought when i bought an exact match domain name it would just be easier for previous customers to find. I never did it to gain advantage and never thought i was getting preferential treatment. I just do not know what i have to do to succeed with google.

  • James

    Excellent Work Marat Gaziev Good Research You Made after emd update.EMD destroyed all my business like others in single day but still i am looking to fight back any how. I have no idea where to start from all my seo learning seems to be all ended.but i really admire the way you write your article i will try to follow the same structure for better ranking with my new domains.Hope it will work for me

  • Rachel Roodhardt

    Hi Marat,

    A quick update to my earlier comment – I’m back on Page 1 of google for all my favourite search phrases! (woo-ho!)

    I’ve written an article about what I did here:

    Speak soon

    Rachel 😎

  • Jimmy FT

    My site is also Doomed…!!!

    Here is how the picture is going to be from now onwards guys.

    Google has shareholders to answer to, recently their share price dropped just like the drop webmasters have seen in their Google analytics accounts.

    What Google needs to be seen doing is making money not loosing it, forget quality issues, if they where concerned about quality they would not have their index full of porn sites, only About 1,540,000,000 results for the word porn, gone are the days when Google was ethical and all the rest of it.

    They are a business just like any other business needs to make a profit, think of all the big expensive data centres they have dotted around the globe using up 1.5% of the worlds electricity.

    Google has no interest in sending you free traffic, why should they..? Think about it they send you free traffic to your web site, on your site you have Google adsense blocks on your pages your visitor clicks the adsense, you earn your self a click and Google gives you funds for it. GREAT NEWS.. you say,, I don’t think so Google just shot them self in the foot they are sending you traffic that they are paying YOU for, what kind of a business is it that..?

    Whats the point of watching or Listening to Matt Cutts he is just an over paid spokes person sent to tell us all everything is Dandy do a bit of SEO and you will be okay.

    You really think the Google share holders want to carry on giving you money..? I don’t think so..!

    But heres a way to fix any Google penalty in 24hours guaranteed you will be on first page of Google for all your search terms, set up an ad words account top it up with plenty of funds and you can have your Extreme Google Violating Spammy, full of Black Hat tricks website appear right at the top no problems. What has Matt Cutts head of webspam got to say about that..? Nothing because you are contributing to his pay packet.

    This proves Google is full of it when they try and appear to be an ethical business when even they know they are not, just one big conspricy, wake up people it is time for Google to go let them keep their high quality porn sites.

    There is hope, as long as they keep showing junk search results they are actually doing us a big favour, this is what we really want guys trust me. It wont be long before visitors will see Google is actually full of junk the more the merrier, people will resort to other search engines, it will be interesting to see how Google tries to win visitors back, when traffic to them drops, so let them carry on. Every dog has its day and its Google day today but tomorrow will be another day and not Googles day

    There is not much natural SEO that can be done to recover from any of the current Google penalties, it is all over. If your sites dropped its doomed. You have had too much money or traffic from Google its time for someone else.

    Think of other means to make money guys, sorry to say this but this is how it is for now onwards.

  • Leonard

    I have an e-commerce website that sells only one type of product (halloween inflatables) so guess which url I decided to use….yep you guessed it, was ranked number 4 on first page and sales were great and then one month before Halloween we disappeared entirely. No more sales. This site only has sales for about 2 months and Google killed us.
    How can they penalize you for having EMD when that is all we sell!! we aren’t trying to trick anybody into clicking.
    How the heck can we recover?

  • Alicia Staz

    I used to be on page 1. Now I am on page 3 or 4. I wrote all my own content, link to other relevant sites and never did any unsavory link building practices. Is there a way to bounce back from this? I just want to be a great resource for people who are considering and/or raising an only child. Should I just scrap it all together? I know SEO (at least I know at used to know constituted SEO). I am so fed up with Google I can’t see straight. I already scrapped by E-commerce site because I refuse to pay for AdWords…any help and/or comments are appreciated.

  • Terry

    Go with a short, easy to remember .com or .net. Put the keywords you want to rank for
    on your page in the right amount. Enough for google to figure out what it is but not to
    much to keep from overdoing it. Make as many pages as you can filled with original
    content. If you can put the page in its own folder with a index.html file. I think that may
    build your PR. I think they are reducing a persons rank that tries to rank for obscure
    keywords in their domain. These sites are able to pull some traffic from google with
    very little competition. A few backlinks and then you can rank. I had 4 sites that I was
    ranking for that had EMD and lost all ranking. Maybe you can still rank for these niche
    keywords if you just have them on your homepage but not in your domain. Go for a brand
    domain instead. But, I think they are requiring more natural backlinks and more PR and
    authority to rank for a niche keyword now. So, subdomains of big sites ar going to get even
    more traffic.

  • Facebook User

    Who are the people spoke to Matt Cutts and persuaded him that exact domain name companies had an unfair advantage, and so he turned the knob in their favour?
    Surely not Amazon, eBay and the other big spenders who now dominate the front search page?
    How do you get to talk to Matt Cutts anyway?
    I trust he knows now the extreme disatisfaction he has caused both small business people, and the searchers on Google who don’t want Amazon as the automatic answer to every product search?
    Relevancy has been sacrificed for revenue?

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