I’ll have to admit that when I started doing SEO for my first client back in 2006, I didn’t know too many things about what I was doing. Fortunately, I have learned quite a bit along the way, and even today my first SEO client (Conitec GmbH) continues to occupy the #1 and #2 spots in Google, out of hundreds of millions of competing pages, for a keyword (game studio) that sends him close to 30,000 website visitors each month, ranking higher than Wikipedia and Microsoft.
And no matter what tools you’re going to use in order to examine the backlinks portfolio of my client’s websites, you will notice that everything happened naturally, using 100% white hat SEO methods; this is why my client’s rankings should be unaffected by any future Google algorithm change.
Why am I telling you these things? I want you to see the direction into which Google has been going lately; they’ve been preaching it for years, but now it is finally happening. You will need to have a great product or service if you want to rank high on the first Google page from now on, because having a thin content website and a bunch of high PR links won’t be of too much help in the very near future.
With one of their recent updates, Google is trying to clean up the search results once again by reducing the power of the EMDs (exact match domains) to zero. Here’s the link to the official announcement made by Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google:
Exact Match Domains explained
An EMD is a domain that contains the targeted keyword. As an example, if you wanted to rank for “bermuda triangle holiday”, the bermudatriangleholiday.com domain would have been the perfect EMD. As you can probably guess, all the EMDs that were targeting solid money-making keywords were sold a long time ago, with the .net and .org extensions being the second favorite option. And since these two other domain extensions sold fast as well, the SEOs have discovered that the ranking power of bermudatriangleholidayz.com was pretty close to the one of the long sought after bermudatriangleholiday.com domain.
This is actually the main reason why the internet is filled with domains like paydayloanq.net, and so on. Some other people were even buying and using hyphenated domains like cheap-loan-new-jersey.com, or they were adding some “natural sounding” words in front of the domain and / or after it, purchasing domains like toppaydayloansitereview.com.
A brutal EMD ranking formula approximation
I worked as an SEO consultant for a huge company before starting my own SEO business. We were getting good results for several competitive keywords, but I was stuck at #4 for the most important keyword for about a year. The first two spots were taken by authority websites, companies that were doing powerful press release submissions and high PR link building since 1997, so they were very hard to beat, but the guy at #3 had about 50 low quality backlinks (we had a few thousands) and… you’ve guessed it, an EMD. So the ranking formula I imagined was something like this:
Ranking Power = number-of-backlinks * 0.001 + 20 * EMD
with EMD having a value of 1 if you had an EMD domain, or 0 if you didn’t have an EMD.
I know it’s a brutal approximation that doesn’t take into account the strength of each backlink, other ranking factors, and so on, but that’s just a simplified example, so bear with me.
Using the formula above, my website would have had a ranking power of:
2000 backlinks * 0.001 + 20 * 0 = 2
while my EMD competitor’s website with its 50 backlinks had a ranking power of:
50 backlinks * 0.001 + 20 * 1 = 20.05
Now who would you think would rank higher? My website, which had a ranking power of 2, or my competitor’s site, with a ranking power of 20.05? The answer is obvious – his website! And believe it or not, the things worked just like that until a few days ago, when Google has rolled up its latest update, which set the “20” factor close to zero, leveling the playing field.
Making money with EMDs
I was aware of the huge EMD ranking power back then, so as soon as I began doing SEO work on my own, I started buying lots of EMDs in various industries: weight loss, insurance, dental, SEO, health, electronics, travel… lots of EMDs indeed. I knew I’ll be easily able to get them to the first page of Google, so I wanted to rank them and then make money out of them, of course. I also wanted to sell a few of the most valuable EMDs after getting them in one of the top 3 Google slots.
A simple EMD monetization idea was to build several small affiliate sites, keeping the ones that were making at least 50 dollars per month and selling the flops, to use a piece of industry jargon. Continue to do that until you have 100 money making sites, and now you’ve got a passive income source that produces thousands of dollars each month.
The idea sounded very appealing to me, so I started building my first Amazon affiliate website using an EMD in the cosmetics industry. It ranked #1 for the main keyword within a month or two, producing about 50 dollars per month in commissions, but I didn’t have time to scale the things up, because I was very busy working for my clients, for real money.
