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EMD Update – Rolling With The Punches

Justin Cooke Updated on February 29, 2020

EMD Update - Rolling With The Punches

We’ll get right down to it in the post…we took a punch straight to the nose with this one.  We’ve waited a couple of days so that we could monitor the impact and get back to you with some factual information.  There will be more to come, but we wanted to get this out as soon as we possibly could.

As many of you are aware, Google released a new update last Friday, September 28th that’s being referred to as the “EMD Update”. According to Matt Cutts,

“Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.”

Matt later clarified:

“New exact-match domain (EMD) algo affects 0.6% of English-US queries to a noticeable degree. Unrelated to Panda/Penguin.”

Unlike the previous updates Panda and Penguin, this has had a more devastating impact on our sites across the board. This is all still extremely new so it’s hard to paint a complete picture, but we wanted to get this post out as quickly as we can to share some of the facts about what’s happening, give some details about the impact it’s had on us, and to share our thoughts about why it’s happened and how our tactics will continue to change and evolve in the coming weeks and months.

Just The Facts

The EMD update has had a significant impact on exact match domains and their position on the first page of Google. SEOMoz is reporting a day-over-day change of 10.3%…and that’s just the initial report.

Courtesy of SEOMoz

While this has severely impacted smaller/thinner niche sites, authority sites have taken hits as well. Consider the following examples: – Authority site with 228 pages of content that previously ranked #4 on the SERP. This site has dropped below the first 10 pages on Google. Currently outranked by these sites:

  • (a thin niche site with more content on the first page)
  • (a local business based out of Kissimmee, Florida) – An authority site (admittedly local) with over 7,000 pages that previously ranked #7 on the SERP. This site has dropped a few spots to the second page and has lost some of the benefit of the exact match domain, even though it remains a quality site. Currently outranked by other (local) government sites discussing charter schools in their local area.

It seems the EMD Update wasn’t only related to exact match domains either, although the data on this is a bit more fragmented.  Some are reporting their partial match domains or even branded domains have taken some serious hits.

The Effect On Our Sites

There’s no other way to put this…many of our sites have been decimated. We were averaging 6,454 pageviews a day on Saturdays/Sundays this month and this last weekend we dropped to 2,012 pageviews…a 69% drop in traffic. Our average earnings in the same period dropped from $134.62 per day to $43.59…a 68% drop in earnings.

That’s pretty bad…

What’s mind-boggling is the fact that we build our sites the same way and yet (nearly) 70% of the traffic/earnings were affected and the other 30% were not. Why is that? This is something we’ll be delving into in the coming days/weeks as we tweak our process and adjust the “machine”.

Our Interpretation

Note: Please be aware that everything I’ve said up until this point was factual. Everything below in this post will include quite a bit of interpretation and “best guess” analysis on my part.

We avoided major Panda issues because all of our content was 100% unique and relevant to the topic. Definitely not award winning stuff…but significantly higher quality than some of the keyword-stuffed, auto-generated content on some of the sites that took a hit with previous updates. We weren’t immune, but weren’t exactly the target for Panda, either.

We took a bit of a hit with Penguin (largely due to our using BMR for links to some of the sites) but it was on a specific set of sites and not damaging across the board. Again…Penguin was looking for linkbuilding profiles to particular pages and that wasn’t a tactic we employed very heavily.

This…is different. The net cast by Google on this latest round of changes was SUPPOSED to target sites like ours, it seems. Unlike previous updates, the tweaks in this algorithm update didn’t catch some of our outlying sites by accident…it snagged the bulk of our sites.

I should point out that I think something different has gone on with our sites as opposed to the example sites I listed above. With the teeth whitening site, you’ll notice that if you search Google with this search string: teeth whitening “”

The site comes up in the #1 position. Not so with our sites. In fact, most of them aren’t on the first page, second page, etc. It looks like image searches were affected as well.

The other example,, shows a drop of just a few positions, putting them on the second page. I think this is a clearer example of them tweaking down the value of the EMD for their site. In our case, we didn’t drop a few spots…our sites are completely tanked in the rankings. Using the search string mentioned above, the SERP is showing random blogspot sub-domains that have much less to do with the topic than our niche sites…not a good sign.

WARNING: We’ve already received several emails and have seen people aggressively promoting fear and uncertainty. (Usually to promote their $17.95 ebook on how to recover your site from this latest update, sell you their “Google-Proof” websites, etc.) Resist the temptation to give them your money. They can push all the “I told you so’s” they want to, but the truth is it’s way too early for anyone to have tested through this or to confidently say what will work or what won’t. We’ll have more about our tactical adjustments and what we “hope” will work in a future post, but for now here are a few resources you can trust:

SERoundTable Report
SearchEngineLand Report
SEOMoz Early Data Report

They’ll be updating their sites in the next few days as more data rolls in, I’m sure.

Download your free report

Where To From Here?

It’s still a bit early to detail all the changes that are surely coming for us in the next few days and weeks. We’ve been tossing around some ideas for a while now and haven’t acted on them, but these recent changes are forcing our hand.

The truth is this: We’re just not sure yet.

I have to be honest with you, I’m frustrated with what’s happened, but also both nervous and excited about getting “back to work” improving our process and taking this to the next level. I think we failed a bit in that we’ve been complacent in recent months, focusing more of our time/effort/energy on side projects rather than taking our sites to the next level. We’d escaped previous updates because our sites weren’t that bad, but once Google started moving up the value chain we took a hit. We got the message…it’s time for us to grow.

I should mention that our philosophy, strategy, and goals remain the same. Ultimately, we build informational sites around niches and long-tail keywords by providing useful content and monetized with advertising. We then share our process, success, and failure with you in the hopes that it helps you with your journey. The use of EMD’s, linkbuilding vs. non-linkbuilding, etc. are just the tactics we use to bring in the traffic. It’s a subtle, but important distinction I think.

Joe, John, and I are in different cities and will be through the rest of this week. We’ll all be back together next weekend and discussing, documenting, and implementing our gameplan going forward will be our top priority. Rest assured, we’ll be sharing all of that here, as always.

Now…over to you! We’re really interested to hear about any trends or patterns you’ve come across with Tanked Vs. Non-Tanked sites. Please be sure to differentiate from what you believe to be the case and what you’ve actually experienced. Hopefully, we can all share information in the comments below that will help us get back on track with building our online empires. Please feel free to ask any questions. We don’t have as many answers as we’d like…more are coming soon…but we’d like to share what we can.

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  • rosettaelubbers says:

    What an article!! Really great article.Saturdays/Sundays this month and this last weekend we dropped to 2,012 pageviews…a 69% drop in traffic. Our average earnings in the same period dropped from $134.62 per day to $43.59…a 68% drop in earnings.Actually great income!! Very helpful article.I have collected many importance information from here.I have also collected many importance information from Learn to flip houses

  • Andrew says:

    Hi guys, Im wondering now that some time has passed, how the EMD update effected your nich site process and strategy. Do you still only build sites
    on domains with an exact match available? Or have you experimented targeting
    keywords whilst using a non exact match domains?

  • Matt says:

    Wow. I just finished reading the guide, was all fired up to use some of my 10+ year old domains that after keyword research, looked like they’d perform very well. Then I read this article about the EMD update. Smashed in the face

    • Matt, I still encourage you to try it out in a very limited fashion. Just don’t scale the $h!t out it! 😉

      Well not until we verify this EMD update is more of a push penalty than an algorithm change. I think it is and if the pushes are more than 3 months apart, you can still scrape together enough profit to make this model work. Especially with aged domains.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey, Matt!

