Google’s Over-Optimization Penalty and Exact Match Domains

The Webspam Algorithm Update and Exact Match Domains

Yesterday, we found out that the latest Google algorithm update was underway (dubbed the Over Optimization Penalty).  Google posted about the update on the Webmaster Central Blog.  By the way, Google is officially calling the update the Webspam Algorithm Update and not the Over Optimization Update (although I like the sound of the latter).  There has been a lot of speculation about what the update would look like, which spammy tactics would get hit, etc.  I’ve been keeping a close eye on the various webmaster forums, and there are already many reports of sites getting nuked.  As Google explained in its blog post yesterday, it was targeting webspam tactics that were being used to game the system.  That could mean spammy inbound links, keyword stuffing, doorway pages, etc.

The goal of the latest algorithm update is to level the playing field rankings-wise.  Google realizes that there are many sites that have great content, but simply can’t compete against other sites that have been overly optimized.  And when I say “overly optimized”, I’m referring to using spammy tactics to game the system.  As I’ve always said, those tactics might work in the short-term, but the long term impact could be devastating.  And those sites are seeing the negative effect now.

What Does Over Optimization Mean?
There’s a lot of speculation with what over optimization actually is, and what can get you penalized with this latest algo update.  For example, keyword stuffing, too many inbound links with rich anchor text, overly optimized title tags, footers filled with optimized content, etc.  Basically, any spammy tactic that companies have used to game the system…

To be clear, these aren’t tactics that a typical webmaster would use.  Based on the screams from webmasters that have been hit during recent testing, and now as the algo gets rolled out, spammy inbound links seem to be causing a lot of problems.  That said, I’m sure we are going to see many examples of different tactics getting penalized too.  By the way, if you are interested in checking your own inbound links, then check out my recent post about finding spammy links using Open Site Explorer.  It will only take you a few minutes…

The Exact Match Domain Threshold
One tactic that I think hasn’t received as much attention during this update is the use of exact match domains.  Mike Wilton mentioned this in his post about Over Optimization, but most people have been focusing on inbound links, keyword stuffing, on-page optimization, etc.  But anyone in SEO will tell you that exact match domains have been a tactic that has been abused over the years.  It involves someone registering a domain name that exactly matches the keyword they want to rank for.  Unfortunately, the engines heavily weight keyword-rich domains in the SERPs.  As you can imagine, that flaw has led to an abuse of the system.

For example, imagine you sold widgets in Princeton, NJ.  You might register or  You get the picture, and my guess is that you have seen many exact match domains rank well as you search Google.  On the one hand, if you legitimately have an exact match domain, and you use that domain as your core website, then I get it (and that’s fine to me).  Also, if you happen to have a brand name or company name that matches a highly searched keyword, I get that too.

But the abuse has come from business owners (and heavily local business owners) who simply want to dominate a certain category by using exact match domains.  And that’s where I think it crosses the line.  In addition, some companies use their core domain for their website, but register a bunch of exact match domains that simply link to their core domain.  As you can see, that’s not a “normal” way to set up websites for a company (or how to build inbound links for the core domain).

Will Exact Match Domains Get Hammered by the Webspam Algorithm Update?
It’s hard to say to what degree, but I know some will get penalized (actually, I see some are getting penalized right now).  I obviously don’t think all exact match domains will get nuked, since that’s way too extreme, and would include the legitimate use of exact match domains (as I covered earlier).  So, there might be a threshold that Google uses while determining which exact match domains to penalize.

An Example of Webmasters Reporting a Drop in Rankings as Algorithm Update Rolls Out: 

Webmasters report drop in rankings based on Google algorithm update

Below, I’ll list some thoughts about what that threshold could look like.  And I hope this goes without saying, but we’ll all find out over time how extreme this algorithm update was.  We are only on day 1. :)

1. Number of Domains Per Company
As I mentioned earlier, there are some companies that have registered an exact match domain for their business website.  If that’s the sole use of the domain, and you are adding high quality, valuable content, then there’s no reason for that domain to get hammered.  But, if a company registered 5 different exact match domains, in addition to having its company website, then you can start to see how this would violate Google’s guidelines.  The company is simply trying to game Google and rank across multiple sites for target keywords.  This type of set up is at great risk right now (in my opinion).

And by the way, if you think Google doesn’t know that you own all the domains, think again.  It has multiple ways to understand this, including your own Google Analytics account.  :)

2. Cross Linking of Domains Using Rich Anchor Text
Are all the exact match domains linking to either each other, or to another domain you own?  Again, that could easily be perceived as spamming by Google.  Buying a bunch of exact match domains only to cross link them using rich anchor text could definitely get you in trouble.  I’ve come across this a thousand times while analyzing inbound links for companies.  You clearly see several company-owned domains all linking to one another with the exact anchor text that they want to rank for.