So if you were wondering why many people were chasing domain names like these, the answer should be obvious now: they had a huge ranking power until recently, when Google’s update has made them lose their power completely. No matter if we like it or not, this new update has cleaned up the search engine results even more, removing some of the spammy listings. I’m not saying that all these penalized EMD-based websites were spammy; as you will see, I’ve lost a few EMDs as well, and I don’t consider myself to be a spammer.
On the other hand, it is true that this move will also have a side effect that benefits Google: more and more people will be tempted to move from SEO to AdWords, and this will increase the revenue of the search engine giant for sure.
The EMD case study
Since I was very busy, I didn’t get to monetize all those EMDs; nevertheless, most of them were set up, turned into fully functional websites and ranking well, sometimes without having a single backlink built to them. This gives me the opportunity to show you the EMD winners / losers table below, which highlights which ones of my aged EMDs were hit, allowing us to draw a set of conclusions after the recent Google update. It’s just a subset of the data that I have gotten from 46 EMDs, but it is enough to give us some ideas.
OK, so what can we learn from here? First of all, we can see that not all the EMDs were hit; four domains have gained a few spots (excepting the one sitting at #1, which can’t climb higher), five domains have (more or less) kept their places and the last three ones were penalized badly.
I see that one of my domains has lost 11 spots, but I don’t consider this to be a penalty. When your website slips to the 2nd or even 3rd Google page, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are penalized, but that some of the most powerful sites that were linking to you have either lost their ranking power (they were EMDs?) or they have removed the backlinks that were pointing to your site.
Another important conclusion: it looks like the number of backlinks that point to your EMD isn’t that important. I’ve gotten several EMDs with zero backlinks that got penalized or managed to survive, as well as EMDs with thousands of backlinks that were penalized or managed to survive. I am pretty sure that if you have gotten lots of backlinks from the top authority sites in your industry, Wikipedia, gov and edu websites (not spammy edu blog comment links, of course) your EMD will survive, but let’s be honest: very few people manage to get backlinks from the “useful resources” section of a gov site.
The most important thing I’m seeing so far is the fact that all the penalized domains had less than 10 pages of content. Sure, the table also shows two domains that have managed to improve their position by a few places, even though they have a single page of content and zero backlinks, but think at it this way: none of the domains that had over 15 pages of content got penalized. This shows us that Google likes the authority sites more and more, so it’s time to learn how to write great website content and turn your website into a collection of fantastic industry-related resources.
Did they use a (key)word list?
My perception is that some of the EMDs were hit because they include a specific word; if your website is considered to be of “low quality” (I really can’t tell what that means for Google at the moment) and it contains one of the targeted words, it will be hit – otherwise, it will survive. As an example, EMDs like howtorideanunicorn.com will probably survive, while buyunicornsforcheap.com will probably be penalized. On a side note, I am pretty sure that this word list (if it exists) will be expanded in the future.
This is the story of my formerly treasured EMDs; I’ve lost about 25% of them myself, so I can definitely feel your pain. Actually, you and I might have lost some money, but think about the people that have paid hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars for top level EMDs! Obi-Wan Kenobi has said it better than I could ever do it: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened”.
How to fix the EMD mess
So what should you do now, in case that you are the formerly proud owner of one or more EMDs?
1. First of all, wait for about two weeks, but start working at your future SEO strategy today. The search results will need about a week in order to stabilize, not to mention that the algorithm will be tweaked a bit (or a lot, depending on what has happened as a result of the change).
2. Don’t do anything strange / weird / extreme for now, like building thousands of backlinks to your website, hoping that your rankings will return to their initial positions as a result of that – it won’t happen, and you will only trigger some more spam filters.
3. Stop buying EMDs – they’re useless now. Thank God that I didn’t win some of those four figures domain auctions! I wouldn’t touch an EMD with a ten foot pole these days; my tests show that some of the EMDs could actually be penalized now, and not just rendered useless. I’m in no way affiliated with Google, though, so don’t quote me on this; nevertheless, I will choose to use non-EMD domains from now on. In fact, I will try to avoid buying any domain that contains even a single word that’s included in one of my targeted keyword(s).