      The EMD Update wasn’t really about EMD’s, actually. Take some of the tone-downs we recommend in the September Income Report and apply to your process…should be fine! 🙂

  • Yakezie says:

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this subject. I’m JUST now discovering the world of EMD and niche sites etc b/c of all the debate about what’s going on. I had no idea about BMR and $5 spun posts until this year.

    What about the idea of just writing meatier, longer, value-added content on a smaller number of sites? I think Google is looking for longer posts (such as this one!). It’s helped on my main site Financial Samurai, as well as a couple other sites.

    Hope you guys recover. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


    • Sam, we are really thinking that a strategy change is in order as opposed to a quick fix. We have a new podcast coming out highlighting some of the changes we think are needed to be successful. Be sure to check it out.

      • Yakezie says:

        Sounds good Joseph. If it helps, as I sit here in San Francisco and now several mid-managers in Google’s adspam team, Google knows everything and they want to aggressively put up meatier content in their search results, and focus on sites that have no relevance in their domain name to the keyword, but a lot of content that talks about the keywords. Branded sites in other words.

        • JustinWCooke says:

          Hmmm…you’re just hanging out in San Francisco (Mountain View?) with Matt Cutts’ crew? Tell them we said hi. 🙁

  • Hmmm… sometimes Google forgets the business they’re in: serving good search results. Exact keyword domain or not, the quality should count.

    And I just bought a keyword rich domain that gets 100,000+ monthly searches for the exact phrase… Not sure what to make of it.

  • I only have one EMD site and it was not affected at all by this update… I am starting to believe though that Google is determined to please the share holders at all costs now though after reading about this latest update and many of the previous updates.

    Like Bing, if crap is returned when the average person performs a search than they will be more likely to click on a paid advertisement. They are in the business of making money, but riddle me this Batman – if the main goal was to provide the best search results to the end user, than why do they place 1-4 PAID advertisements above the search results? Exactly! The main goal of Google is to gain as much data as they can and get stupid rich doing it!
    Has anyone looked into sites registered in Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools? Google has a ton of information about your website just by being in the index, but think of the information they have when you give them the keys to the back door… Just some food for thought… now go eat 🙂

    • Aaron, while it’s easy to fall into this line of thinking, I don’t believe it has much merit. Google most likely isn’t using the data it collects nefariously. Like most conspiracies, there are simply too many people involved at the base level for something this to be kept a secret.

      The more likely scenario is that they are truly trying to improve their search results. However, they are not aware of the unintended consequences of these updates. Thousands (maybe even millions) of people across the world have lost their jobs and legitimate companies have seen their search traffic plummet even for their own brand name due to the result algorithm changes. For a company that does not provide any sort of support or insight into what’s going on under the hood, this is a terrible way to do business.

      I feel (hope?) they will eventually dial back these penalties to a more acceptable level. Long term though they really need to fix the true underlying problem — no one knows how the black block of Google search results work, there in no one to complain to when things seem to go wrong (and don’t even tell me about reconsideration requests, the best you will get is a template email response and more likely nothing), and businesses are building their entire revenue plan around results that seem to change on a whim. Come on Google, step up your game!

  • Codi says:

    Relevance is king , pages filled with related phrases are not relevant to the search users query but a page that expands on a user query in a way that not only makes sense to the user and to the search algo will always do well.

    Essential what im saying is you need to take a look at your keyword strategy and refine how you write you content.

  • Daniel says:

    Hi guys, I have ~60 sites and mosts of them got removed from top100 but my last 2 sites (I added content to them 1 day after update) are ranking strong in top10. They are EMD with only 1 500 word article.

    Maybe they just penalised “old” bad sites and didn’t actually change search algo?

    • Interesting Daniel. Based on some internet rumors, your hunch might be correct. This seems like a “push button” update that Google will roll out every 3 to 6 months. So there’s room in there to make profit.

  • Kyle Proctor says:

    I am seeing interesting results. I had multiple website taken off the map completely. Some are still standing and the interesting part is my earnings are around the same. Where I am seeing a difference is in the EPC (Earnings per click). Websites that had low EPC before seem to be much higher and are offsetting the lack of traffic to the demolished sites. Are you seeing any of this on your side?

    FYI. I purchased a site from you guys about 2 months ago. I have not seen any negative hit on it. the earnings are a little higher per month than when i bought it. This site was not ranked in Google but getting traffic from images and other various places. Just thought you might like to know.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Kyle,

      It’s great to hear that you’re non-tanked sites are making up for those that are when it comes to CPC. Unfortunately, we’re not seeing the same thing. If you’re talking about a smaller number of sites overall it’s probably just involving luck, increased advertisers in the niche, etc.

      • Kyle Proctor says:

        i have about 25 that are producing much higher results per click value. In some cases it is double the value. I have 30 sites disappear from search and the 25 that are producing are almost making up the loss for the 30 sites I lost. I still get some traffic to those down sites but only longtail.

        It is also possible that the income is still higher because the EMD keyword did not produce that much ctr but more of the longtail words did and those are still coming to the site? Just a thought.

  • The Smart Money Makers says:

    Hi Joe and Justin,
    I have been reading your posts and following your podcast for at least 6 months and thanks for all the information.

    I have been creating sites since 2010:
    – I have close to 20 sites (mix of EMD, PMD and Brand Names)
    – I would say the results are mostly random. Most of the sites (EMD, PMD and even brand names) are worstly affected
    – I had no problems with all the previous updates. My rankings dropped from 29th September

    My Observations:
    – This update is not just a EMD rollout. It’s more than EMD rollout. Image results are worsely affected, but didn’t have any effect on another site that mainly has visitors from image search
    – One of my site that still stays in top results for many keywords has many shares in FB. So I would say Social signals has more weightage. But my other site that has no sharing buttons still stays in top results too.
    – I used the same backlinking strategy for all my sites, so this is pretty weird

    It’s totally FRUSTRATING after so much of hard work! Let’s wait for few days to see if google rolls back some updates!

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Thanks for the comment and your support!

      Yes, we were largely unaffected in previous updates, so this one was a tough pill to swallow. I’ve read that social signals play a part as well…but the types of sites we’ve built up until now are simply not the types of sites that would get any social mentions.

  • Thanks for the updated info Justin. I took a pretty big hit and am now looking at other long term strategies. Including some that involve actually dealing with other business owners! Amazing I know.

    Look forward to the next podcast.

  • Colin Unger says:

    Has any one seen rankings return to a website that was effected by the emd update?

    I had one site that was only a few weeks old that had quality link building done in a non-spammy way. This site only dropped to 11 while my other sites with no link building dropped off the face of the earth. I added a few extra pages for about us and contact us and including a physical address to the page which had dropped to 11 and it has returned to being ranked 9th overall and is profiting again. Food for thought.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Colin,

      It sounds like the hit that site took was truly a tweak down on the effectiveness of the EMD bonus. I’ve seen and read about other sites like this…where they simply have to overcome the dialed down benefits they were receiving before.

      That’s significantly different than what we’ve seen with our sites. Across the board, many of our sites were penalized at the domain level and not simply a slight drop off in rankings. Interesting, eh?

  • Rob says:

    Hi Guys!
    I was hit by new Google update as well, my income was not big but after update I have lost like 70% of my usual traffic so it is bad.
    I have some idea ( I am not sure if it will be have any sense)
    What if to change the number of displaying posts on home page from one post to ten or fifteen ??? and change permalinks from %post name% to wp default???
    Bigger number of post on home page could change overall look of web site to less optimized to main keyword ??? Please let me know if it make any sense

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Rob.

