EMD Update and Panda Rollout Rattle Webmasters

Webmasters the Internet over are scratching their heads in disbelief over Google’s newest power play. About a week ago, Big G unleashed a massive algorithm change targeting low-quality websites with exact match domains (EMD). It wasn’t a total surprise; Google’d been hinting at the possible update for years.

It’s now official, and countless webmasters I’ve come across in forums and on blogs are in a very real world of hurt. To give you a glimpse into the scope of the update, here’s the recent measurement of EMD shifts from the folks over at SEOmoz:

Along Came a Panda

To complicate matters further, Google announced that it began rolling out a Panda update right alongside the new EMD algo on September 27. Panda has leveled out since G originally introduced it to the search community over a year ago, and it’s highly likely that you don’t even notice so much as a blip on the radar when a new refresh comes about.

The reason for this is that Panda has pretty much normalized, and the engineers have ironed out most of the kinks. Now, the regular updates are simply “data refreshes” as opposed to algorithm updates. However, this new change was indeed a Panda algorithm update, and according to Matt Cutts, it was a big one. He noted in a quote that the update affected roughly 2.4% of English queries to a degree that regular users could possibly notice.

How the EMD Update Impacted the SERPs

On September 28, Matt Cutts announced on Twitter that the EMD update rolled out on September 29 and it affected 0.6% of search queries to a noticeable degree. He also noted in the Tweet that it was entirely unrelated to Panda or Penguin.

It’s a separate algorithm, but it rolled out simultaneously with the Panda update. Here’s a little info about the EMD update from Search Engine Land:

The EMD update targets low-quality websites that bear exact match domains for keywords. However, Google’s a bit famous for its “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to algo changes, and many innocent EMD websites have been caught in the net with the low-caliber offenders.

Since both algorithm updates are baking into the index at the time of this writing, they’re simultaneously affecting the SERPs. This means there’s no real way of knowing which algo hit your website if it took a rankings hit. I came across quite a few different SEO experts and industry blogs that are speculating this could be a very deliberate move by Google to stay a step ahead.

From Google’s point-of-view, if webmasters don’t know what hit their sites, they’ll have a harder time gaming the system. This ensures Google keeps the SERPs free of spammers and those using cheap parlor tricks to artificially inflate their rankings.

On the other hand, hardworking site owners feel slighted because their well-crafted websites could drop unjustly if they’re caught in the crossfire. That’s why Google should be one part of a multifaceted marketing plan. The tweaks will just keep on coming as the algorithms become more sophisticated, so if you depend on Google as your sole source of revenue, you’re building your business on quicksand.