4. Keeping the targeted keyword in the URL like this:
continues to work fine; the update didn’t target optimized website pages, but EMDs.
Future Google SEO plans
What is Randombyte’s Google SEO plan for the future? None of our SEO methods will change, and you can find most of them listed on the buy seo services page. In fact, after seeing these positive results for my clients, I am even more motivated to keep on doing what I was doing. If you want to follow my advice, you need to discover or create highly linkable assets, and then build authority websites around them. Then, go out and get those high quality backlinks.
Stop using mass link building, and concentrate on getting much fewer, top quality links that your competitors will be unable to get, no matter how hard they try. How can you do that? Create outstanding content and share it with the web, and then contact the people that will be naturally inclined to share your content, because it has a fantastic value for them.
Ironically, Google SEO reinvented means that you should build links that bring in real traffic, real website visitors that are interested in learning more about you, your services and products, and thus help you rely less and less on Google. I said “ironically” because the giant search engine will reward you for building that sort of backlinks.
I’m not a very smart guy, but I can tell you that it is very unlikely for a website that gets 100 visitors per week to be linked to 1,000 times per month. And I’m pretty sure that some of the Google guys are much smarter than I am. Sure, getting unique, high quality backlinks is hard, but that’s the price that needs to be paid in order to get backlinks that your main competitors will only be able to stare at, but never be able to replicate.
As an example, if you are the author of a great book, a backlink from an obscure nevadamoversdailydeals.com online directory won’t do you much good, but a backlink from the “recommended readings” section of a reputable American university will work wonders, no matter if it has the desired anchor text or not.
And don’t get me started on the dofollow / nofollow links discussion; I would trade 10 dofollow links for a Wikipedia nofollow link anytime. Why? Because that link comes from an authority website that is trusted by Google and because it will send real visitors my way, a thing that no automated piece of software will do for me. Let’s destroy this myth once and for all: high quality nofollow links will improve your rankings! And yes, I am sure that Google’s spider can follow nofollow links as well, in case that it wants to.
Old school SEO is dead
It’s time to get rid of the old website promotion techniques; you won’t be able to get first page Google rankings using EMDs and websites with only a few pages of content from now on. This means that the affiliate marketing sites need to turn into authority sites or disappear. The SEO game is getting harder, so much fewer people will know how to do it properly. The era when you don’t need to build high PR backlinks to your website, but rather to create fantastic content and let others build links for you because the content is extraordinary, is finally approaching.
Sure, Google can still be gamed for now, but with every update another deadly blow will make hundreds of thousands of websites lose their good rankings overnight. If you are an affiliate marketer, I guess that you can just buy a new domain and start over, but if you run an online business, your website should be treated like a very precious asset, because this is exactly what it is.
Doing Google SEO the right way
So how can you do proper Google SEO? Begin by studying your top competitors’ websites and backlinking profiles: do you think that you can outrank them for those keywords because you’ve got a better product or service? Let’s say that you are selling watches and the first few spots on the first Google search results pages are taken by Wikipedia, Amazon, etc – do you have the linkable assets that would allow you to outrank them? And if the answer is negative, do you have the means to create outstanding pieces of content? Or at least, can you create a high quality resource of curated content? If you don’t have the means to create high quality content pieces, Google’s love won’t be upon you, so you won’t be able to rank on its first search results page in the future.
Doing Google SEO the right way, in order to get the top spots on the first page of world’s largest search engine, will soon be a game where the difference between a place on the first or the second page will be given by a few dozens of backlinks that come from world’s top websites, as a testimonial that you deserve a first page Google rank. Just examine the websites ranking #1 in your industry; you will notice that most of them have a few backlinks that you won’t be able to replicate, no matter how hard you try and / or how much money you are willing to pay for them.
Your main task is to create great content, which is bound to attract top quality, unique backlinks. Then, discover the authoritative link targets that find your content irresistible and will want to link to it because your work adds value to the world wide web.
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