      More posts might help, but I would try to improve quality as well in case you were hit by the Panda roll-out that happened at the same time.

      Overall, we’re looking at dialing down the on-site optimization we’ve used…that seems to be a significant factor looking at our data and reading from the experts online.

  • Tony says:

    I have been trying to make adsense sites for so long now. As soon as I get my keyword research down, then google rolls this update out… Even though this update was on EMD, my site that I made 2 weeks ago with an EMD is ranking #2 in its keyword with no backlinks and only 3 pages of content. My site that got hit was an authority site that didnt rank for anything in the domain name and has over 200 pages of content along with over 500 images on the site… I did pay for some backlinks to this authority site though and I believe this is the issue.

    I think related niche links and quality content is the future of seo. Maybe EMD’s will still rank if they stay updated, have quality content and have only niche related links built to them? I am very eager to start making some new sites, but I feel like I have to wait until all of this rolls over 🙁

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Tony,

      I’m pretty confident that it’s not just the problem of getting hit because you have an EMD…links, over-optimization, lack of social signals, and poorer content seems to have been hit with this update.

  • Joe says:

    I think using Pat’s Security Guard site is a bit is a misnomer as he has so many links and mentions from people in the MMO sphere who use his site as an example of a thick niche site. The site has practically gone viral. Might explain why it hasn’t been hit.

    Oh, and all my sites got hit (again)!

  • HI

    So it turns out that there is a panda update rolling out over the top of the EMD it may not be finished yet which could explain a whole lot.

    “Google began rolling out a new update of Panda on Thursday, 9/27. This is actually a Panda algorithm update, not just a data update. A lot of the most-visible differences went live Thursday 9/27, but the full rollout is baking into our index and that process will continue for another 3-4 days or so. This update affects about 2.4% of English queries to a degree that a regular user might notice, with a smaller impact in other languages (0.5% in French and Spanish, for example).”

    actually a panda slo update not just a refresh!! 2.4% yikes thats high

    there we go multiple “filters” at the same time and the panda rolled out over 4 days..

    I hope that kinda confirms the idea of better “quality” content will address issues and the EMD filter is less that might have otherwise have been the case.

    A lot of speculation that the density on keywords should be lowered to below .8% which is inline with the google idea of less seoing and more just writing for users.

    also new guidelines published over the weekend

  • Most of webmasters was not able to see the impact as they may relate it to week end drop. But it will affect lot’s of niches. It will be a killer for affiliate sites minor sites.

  • Jimmy says:

    I just got started in IM recently and haven’t had any success with Google (300+). One of my sites (partial EMD) ranks at no 1 for Yahoo and Bing though and the traffic flows steadily albeit a low volume. Maybe if all of us IMs start to promote Bing things would change gradually.. it seems funny to me that Yahoo & Bing rank my site as no 1 (5+ pages original quality content) for the keywords while Google now ranks it 500+..

    • I think all of us could jump up and down and promote Yahoo/Bing and it wouldn’t make much difference. Google is simply the market leader by a large margin and it’s going to take a landslide to stop them.

  • Mike says:

    I’m just now reading this, but sorry to see your business take this kind of a hit. No doubt you’ll recover, but this sort of monthly anxiety and arbitrariness just doesn’t seem right or healthy. The frustrating thing for me is to see the sites that are garbage now occupying first page positions. Clearly something isn’t working properly.

  • Dave Zegers says:

    I just got 25 sites done right after the update… will be interesting to see how they will rank, (because they don’t rank now) the sites have 5 articles and 10 amazon reviews, i will be backlinking them from Facebook, twitter, some web2.0 properties… will see how this turns out…

    • Dave keep us updated. I’m about to buy a whole new batch of domains as well. We’ll keep you posted on how they do.

    • Hi Dave,

      Hope you see this a couple of important (well i think so :-)) questions

      Were the domains registered on or before the w8th or afterwards?

      What length did you make the articles and reviews and are the reviews just short rewrites?


      • Dave Zegers says:

        The domains where registered a week to 10 days before the update

        The articles are between 500 and a 1000 words (i truly belief that having different kind of word word count will look more natural) all websites have shorter and longer articles and so will I 🙂

        Yeah the reviews aren’t really reviews, i call the that beause of the lack of a better word, the “reviews” are writeups about the product mixed with the opinions of real users.

        I hope that answers all your questions for now,

        Have a nice weekend


    • Dave Zegers says:

      See no real rankings here, it all stays above #250, i will ad backlinks now see if i can get them to rank, if not, then i will cut my losses and start looking for some other way to make money online, probably PPC

  • Anton says:


    My site has tanked again.

    Google eh?!? Love ’em.

  • Alex says:

    Wow, my sites got obliterated by Google’s latest update.

    High quality, professionally researched info-sites that have been in the top 10 for 3 or 4 years, with solid link profiles and everything…. now at position #275 or something like that, outranked by sites that are utter crap.
    What annoys the **** out of me is that sites with some of THE highest quality content in EXISTENCE in their niche were wiped out indiscriminately. Years of work providing the best quality information possible, groundbreaking research just flushed out of the search results as if it were garbage.
    Conclusion: Google either cannot detect quality content, or doesn’t care about it. I’ve been harping on about this for years and no-one listens. The elephant in the room is that the worse the top 10 results are, the more people click google’s ads – so, think about it – although their “claimed” MO is to serve the best quality results possible, I am leaning towards the opinion that their secret agenda might be to serve the WORST possible search results they can “get away with”, and ride that sucker for as long as they can. You think the algorithm is tuned for quality, or for maximum profit? Decide for yourself.
    I strongly advise people not to rely on Google for traffic. There are legitimate ways to get traffic from almost all of the “big” sites – Pinterest, Wikipedia, Facebook, Craigslist, etc and there’s more than enough to build an income from. I am going to investigate these from now on.

    • Andre says:

      Alex, you hit the nail on the head. While Google may appear to be “cleaning up” their search engine results the fact that they have wiped out what appears to be countless quality content sites brings us full circle to what many of us experienced bloggers have known all along; Google does not care about and shows no regard for publishers or their readers/customers. They are on a mission to increase their profits at “whatever” cost! They simply disguise this fact by putting out information that they are improving search engine results for their readers. What a crock!

      This latest update is proof positive. It is plain to see that readers are not going to type in a keyword and get decent search engine results that can actually help them. They are simply going to “click away,” usually on an Adsense ad from a mediocre article because Google gives preference in the search engine rankings to a website that contains those mediocre articles along with their Adsense ads! Start searching for random keywords and see for yourself! This point is irrefutable and for those of you who don’t know this, open your eyes!

      This is just the latest in a shameful series of updates to benefit the monster that is called Google but even a behemoth takes a giant fall one day. Stay tuned; the plunge into the bowels of the Worldwide Web may be coming for Google sooner than you think. It’s inevitable with they way they conduct their business.

      In the meantime, let’s all remain patient and feed off each other so we can all get our businesses back on track ASAP. We shall prevail!

      People, we are going to be OK. Just see Google for who they really are. That will be the first step to complete recovery for you!

      • Joe White says:

        Yep, the results are getting terrible. They’ve been diminishing for quite a while now; so much so that I even use Bing occasionally. And as of the last week or so, even when entering simple keywords I’m getting getting deep indexed stuff like mailing-list discussions instead of relevant pages. The time has come for me to look for a new search engine.

