Google’s Exact Match Domain Update Explained

An Exact Match Domain (EMD) is precisely what it sounds like. It’s simply a domain name that is identical—or nearly identical—to a search phrase entered into Google. While EMDs aren’t inherently bad for SEO, in the past, site builders took advantage of EMDs to rank high with Google without putting any effort into content production or site creation. That is until the Exact Match Domain update rolled out and held all sites accountable for their production, including those with an EMD.

 Launch Date: September 27, 2012

What Google’s Exact Match Domain Update Impacted

While EMDs were once the kings of the SERPs, this update has weeded out those sites Google deems low quality. There’s nothing unique about downranked EMDs; they simply aren’t following Google’s webmaster guidelines. Below are a few reasons why your site with an EMD might have a lower ranking than before:

Poor SEO

What does your SEO strategy look like? Do you have one? Sites are constantly evolving and changing to match their target audience better. You’ll lose your ranking rather quickly if you’ve got bad or no SEO.

Bad Content

EMDs notoriously have had terrible content quality. Because Google wants the very best for its users, your content has to prove that you’re legitimate and authoritative in your area.

Keyword Stuffing

Google hates keyword stuffing in general. But EMDs have a terrible reputation for keyword stuffing. One might claim that the domain name is an attempt at keyword stuffing. Instead, know that Google values strategically placed keywords over a bunch of keywords crammed onto a page. 

How The EMD Update Works

For a long time, EMDs ranked well in Google’s SERPs simply because of their domain name exactly matched the query. However, despite their site’s quality, content, or SEO strategies, EMDs could benefit from Google’s automatic rankings boost.

But the Exact Match Domain update has put an end to that. What was once a cheap and easy loophole to get more organic traffic is now nothing more than a simple domain name that describes what you offer. The Exact Match Domain update takes away the free ride EMDs enjoyed. Now, more than just the domain name is considered when Google ranks sites on their SERPs. Google’s crawlers now evaluate a site against their Quality Guidelines regardless of its domain name and if it matches query phrases entered by Google’s users.

How to Adjust Your SEO Strategy

The most important way to ensure your EMD site sees higher rankings is by doing the same thing you should do from your site’s creation: practice excellent SEO.

Improve Your Content

One of the most notorious mistakes of EMDs of the past is creating a site with harmful content. The thought was that builders didn’t have to put much effort into creating content because the site would rank high regardless of the domain name. Now, that’s no longer true. Instead, you’ve got to create great content that satisfies your users and that Google will recognize and reward with higher rankings.

Build Links

Building internal and external links is an incredibly effective for showcasing your site authority. But these links need to be relevant and, if external links, they need to be from respected and legitimate sites.

Review Google’s Quality Guidelines

Google doesn’t give you a to-do list explaining step-by-step how to rank at the top of their SERPs. However, they have a pretty extensive set of guidelines that detail what you need to include or not include on your site to appeal to their crawlers.

Take time to review what Google’s web admins are looking for. If you can build your site with these factors in mind, this will save you time and heartache. If your site is already built with an EMD and you’re simply trying to restructure to regain your ranking, don’t fret. Google’s goal is to provide an exceptional user experience. You can make this happen in many ways, even if you haven’t done this in the past. Regaining momentum after a downrank might seem impossible, but Google gives you everything you need to know.


If you’ve got an EMD, you do no need to go through changing your domain name. It’s not the EMD that is causing your rankings to drop; it never will. The bottom line is that Google wants to see excellence from all the sites they index. The best websites rank high, and those that don’t, well, you know the rest. Practice great SEO—or hire the pros to do it for you—and you’ll see great rankings regardless of whether or not you’ve got an Exact Match Domain. Feel free to reach out if you need help with your enterprise SEO or local SEO.

Additional Google Update Resources