3. Doorway Pages
Similar to what I explained above, some companies employ exact match domains (and pages within those domains) solely to help another site rank.  In addition, some companies use EMD’s to funnel traffic to a core, company website.  Again, typical webmasters aren’t going to do this… They will build high quality domains with the goal of impressing prospective customers, educating them, and landing new business.  They will build links naturally and not try to buy their way to the top of the rankings.  Google has a clear view of doorway pages, as stated in its Webmaster Guidelines.

4. Thin Content and Panda
With the latest algorithm update, there is a chance that a website could fall victim to a double whammy penalty.  For example, getting hit by both Panda and Over Optimization.  All you have to do is combine what I’ve listed above and you can see how a website might have both thin content and be in use solely to help another site rank well.  If that’s the case, then it could get hit by the Panda Update (which targets low quality content), and by OOP (which targets webspam).  Good luck recovering from that perfect storm…

Summary – We’re only in the beginning stages of OOP
As crazy as this sounds, this is an extremely exciting time for anyone involved in SEO.  You get to watch a major algorithm update get pushed out, analyze the sites that get penalized, view collateral damage, try and better understand what Google’s objective was with the update, etc.  In this post, I’ve tried to outline how the latest update could impact exact match domains.  Unfortunately, nobody will know the exact impact for weeks (or longer).  I plan to write more about the Webspam Algorithm Update in future posts, so keep an eye on my RSS feed.

And, if you have been hit by the latest update, feel free to reach out to me.  Although many spammy websites will get penalized, there is always collateral damage.



  • Adam Hoeksema

    I would be interested on your thoughts on my site –  Yes it is an exact match domain that I got a year and a half ago before knowing any better.

    Back before I knew any better I had quite a few links with exact anchor text.

    So I got hammered today, but I am producing good content for the last 6 months.  Here is an example of what I believe is a very high quality blog post –

    So should I go back and change all my old links with rich anchor text, if so should I just delete the links altogether or change to something like “read here” or “see more here”?

    Would love any thoughts you might have.  Thanks!

  • Glenn Gabe

    Hi Adam.

    Thanks for your comment.  I’ll definitely take a look at your site and let you know what I think.  I’ll reach out to via email once I do.  I’m sorry to hear you got hammered today!

    I’ll be in touch soon.


  • seo tips

    It’s a very good point that you’ve raised here. If not the penalty, EMD may get the ‘undue advantage’ nullified in future updates.

  • Lyndon NA

    Hold on a moment.

    1) Is it EMD that grant a boost, or the % of IBLs that happen to use that as the LT ?

    2) Has anyone stopped and wondered whether G are using modifiers as multipliers rather than additions?  Maybe the EMD itself isn’t a major factor – but corresponds with an exponential effect to Titles/headings etc.?

    3) There are legit sites out there using EMDs.
    Why should they suffer – simply because;
    a) They got lucky/smart in getting the EMD
    b) Because a bunch of scum broke the rules using EMDs

    4) If you are nto careful – you’ll end up with teh same myths running with other DomainName concepts for SEO (such as .nnn tlds don’t rank, and .nnn domains get you penalised, and that G favour .nnn domains and give them a ranking boost etc. etc. etc.).
    Yes – EMD do grant a benefit – and it’s an understandable one.
    Think of Brand, think of Location etc.
    Perfectly sensible assumption.
    G should not be looking at reducing the benefit – they should be looking at who should be getting the benefit – and whether they actually deserve it.

    • Glenn Gabe

      Lyndon, that’s exactly why I explained that it’s not the EMD that’s the problem, it’s how you are using the EMD. :)  I’ve now analyzed 80+ sites hit by Penguin, and some used EMD’s while others didn’t. It had 100% to do with the link profiles of each domain hit by Penguin.

  • Chef Rick

    Very good article. One of the best I have seen on this subject. I have an EMD that got killed by the penguin update. On April 24th I went from 900 impressions a day to less than 30 and usually 0. I was # 6 on page 1 for almost a year. I did have a lot of ibl’s matching my domain name, and have been asking to have them removed after being hit. There are about 8000 searches a month for the product of my domain name, which is I have a very relevant website for the search term Chicken Paprikash. I don’t know if I should start over with a new domain name and if I did, could I put the content I have on my site onto the new site without it being considered a duplicate and get penalized again.Obviously the content I currently have on my site was good enough to rank in the search engines. I am still on page 1 of bing, yahoo and many others for my keywords. I have no messages in my Google webmaster account nor have I ever ever received any e-mails from google. I have many $$$ invested that seem to be for naught now. Not sure what to do. Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Glenn Gabe

      Thanks for your comment Rick. I would have to analyze your site, your inbound links, etc. to determine what the core problem was, and then how you should move.  Considering how Penguin 1.0 was extremely focused on inbound links, I would complete an inbound link analysis if you haven’t yet.  That should reveal the core problem.  If you feel like you need help with this, contact me via email.  I can explain more about my services.  Thanks again.