        • Alex says:

          try silly name but seriously, WAY better search engine. So much better that it is a joke. Check out their “about” page, truly enlightening about search privacy and the “filter bubble”.

  • Dan says:

    Over this past weekend I noticed a site slip off of the first page of Google. I was wondering what had happened. I didn’t know anything about the emd update…Then I got your email. Thanks for the great information.

  • Dan says:

    Hey guy just wanted to say props on the amazing run down of a tough time in your business, and I’m actually feeling a little inspired myself to ‘get back to work.’ Some of my best memories in business came from times like this, I only wish I could be around that table later this week. Best of luck and talk soon!

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Thanks, Dan!

      Yeah…thinking about it, we started AdSense Flippers after a major issue like this. (Lost a large client with our outsourcing company). Forced change can be frustrating but can also force innovation and (potentially) be great for your business.

    • Hey buddy, appreciate the pat on the back. We’re trying to keep our chins up on this end. We’ll adjust and adapt after thing have settled in a bit.

      Looking forward to catching up in BKK with the DC crew.

  • notonuclear says:

    Great article guys and thanks for your honesty. I think one thing that’s been understated here is the fact that Google completely changed the image search results. Check out .
    I know for a fact that a lot of my traffic has been coming from appearing the Google search results and now it isn’t. Looks like Google are cracking up on copyright violations and preventing duplicate images as well – so make sure to avoid this by using legit photos…

    • Interesting. I wonder how this technology works. What if you edit the photos? How much editing is enough to make them “original”?

      • Hi Joe

        I started seeing this problem about 3 months ago on one of my sites you know well. It could be that the Spa complained as a lot of folks were using a specific image.

        Google may or may not be able to do some AI on the image BUT what they can do easily is compare Exif info stored in the image file from the camera. take an image and use and photo editing software and check the EXIF. you should be able to edit and destroy that info.

        The other thing is the text info within the image file is also often just copied over as well..

        • Pepyn says:

          In Photoshop you can remove EXIF info by using the “save for Web” feature, GIMP (open source photoshop) has a plugin to enable the feature here:

          Google uses image recognition tech to fight piracy on youtube though, so they probably somehow “read” the image anyway.

  • darek says:

    All over the globe people complaining about G. They simple can’t find what they looking for. Right now big G is total Mayhem, and people reporting to switch to other search engine . I know G is most viewed right now and give us most traffic but this could change in the future.

  • Chip says:

    Can’t believe this has happened just as I’ve been testing and outsourcing my niche site building process and was only a week or two from going live. Silver lining is that i’m not down too much money wise. So is it fair to say with the EMD bonus now gone it’s no longer worth spending time hunting down EMDs?

    • Chip don’t jump to conclusions yet. I would turn down the scale of your operations, but let’s see what happens with *new* EMDs. Build some sites using your process and see if they rank.

  • James says:

    Hey Justin – great post about EMD penalty. I had some of my niche sites tank over the weekend as well and was trying to think what it was that I changed on my websites that would have caused this issue. I thought it was me putting ads on my site when really it was just this new Google EMD algorithm.

    Oh well. Hopefully things will bounce back moving forward.

  • Robert Rademacher says:

    I have been advising my customers to use the quality writers (see http://qualitycontentwriter .com site) instead of $5 elcheapo writers from Fiverrs when creating the quality contents on their sites. Quality content writers will not worry about copyscape or whatever – just write the real articles that will please the users, not to game Google.

    • Right, but there huge cost considerations at the micro niche site level. Buying expensive content is just not possible when you are pursuing a keyword worth $10 a month.

      Now changing the process to go after more valuable keywords sounds like a better idea to me. Then the ROI will make sense.

    • If a quality article is one that has college level spelling, grammar and punctuation. reads well and makes sense. Then $5 is more than enough to pay via oDesk.

      With effient articles writers from the USA and UK charging less for 700 word articles that don’t get panda penalties I see no reason to change.

      It looks unlikely that this update is going after particular quality of writing. plenty of poor quality articles on authority sites have survived and visa versa.

      Buying content from fiverr however is rarely wise.

  • Daryl Mander says:

    Interestingly enough, Spencer Haws was not as badly affected by this as you guys, but nonetheless he is planning on moving away from niche sites:

    I think it’s interesting that Adsense Flippers = “we were massively impacted but we’re sticking with niche sites” whereas Spencer Haws = “I was not massively impacted but I’m moving away from niche sites anyway”.

    Personally, I was hit where it hurts. My top site which was earning the bulk of my income took a nose dive from rank 5 to rank 135. Ouch! Had just updated the site with new premium theme, content, and a few days worth of solid work. Bummer!

    Currently I’m thinking I’ll continue on as is with my site build process but think about tweaking / scaling up the linkbuilding process. If EMDs have a lower/no SERP bonus now, then perhaps this can be counteracted by implementing a more robust backlinking strategy, perhaps a two tier strategy.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Daryl,

      I know Spencer took a hit, but we’re not sure exactly how bad it was for him. For us? Yeah…bad. Spencer’s sites are considerably older than ours on average which may not have hurt him quite as badly?

      I spoke to Spencer several days before he put that post up. He wanted to let us know he was planning on getting away from smaller niche sites and this was before the update happened.

      Sucks about your money site. Interesting to hear you’re planning to continue on as is. I haven’t discussed this with Joe, but I think our strategy will include continuing on with smaller niche sites as well, but probably at a lower scale for the time being. My guess is that we’ll run that in tandem with other site building efforts that are in my head and yet formalized, hehe.

  • My absolute worst site, my very first attempt at using WordPress and building a niche site is the only one that survived. It’s an EMD and still sits at the #1 spot for a very low-hanging-fruit keyword.

    The rest of my sites were built and optimized much better, but weren’t even making any money yet, and some I haven’t even started (only purchased the domains). I went back and checked the first page results for all of them and I now have basically no chance to rank for any of them. This update has even hit beginners like me! Time to re-think strategies going forward just like everybody else.

  • Tim Campbell says:

    Right, here’s an overview of my experience from this EMD update based on what I have seen across a few of my sites.

    The first thing I will say is that I am not a big user of EMD’s or at
    least not in the sense of although I do have a couple
    including a very ‘thin’ site that I picked up a
    while ago as an experiment. As might be expected, that site took a
    hammering as a result of this update and it’s exactly the kind of site
    that I would have expected to get hit by this update, in that it had little content, the content hadn’t been update for some time.

    Local results unaffected?

    Next, onto a site that was (apparently) completely unaffected by
    Friday’s changes, my punting business website. Arguably also an EMD, the website
    name is also the name of the business and it also fits into what are
    regarded as local results because it has the name of the city in the
    domain name. The domain name isn’t an emd for any popular search terms
    related to punting but other companies do have domains that are. I see
    no noticeable changes in the ranking of any of these sites, despite some
    of them (arguably) being fairly thin sites, of 4 pages of content that
    haven’t been updated for a considerable amount of time.

    I have heard a rumour of the grapevine and that’s all it is but it would
    be interesting to see whether anyone else has seen results that
    corroborate this, that local results have not been affected by this

    A big hit

    The most noticeable impact for me has been on a site that lost 90% of
    its organic traffic when this update rolled out. The site’s not an emd,
    is about 5 years old, has over 40 pages of content on various different
    subjects. You could argue about the quality of the site, I would
    certainly be the first to agree that the design is a bit rubbish and
    some of the content needs updating. However, if I go back to Wednesday
    of last week, it was getting traffic for over 300 different search terms
    (lots of long tail traffic), roll forward to post Friday and that is
    down to only 20 or so terms.

