The return of exact match domains in Google? Or not?! The financial sector assessed

Andy, 4 Apr 2013

Google Logo 2012

Take The Kardashians for example. No matter how much you despise something or know how damaging it can be to the bigger picture, they always come back, to your annoyance. Well, in the SEO community (in the financial sector in particular), we’ve seen an ugly friend rear their ugly head once again – the EMD. Although, not to be confused with a digital sexually transmitted disease, the EMD is an acronym for ‘Exact Match Domains’ – so websites that rank well, simply by having the name of the keyword within the domain itself.

We also have a PMD (a not so serious one), which is ‘Partial Match Domains’, who have also come juggernanuting back into the fold. Here, I am to explore the return of the EMD in the UK within different sectors and offer some possible insight into why this may have happened.

Ok, lets just clarify before an angry keyboard warrior attacks me with a Dudgeons and Dragons mousemat – if a company offers a superb service and has a well optimised website, then of course it should rank highly in Google. My problem, along with many other SEOs, is that you should not gain any additional weight for simply having the keyword within your domain name. Agreed?

Lets take a look at some real data to see if this is the case. Please note, an EMD takes the following format – www.keyword.(cc)tld or www.key-word.(cc)tld:

emd-update-test-subjects

To be honest, that doesn’t give much away. Three keywords chosen at random show that I’m 66% right. A more in depth study is required, but my experience within the financial sector tells me something dodgy is going on. Below is a chart highlighting the movement of the four EMDs in test subject one for a financial keyword term:

emd-improvement-test-subject-1
Chart showing four EMDs shoot up in rankings for a financial keyword term.

This movement does seem very unnatural for this sector, especially considering the red line has a vast number of unrelated backlinks pointing to the domain. ‘Drug rehab centre’ and ‘Exercises belly fat’ are a common occurrence in the 2007 style blogroll setup. But, the keyword is listed within the domain name. Lets see how it does for the exact match compared against similar keywords that it becomes a PMD:

test-subject-rise-as-pmd-emd
A chart showing how an individual EMD does for an exact match keyword (red) and two keywords where it becomes a PMD

The domains rise over the past two months may be down to backlink accumulation, but looking at the historical tab on SEO Majestic; that has only ramped up in the past month or so:

seo-majestic-historical-backlinks-for-test-subject-one
Screenshot taken from Majestic SEO showing the backlink accumulation of the EMD used in the chart previously

Now, this is the big decider. Is this surge of EMDs restricted to a specific sector rather than a universal change? There has been discussions in the past regarding different algorithms for different website and sectors – so could this be the case in the financial industry? Look at the same keyword a few months earlier and the sharp rise and inevitable decline for a few PMDs:

odd-movement-in-financial-sector
For the same keyword in test subject one, two PMDs rise and fall dramatically at the same time

Now, any SEO that has been in the business for a while will know that both of these domains didn’t dramatically improve their organic visibility and then dive into a pool of helplessness, on the same day. Oh, and both domains were registered three weeks before their surge up to page one in Google. But am in fact discussing an issue within the financial sector alone, rather than all of Google?

There is some extremely odd movement in areas such as ‘payday loans’ and indeed ‘quick loans’ as highlighted by the graph below:

quick-loans-pay-day-loans
Payday loan websites randomly appearing within Google UK for ‘quick loans’ before dropping out suddenly

Now! That looks odd, no? A number of domains themed around ‘payday loans’ rising up the Google rankings, only to drop out a few days later. This is a phenomenon that has been accuring week after week for the past year. Are Google trying to fix this issue or, have the big guns not got the foggiest idea what is happening over this side of the pond? After all, the US results for ‘quick loans’ look ok, no!? –


The ‘normal’ Google results from a US IP address for ‘quick loans’

To conclude

Here are my concluding points on the EMD study into the financial sector:

  • In the financial sectors we monitor, there has been a sharp rise in EMD/PMD websites.
  • This hasn’t been the case for a number of other sectors.
  • I’ve never seen anything like the movement in the ‘payday loans’ or ‘quick loans’ sector in Google UK.
  • This movement has not been reflected in the US.
  • Does Google even know this problem exists in Google UK?
  • Or are they or are they actively trying to resolve this issue by adding weight to external anchor text?
  • Which as a consequence – improves the positioning of EMDs/PMDs.

I’m sure you’ll agree, there is a lot of odd movement within a number of charts that I’ve presented. My philosophy on SEO is that it is a way of life. You can get quick wins, but shortcuts won’t last forever. You may see a website rank on page one that you know shouldn’t be there and in time, Google usually get it right. But it would be refreshing if they acknowledged this problem via a Google webmaster video, rather than Matt Cutts pretending to be a dinosaur.

Posted in Sector insights