  • stephanei

    Hello great article!! I finally got an explanation of what is happening to our website! we have been penalized for having Exact Match Domain affecting seriously my rankings!
    can you please take a look at so you can give me your comments of what is going on and what other factors have made us fall.

    thanks in advance!

    • Glenn Gabe

      Stephanie, I highly recommend having an inbound link analysis performed, and then work on removing links that are causing problems. I only took a quick look, but see many that are problematic. I hope that helps.

  • Mike Hanson

    Im a novice in all areas when it comes to the web and SEO, but i am guilty of some of the above tactics. Exact match domains to boost another site, why is this wrong if that is the service i provide. It has to do with delivery services so i have gathered a ton of EMD’s to help boost my main page. But they are helpful sites with legit content and the customer finds what they are looking for. My main site is great and has great content. Why is using EMD’s bad?

  • Safwan Bakais

    In relation to exact match domains, I have lots of them and I have realized that Google has changed its attitude towards them. If the domain is navigational then it won’t get effected however if it is an information based search then the domain now will have to work harder to keep the exact match. So all what google did is downgrading the importance of the domain name in the serp. Lots of people will wonder for example facebook, yahoo, youtube are navigational. The navigational exact match starts from 0 search then the domain makes the demand for the keyword while exact match domain based on information, the domain is registered after the search demand existed. My website had no search and I hope in a few years I will create the demand for the keyword.

    Don’t buy the domain unless you are going to brand it. Don’t buy it for the keyword but buy it for the meaning the words/ phrase it has. It should be .com as all the other extensions are treated less favorable despite suggestions they are all treated the same.

  • Amandeep Singh

    Hi Glenn Gabe

    Its really nice article and good piece of Information. My website dropped yesterday. . I was on page 1 for keyword download movies from more than 3 months, then with panda update i was moving between page 2 – 4. But with this EMD, my website is nowhere. i checked upto 20 pages of google. For download movies i am gone, still for download movies online i am on page 1.

    here are couple of things to discuss:

    1. I will request you to please have a look on my website and guide me to come out of it.
    2. it looks like it is EMD penality. So if i register a new domain, and will it be a good idea to do 301 from old to new? I have doubt.. We already gave more than more than 1000 backlinks to, if i do 301 to new domain, obviously all links value will pass on, but the EMD penalty will also pass on to new domain? What are your views on it?

    and rather than going for a new domain i would like to get my previous 1 year old domain back.


    • Glenn Gabe

      Hi Amandeep. I’m sorry to hear you were hit by the EMD update. Google also started rolling out a Panda update last week, so you want to make sure you know which update hit your site.

      I’m performing a lot of analysis on several EMD’s now and will hopefully write a post soon about my findings. Check back here often.


  • Brandon Orndorff

    Ok so my site got hit hard with the EMD penalty and traffic dropped nearly 75%. I know its been a while since the update but I am just now getting to this one as I have been hit by many updates even still now. If you have any advice on what I can do to help get Android Advice out of the dirt I would appreciated it greatly The site still gets pretty good traffic but nothing close to what it used to). domain is

    • Glenn Gabe

      Thanks for your comment Brandon, and I’m sorry to hear your site has been hit so hard. Can you email me so I can explain more about my schedule and services? Thanks again.

  • J

    Hi Glenn,

    Your articles on the ‘new’ Google are some of the best online today. Thanks.

    I have a question. When you discovered companies that you were helping out of algorithmic penalties like Panda and Phantom had multiple domains registered selling the same things and/or interlinking between owned sites to increase their rankings, what was your advice to them?

    I assume you suggested that they get rid of all the extra sites they owned and just concentrate on their main site that they wanted to improve, right? Or what did you suggest?

    And most importantly, after they got rid of all other sites, did you see these clients’ ranking improve?

    I ask this because I wonder if Google somehow ‘tags’ sites that have this this type of ‘multiple-owned sites’ footprint to never allow them out of Panda/Phantom hell.

    • Glenn Gabe

      It depends on each specific situation, but overall, it’s best to focus on one site per niche. The companies using multiple sites all focused on the same products typically end up losing serious search traffic.

      It’s totally ok to have multiple sites *if they don’t focus on the same products*, but you can get yourself in trouble by trying to crowd the SERPs with your own domains. I hope that helps.