    It’s done a bit of a dead cat bounce since Friday, with traffic increasing slightly but nothing worth mentioning.

    This site has adsense on it but was never intended as an mfa and I don’t
    have any in content adsense ads. It also has some affiliate links on it
    but there is far more content without affiliate links than there is

    A bit of speculation

    The bounce rate was high on some pages, way too high in fact but much
    lower on others – I know there has been some talk about whether Google
    were looking at bounce rate (bounce back to serps in particular) as a
    signal of quality, perhaps that is the case?

    I wonder whether the tweet Matt Cutts sent out was a bit of a smoke
    screen? There certainly seems to have been more to this algorithm update
    than just EMD’s being affected. Could this have been the new
    ‘penguin’ update that was billed as being jarring and jolting? Could
    this be related to Google’s new transition rank algorithm?

    It would certainly make sense imho, for Google to want to feed
    misinformation about what the purpose of updates has been, if their
    intention is to make it harder for seo’s to analyse updates and work
    their way around them and their transition rank algorithm is supposed to
    do just that – feed confusing signals to those attempting to game the
    search engines.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Tim,

      I’ve heard others mentioning their local sites seem to be unaffected as well, even if we can’t corroborate that ourselves. It sucks to hear your 5 year old site took a hit.

      My guess is that having an EMD was only one piece of many that went into the update. There were probably a list of factors…some more heavily weighted and graded than others. I think the effects were different too, depending on where you fell on the scale. Some sites simply had the benefit of the EMD removed while others were “tanked” (like some of ours were). It’s not that they just had the EMD benefit removed…there are now sites ranked much higher that are not even related to the subject. Not to mention when you run our “tanked test” they don’t appear on the first page at all…

      I’m not sure Google even needs to bother with the misinformation campaign, even if it would help their efforts. I think plenty of us internet marketers do that job for them! 🙂

      • Daniel says:

        I can confirm that local sites are affected, at least here in Bangkok. Ive had an EMD local rank number one for 5 years solid, infact it seemed bullet proof for so so long. It was only a 12 page site and i built an authority site in the same niche and still couldnt topple it. Not just for the EM but for PM related keywords, about 80% were all top 3.

        Since the glorious EMD updates i’ve let the dust settle.

        Traffic is definitely down 60% and rankings, well lets just say not great!

        I also have PMD in the exact same niche, checking Serps today and also not good. about 30% drop off in traffic.

        So local sites EMD and PMD are most definitely effected too.

  • Anton says:

    Well, I was up late last night reading as much as I could on this subject. There`s plenty of howls of rage out there, but naff all in practicle advise.

    Imagine my surprise then, just now, to kick of a rank report and find the little bugger is back!! Its lost a slot, but this is the first time I`ve seen it in Google since the weekend!

    I wonder if they are clawing this change back, as it seems a bit strong in the punishment stakes.

    Couple of my other sites are also back, dropped a slot here or there, but they are back.

    traffic is knackered though.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Sweet, Anton!

      It wouldn’t surprise me that some of this latest update will get rolled back as they dial it down a bit. Whether we’re still caught in their net remains to be seen, but my guess is that we won’t get a substantial set of our sites back, unfortunately.

  • Alexander Bastian Smith says:

    Hey guys, I started with your process a couple of months ago and started ranking sites and earning a little bit of money. All sites were thin (around 5 pages) but with good content – each article had hours of research and loads of work done to it and I had personal interest in each niche. I also picked niches with only a couple of KW and with the potential for authority sites. I wanted to start ‘safe’ before streamlining any method. Needless to say, ALL of my sites (EMD’s) have completely and utterly tanked. From page 1 to page 15-20. Devastating. Even though I wasn’t earning a lot, it was nevertheless satisfying to see hard work starting to pay off. Back to square one. The annoying thing is that I want to work with these niches as I know a lot about them – – should I register new brandable domains and rewrite the content? Completely abandon the other sites? Argh…!

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Frustrated, Alexander…

      If they are truly “tanked” I think it’s unlikely you’ll be able to fix the sites. I would suggest waiting another couple of weeks to see how this plays out. If after a few weeks the sites have not come back, you might want to consider shutting the sites down, taking off the content, waiting for the content to be removed from the index, and then placing on new sites. I know others that are attempting this strategy…it might be something we trial as well. Not sure yet, though…

  • Darek says:

    I was inspired by your podcast and i started pumping the site with emd because I don’t pay attention to detail, I use all different themes, plug-ins etc. but the couple sites that stud up the algo were with the social buttons that people use. (I help a little) rest go down like the others say. So from 20 on first page of G only 6 stayed which I use the social signal with.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Darek,

      Interesting point about social signals. I think that, for the time being, gaming social signals is possible and, from the sounds of it, it might actually help. I think, though, that it’s ALWAYS better if your social engagement is “real”, you know?

  • Google is the world’s richest whack-a-mole player.

    EMDs, BMR, Anchor Text… all these things they have been bashing down as they have been popping their head up and gaining popularity. That’s part of the reason I stepped away from niche sites in April – to avoid being the next mole that gets whacked.

  • Michael Smith says:

    I just started setting up some niche sites of my own based on all the great information you guys make available (thanks by the way). I set up a 5 page EMD site in the automotive niche following your Niche Site Empire guide almost to the letter. Initial setup was completed on 9/23. No backlinking other that a handful of social media links was done. I checked today and notice my site has crept into the first page results at #10. Not sure if brand spanking new sites somehow bypass the new Google algo but thought I would share my experience.

    On an unrelated note, the only other EMD site I have was purchased about 2 months ago on Flippa. The site is around 2 years old and it is still #1 on Google in an educational niche – go figure.

    Best of luck recovering from the setback. You guys have been very helpful and inspiring to me.

    • NO, new sites got hit, 1 week -> 2 months is not a safety net. Some survive some dont its as clear as mud so far.

      • JustinWCooke says:

        Hey Michael/Steve,

        It will be interesting to see what happens to site built AFTER Sep 28th. Was this a one-time sweep? Will this be a sweep every 30 days? We’ll find out soon enough!

        • If penquin like then yes there will be a “data refresh” every so often. And recover will be possible by playing with the new rules whatever they are..

          Speculation but if they algo take out sites it should not have (and it looks like it has) it makes sense to “release” those sites with in a month or so i guess.

  • malds says:

    Was waiting for this post, I knew it was coming I just wasn’t sure how bad things would be for you guys. There’s this comment I read on Warrior forums about how a guy salvaged his penguin hit sites, you might wanna give it a try once the dust settles down.

    What he did was take all his content from all the sites that tanked, improved them, added pics and videos, bought an aged domain, and then created an “about everything” type site. I don’t know if that’ll work but it might be a good idea if you wanna salvage the content on sites that you feel have no way of recovering anymore or are too expensive to try and rank again.You could use your main content for this and the other stuff on your niche sites might be good for article marketing to promote the new site. Just a thought.

    I’m sure you guys will recover from this though, will continue to follow your progress to see what you end up dong :).

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Malds,

      I think that’s an interesting approach. Do you have any good content about the exact steps you could take to accomplish this? I was thinking that if we did go after this approach, we would group the sites/content into categories. We have SO many sites and SO much content it should be relatively easy to group them. The problem, then? It would be a SHIT-TON of work! lol

      We’ve got some plans formulating. Look at it this way…we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and revamp our process, so that should improve our content here considerably! It’s a little boring to talk about a niche site creation process I’m hardly involved in anymore, which is why we’ve gone into other aspects of our business, hehe.

