Google EMD Update: 4 Months On

On the final days of September 2012, Google launched an EMD update that trashed a huge number of keyword heavy domains. Unfortunately, it also trashed legitimate domains with no keywords – leading us to dub the algo change “Google’s Collateral Update”.

It was by far Google’s most heavy-handed addition to a year already packed full of updates and refreshes. Webmasters are now 4 months on, what’s changed?

iPadProjector.org > PocketBeams.com

About 3 or 4 years ago I set up a website in my spare time to test a few SEO practices and to generate a modest income from Amazon’s affiliate program. The key phrase that I was trying to rank for was of course ‘iPad Projector’, and given the exact match nature of my domain and some dodgy link building practices (I’ve definitely seen worse!), the site was hit for 6.

At the time of the EMD update, the site was doing very little in the way of anything; I hadn’t touched it in well over a year and it felt like a great opportunity to explore this update a little further. My test came in the form of a full site clean up; a move to a brandable domain, improved content, removing bad links and updating the anchor text of quality ones. Here are some more details of what was done:

  • Pocketbeams.com was bought as an alternative and less keywordy domain.
  • I threw on a new design with a new logo, updated the content (less keywords), added more content, physically removed some bad links and changed the anchor texts of other links to brand and partial anchors.
  • The site was then 301 redirected from iPadProjector.org to PocketBeams.com.

And here’s a before and after of the two sites (left to right); a noticeable improvement and a complete step away from the keyword heavy EMD/content:

emd update before and after

It’s mad, but 301 redirects are the easiest way to remove a penalty or dodge an update. Moving from one domain to another, no matter what the new domain is, will lift your site out of the depths of Google… temporarily.

Usually this loophole is used as a lazy attempt to bring back short-term traffic for the 30 minutes that it takes to put everything in place. In this instance I cleared up a lot of the issues that I thought might be causing the problem in Google’s algo – the plan was not only to dodge the penalty in the short term, but to succeed in the long term through improved content and stronger brand signals.

The results have been mixed, with a pretty clear outcome:

emd update traffic

What happened here is exactly what I would expect from a plain old 301 redirect. Initial gains, a bit of bouncing around and ultimately back to where we were just a month or two before. But given the extent to which the site was cleared up, I had hoped that the results may have gone beyond the norm. Unfortunately, this case study is indicative of the wider picture; other sites in similar situations have faced identical patterns, while legitimate sites left to gain organic links have still seen no improvement.

Google hammered these EMD sites back in September, and so far I’ve not heard any reports of anyone being able to recover. I’m sure Google is aware that this algo misfired for a lot of people, and no doubt we’ll see a refresh to this part of the algo in the coming months.