  • Dave Starr says:

    Sorry to hear of the difficulties. As many who know me will attest I have _never_ been and “EMD Guy”. Google itself typically shows a mix of roughly 50/50 EMD versus non-EMD URL’s. How this will eventually sort out, nobody knows for sure.

    Several months back during one of the Panda iterations a big authority site of mine dropped virtually completely out of the SERPS overnight (non-EMD). I was devastated Couldn’t figure out why. In a few days virtually everything came back.

    One thing I can say by personal observation … none of these algo changes works consistently at the onset. There must be a LOT of Google engineers slaving behind the scenes to tweak things after a major release is made. Your samples regarding the ‘teeth whitening’ results point this up. There seems little ryhme nor reason in what sites Google advances and which ones get slapped.

    One thing I notice that IMO almost guarantees problems or even outright failure is the concept of building site to a set number of pages. I don’t believe the number of pages low or high means nearly as much as actually providing value. Value to the reader I mean not value to the site owner’s AdSense account (an obvious point often missed by many, alas).

    Pt’s security guard site, for an example, provides tons of state by state information for those who actually need a job. The ads are of secondary value.

    Does a certain “teeth whitening” site actually provide information on whitening teeth as opposed to just showing ads for other sites?

    I have seen very few which do provide any actual help, but in contrast, I know I could go to Pat’s site and find a security guard job if I needed one.

    The difference seems too subtle for many site builders to comprehend, but too my mind it is something more important to learn than different techniques for finding keywords, gaining cheap links and the other “tricks to rank” du jour. Or so this old man opines

    • Hey dave, – warning – diatribe alert. And certianly just MHO

      R.e. algo change at the beginning I THINK they turn the wick up high and have a disregard for friendly fire. Then are time goes on they turn it down again. Im sure (based on what we saw on penquin) its planned that way.

      I often read your opinions and whilst they frequently differ to mine are highly valued in my book. I strongly believe in contary views adding to a theorem yes men are of no or little use “All progress is made by unreasonable people) although neither I nor you are unreasonable 🙂
      I do think you miss a very important point.
      Niche adsense sites of one page, can and often do answer the question the searcher asked. They provide a link to relevant sources and via images and video can provide a service.
      Displaying ads which are then relevant and gaining clicks through to actual suppliers is a valid form of marketing.
      Its what magazines have done for ever (editorial or topic articles with related advertising).

      And there is an argument that the web as designed is simply a large collection of pages. Its only google and high minded individuals that seem to thing that its about authority sites.

      I would argue that many of my single page sites offer a better service to the searcher than Amazom, Yahoo answers, Wikipedia etc have ever done. In fact google has seemed to understand that in the past.

      To assume that an “authority site” has a better opinion or set of values than my scrappy little “MFA” site is bull and smacks of 1984.

      Whilst i’m all for Brands and branding, i don’t assume that their opinion is great han mine just because of their name.

      To conclude. Lets say im a security guard who lives in chicago (im neither)

      A single page site of x words showing every position available called Security guard jobs in is of more use to me than
      security guard training Why should pats site out rank my (fictional) site when the searches intent is clear?

      Relevancy should always outweigh authority BUT this algo tweak is saying otherwise. Now by not having chicago in his domain name Pat has a benefit. That is wrong. And his authority is derived by manipulated links (which im more than happy about :-)) and by the number of pages. After all is the writing authoritative? Its written by writer whom dont come from the industry. just research journalism.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Wisdom from the “old man”! 🙂 Thanks for commenting, Dave.

      I ABSOLUTELY agree with you on the subtle difference between actually being useful and not. It’s one of those, “you know it when you see it” situations. I’d add that you can only really know this when you’re actually searching for something and come across one of these sites. I’d be comfortable if I came across Pat’s site. Many others I would NOT…even if they looked/felt similar.

      My BIG question is this: Our “unfair advantage” is that we have low-cost labor and are great at putting together roadmaps to scale processes. Can you process out truly helpful authority sites or do they have to be born out of love/care? I’ve read about others that have built their online empires similarly to what we’re trying to do and they’ve done it on a much larger scale and with these types of sites. Shouldn’t we be able to do that? It’s on a different level…Joe and I have to graduate up the chain, I think…

      • I’m confident you can find a process. timescales will be longer and investment per site higher but then so will the end value.

        • Jon Haver says:

          Look at what EHow does…I think their articles aren’t amazing but they are clearly enough to rank in Google. If we were looking for an example of how to scale authority…eHow/DemandMedia may not be a terrible flag pole.

          I realize their content is not great and they have recently been caught doing some black/grey hat SEO work with 301 domain redirections but I think we can learn some lessons from them.

  • Timber says:

    Random thought:

    Does google possibly have employees that read blogs and other informational websites to learn about new strategies that people are using to beat their algorithms and rank higher? Then turn around and use that information to clobber the sites that use that strategy?

    Anyone can turn on their computer and read about the newest strategies on how to beat google and optimize their site to rank better (WHICH IS AWESOME!). But if thousands of people are doing almost the exact same thing and using the exact same strategy to get better rankings, it seems that google would want to know (and probably does know) about it. They obviously have money to hire people to research and keep an eye on this if they wanted to. I think too many people assume that Google is completely automated….and it may not be.

    I know I may get beat up for suggesting this. I love the Adsense Flippers site and all the other sites that help people like me make money doing what we love. It was just a random thought I had and was curious to others opinions. I could be a complete idiot talking about something that is not at all correct.

    Your thoughts…am I an idiot?

    • Nope it makes complete sense that they follow to some extent whats happening on blogs. and Black hat forums.

      However i think a lt of their work is done based on user feedback where people complain to google that they can rank for stuff. and the seps are full of rubbish sites.

      User squealing is probably a bigger factor than anything. If they did it by reading they would have implemented EMD filtering during the penquin update EMD have been lauded as a great solution for many years.

  • Mike Slemko says:

    Thanks Justin, your information is most helpful, as always. I will be keeping an eye on things with this and applying the new knowledge to my own developments and my site flipping endeavors. Wish I had some useful data to share, but if I come up with any I will be back to let you know, for sure! 🙂 Cheers.

  • Dr. Niche says:

    Hey guys, sorry to hear you got whacked badly by the EMD algo update. I have a small observation and I am by no means an expert. I have only attempted 1 niche site and it ranked #4 pre algo and now ranks #3 post algo. I have not updated the content since I set the site up 6 months ago. It only has one article and I used the CTR theme. The keywords have massive competition. The one thing I did was write one super awesome article about 1200 words. It was thoroughly researched and the grammar was perfect. I have noticed on your niche sites, and no offense, but your grammar and syntax is not good in a lot of the articles. I’m assuming you have Pinoy writers which is fine (my wife is Filipina), but once they complete the content articles, I would employ a trusted proofreader for grammar and syntax. That’s where I would start looking at your sites that tanked. Just a suggestion…

    • Thanks Rod. We’ll take your suggestion under advisement while we adjust our entire process. However, there are major cost limitations to consider at this scale. To upgrade our editors and content we also need to go after larger and more valuable niches which take longer to rank for and take more SEO effort. It also makes it harder to test though. We’ll see!

  • Jon Haver says:

    You guys will face a very unique challenge that many of us smaller time people wont….staffing!

    I plan on shifting one team member to my authority site projects but otherwise maintain building some niche sites still.

    I am sure you will face some challenges over the next week determining how much to react to the latest update and modify your team.

    Do you plan on keeping the same workforce you have built for scaling a proven (EMD niche website) system while you test out the viability your new system?

    I really appreciate the transparency of your post!

  • James says:

    I have to say, being fairly new to the niche site biz, I sorta welcome this in one fashion. Trying to start out with niche sites is sorta a drag when all the domain names you want are already taken. I would rather the ranking was based on content or other things so I can buy any ole domain name and still be in the game. Just sayin!

  • Barry says:

    All 110 EMDs got hit on my side!! Looked at my adsense earnings and almost puked! Just wondering what I should do with these sights. Good luck guys

    • Hold and wait. dont point doing anything with them until they need re-registering or hosting renewal.

      We can but expect the algo refresh (at some point) to release some sites.

      Also don’t forget about yahoo and image search. once the dust is settled their are options. I found on some of my sites that got hit by penguin I added images and more new content. Got picked up in bing and google image search. Those sites have gone on to make decent money. Not what they would have done with google but still useful.

      Just dont go deleting things no need.

  • Charles T. says:

    Hello Justin, John, and Joe… Or as I would like to call you guys the triple J’s. The question as I hinted on Spencer site. What does this mean for new comings to the IM industry. Yes, it’s going to cost more, but if your starting this with nothing or very little. It seems like we are no longer going to be able to start with a few hundred just to get out feet wet.

    Would love to hear what you think within time clearly, since this is all new. How can new people start without a lot of money.

  • James in Japan says:

    This blogpost was something I figured was soon coming from you guys or somoene else, seeing as many of my emd sites took a nosedive a few days ago. I figured something significant was amiss. I did finally find Matt Cutts’ small algorithm change notice on Google and, while not shocking, it was still cringe-worthy. Especially for those of us trying to build a business.

    In the bigger picture, Google seems to be shooting first and aiming later. If a searcher wants to find solutions for knee pain, types in “solutions for knee pain” in Google, arrives at “”, reads an informative article about some suggestions to help his knees, clicks on an ad for a knee pain product, what exactly is wrong with that? Doesn’t everyone win?

    Google seems to be acting on the belief that simply because a site is an IM site, it cannot possibly be valuable to searchers or advertisers, so it must be filtered from the rankings.

    Yes, there have been, are, and will be crappy, thin emd sites out there. We are all users of the Google search engine, so as customers we get the fact that quality search results matter to everyone involved. No one wants to be confronted with crap, irrelevant or ad-saturated content. Google should focus on the crappy, poorly written and designed sites, instead of just assuming a small emd site is a site that doesn’t deserve to be on page 1.

    Having a monopoly on search, or anything else, is never a good thing. Operating without checks and balances is not good. I love Google, but long live Bing and anyone else keen to offer competition.

    James inJapan

  • All of my smaller niche sites seem to be hit (I say all…truth is it is more than 65% of them, which is enough for me to call it all).

    I recently sold a site, and that was not hit. It was only 3 months old. Yet sites that were old than the sold site, with more content, was obliterated.

    I have an authority site, with no where near the content that securityguard training HQ has (Mine has about 30 pages right now of which 10 are product pages, 10 blog content, and 10 static pages for items such as “contact”). This site was not hit at all, in fact, it has numerous keywords that are ranking very well still; even above the rankings of manufactures for some of their products. So I think smaller sites may still have hope…but at least 20-30 pages of content…

    My one authority site is not enough to draw conclusions from; however it is interesting to note that a 20-30 page site, even with prefix-EMD was not damaged pertaining to, primary article keywords, long tails, and secondaries. My primary keyword (which is in the EMD) is not matured enough yet to compete with the big dogs so I cannot eval this. But primary keywords in articles are maintaining their position.

    • Hey Jason,

      rest assured that small 5 page sites are both surviving and getting killed.

      Many portfolios have suffered 100% losses many more than will ever admit it as they try to none disclose. you’ll see folks in this thread disclose 100%

      SPECULATION – i have a gut feeling that some sites have yet to be hit as they have not been crawled recently. When the next algo refresh hits we’ll see both some getting “released” and survivors getting “hit”

      the 20-30 age is no escape much large sites have had the root URL wiped out.

      The data set is not yet large enough and Google have yet to finish messing around i fear.

  • MGB says:

    Thanks for the information Justin, as always.
    I lost 44 of 46 sites, I wrote the content myself, just found the rubbish I was getting for 5$ from iwriter was zero quality, I was actually looking forward to the next Panda refresh, lol.

    At this stage the only thing I have been able to decipher (this is just speculation) but both of my surviving sites had no commercial intent e.g. weren’t based around a specific product and were just purely informational, One of these dropped from 1 to 4 and the second site went up quite a bit.

    I think Steve has hit the nail on the head with the multiple filters, this was the case with Penguin in my opinion too, albeit a few days apart. Definitely makes it difficult to get a real handle on things. Just like after Penguin though, there’s an opportunity here as this update will shake of the pretenders.

    One thing I will be doing after the dust settles is getting my content de-indexed through webmaster tools and purchasing about 3-4 aged domains and breaking my content into broad niches and republishing, it may or may not work but the alternative is to do nothing with it.

    • Hey MGB


      Commercial intent or lack of it is no defence sadly. the 100 portfolio i mentioned had things ranging from recipes through how to guide and into lifestyle design. all victims. One consistent thing with that portfolio is all the sites had recently had tweaks done to them and new sitemaps uploaded. None had any new content added for a number of months.

      I have to say that if writing is a strong skill set then I would be tempted to start brand new domains with bran new content. Id not used aged or PR domains but just start from scratch.

      To my mind, taking out the “hayden – Nohatseo” type of aged domains with PR and refurbishing them is an obvious black hat idea (grey if you insist but i think the intent is overwhelmingly to manipulate search results) that would be very easy to deal with algorithmically, by not allowing PR and age to be transferred via registration. Something Matt Cutt could have dealt with years ago.

      • MGB says:

        haha well there goes that theory, thanks for the update Steve. I guess with so many different factors making up the algo and I suspect other filters as you mentioned coming into effect it’s going to be near impossible to find a common thread.

        I’ll definitely re-use the content once it is removed from the cache and there is a way to fast track this. I agree re: aged domains but I believe at the worst the PR advantage will be removed so would end up with the same influence as a new domain. So it may still be worth looking at, provided the backlink profile is clean.

        I agree with your comment though, Google have to do something about expired domains, I know of many people that have bought exact match domains in the past six months and built a site and put in plenty of effort only to realise the site had a spammy backlink profile as it had been dropped after being penalised by the penguin update.

        I know of one large marketer who admitted to me he had let over 1000 domains go after Penguin. It sure was a lot easier to find EMD’s in the last few months!

        • Well i think many of use let domains go after penquin and the panda update at the same time that simply weren’t worth keeping i probably dropped 80 or so.

          Those updates force me in to a process of refining my domain and keyword selection.

          One process step i added back in june was to check for backlinks on a domain before i bought it.

          So simply take the domain name or batch of domains and put them into majesticseo backlink checker. I then didnot buy any domains that showed more than 10 backlinking using the historic analysis. I saw tens of domains with 1000’s of backlinks. glad i worked that trick out. and ended up ate 85% of domains working.

          • MGB says:

            Yep same here, I actually then was going through domain tools and looking for how many drops there were, could never be too careful with EMD’s.

            I actually got to the point where I would only buy brand spanking new domains after a while as Majestic, Ahrefs and Seo Moz didn’t count everything, they simply couldn’t and I found it wasn’t worth the effort to write five to ten articles on something that had the potential to tank.

  • Ouch, that’s a huge hit…I know you guys can definitely turn this negative into a positive and use it to revamp your strategy for more long term success!


  • Dan Norris says:

    Wow guys that’s massive, I hope you can work it out.
    Out of interest I checked out my old blog which used to rank number 1 in Australia for ‘website design’. The new owners have done very little with it but it’s still ranking 5th and the number 1 site is which is interesting because this domain was sold a few years ago for around 40k or so from memory and I don’t think it was active at the time. I was talking to the guy who bought it about buying my site (I ended up selling it to someone else). It’s a crappy site. It’s got 23 pages indexed by Google compared to my old site which had 1200+. 1500 backlinks compared with my old site which has 61,000 and mine has double the authority according to SEO Moz. So either the change hasn’t hit Aus yet or that particular niche or EMDs are still getting a huge boost in some cases.

  • Kate says:

    Just a suggestion, since your method is now questionable, per this article. Maybe remove the popup promoting your method? It popped up while i was reading the article. I havent been hit but the site I built my site on has many talking about this too.

    • LOL, Kate that’s true. However, we don’t know if the process is dead — yet. Let’s give it a few days before we kill a guide that took a good deal of time, energy and money to put together.

  • Well, this sound a bit … uneasy 🙂 to say the least!

  • Ben Hebert says:

    Good luck guys this is going to be tough for everyone to figure out. Anyone blogging or selling “the answer” to EMD is probably full of crap like Justin said.

    Hopefully it’s not a branding issue for you guys and you don’t need to switch your name to website flippers.

  • Justin, I also took a hard hit. It’s going to take a few days to see how bad it real is, but I’m expecting the worst.

    • Terrible Mike, but we’re all in the same boat. Chine up, adjust and adapt. But first, WAIT! I think being patient here is the one thing that is smart for everyone.

      • Dave Nicosia says:

        I agree, patience at times like this could prevent us from doing something we’ll regret later! Since I just got started with my first 25 sites, I’m just going to let them sit for a while as I work on my other long term projects. I’ll eagerly be waiting to see how this plays out and see what our options will be. As long as I can salvage a couple of my sites somehow, my investment will still be worth it.

  • says:

    I’m going to clone a few of my EMD sites with non-EMD domains and see what happens. Could be interesting or potentially hilarious..we’ll see…

    • interesting test John, will be interested to hear the result

    • enis says:

      Take care of big G whith duplicate content troubles…

    • JustinWCooke says:

      You might want to make sure you take the content off and that the site’s out of the index before uploading to new sites. I’ve read about others that are taking this approach…any references you know of to blog posts that give you a great walk-through on a methodical process for this? That would be helpful, I think…

      • MGB says:

        You can no-index your site and then request a url removal through webmaster tools, although not specifically designed for this purpose it worked. I did this yesterday for a test and the site was removed from the cache within 6 hours.

      • says:

        I’ve got thousands of sites with the same exact duplicate content…if you do it right Google couldn’t care less…

    • I hate to be negative here, but I think Google will be all over this approach, even if you take the content down. Not sure how they would do it (and anything we come up with would be speculation), but a better approach would be to focus on your sites that survived, change your keyword research strategy and adapt your process to the new algorithm. Well do that after all the dusts settles and there is some feedback on why this happened.

  • Leny Pearson says:

    Yeah, this hurt a bit because of the time I spent creating my own quality content that is unique and I feel that it’s good quality. My sites have taken some hits and then rose right back up over the past few months, so I figured I was goo no matter what. I never figured that They would tank it because of my EMD’s. I have other IM strategies and Adsense wasn’t my main focus, but since I started listening to you guys in May and built a few sights according to your methods, I was actually making some money with it and getting inspired to expand on that part of my business. Now my five adsense sights are all on page 16 and I’m pretty sure nobody is searching that deep for my keywords. I’ll be reading up on the update and figure out if I can salvage the sites somehow. I will be listening and reading everything here and will report, if by some miracle, I find out something before you guys post it here. To all that suffered a loss, gather yourselves, take a deep breath and be prepared to get back to work. All will be OK

  • Anthony Pica says:

    Every single one of my sites that were ranking on the first page were decimated. I can’t even find them on the first 10 pages of Google. I am starting to think that the only way to be sure of traffic is to build an audience that will come to your site no matter where you rank on the search engines.

  • Ken from MyNiches says:

    You guys are the ones I was waiting to hear from on this.

    Thanks for clearly dividing what’s FACT and what’s speculation – well done.

    Anyways, good post – thanks for sharing – can’t wait to see what this means for the future.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Thanks, Ken!

      I can’t wait to see what we come up with either! lol Honestly, I’m off to Manila tomorrow morning to add some pages to my passport and it’s WAY past my bedtime, but I was really interested to see what comments came in right after posting this.

    • Sebastian says:

      cant agree more with ken….fact and speculation are 2 very different things. this might open up new opportunities. Lets look at it glass half full

      • JustinWCooke says:

        Agreed, Sebastian. We were trying to make that difference very clear. Too often you read blogs or forms where the two are so blended you don’t know what’s going on…and that usually promotes fear and misunderstanding. Not good when you’re trying to take a critical look at the situation!

  • Gino says:

    I just noticed that Pat Flynn’s security guard training site,, didn’t take a hit and is still number 1 for a lot of security guard training keywords. I know he also used BMR in the beginning for backlinks, yet his site still chugs along. I’d love to know what he is doing to keep his rankings. Maybe it’s just a matter of stepping up the quality of the content we post? I know a lot of people think their content is quality, but how many of those $5 articles we all buy are actually helpful in the least bit?

    I’m still going through my own data, but I noticed that my only sites that have kept ranking are the one’s I built myself in the beginning, where I wrote all the content, built the backlinks myself, chose a unique theme, etc. A few sites where I had some of the better, more expensive writers I found write the content also seemed to have survived. It’s my sites with the $5 articles that have really taken a hit, and with a lot of those sites I’m also using the same generic Adsense themes. Who knows if it means anything, but it’s maddening to say the least…

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Gino,

      Pat started with a (somewhat) diverse linkbuilding profile and, since then, has received links from all over the place. I doubt that it’s simply a matter of his having good/great content on the site, but the fact that is IS good/great can lead to other things that may keep him up top. (Comments, social mentions, other references to the site online, continuously updated content, etc.)

      JohnTheIntern had a site he’d built himself early on that looked unique, the content was written by him, etc. Same thing happened to his site, unfortunately. Definitely frustrating!

  • GoogleSucks says:

    It is not just national niche sites, it is my local site. Say you are in Chicago and look for “Chicago community acupuncture”. You might find a non EMD site with a page on that topic, but not Google has lost the plot. If you are looking for a business name and can no longer find it, they have lost their right as a search engine. I am starting to prefer Bing. Eventually, Google will lose from this. If you cannot even rank for your business name, their customers cannot find what they are looking for.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Definitely lame if you can’t rank for your business name…agreed. Try searching for TwitArt…we’ve had the same problem.

      • Daniel says:

        Totally agree, we had EMD or PMD for most of our sites, simply because it just makes sense that if your searching for ‘an acupuncturist in Bangkok’ and you see the domain in the serps feature ‘acupuncturistbangkok’ then that’s a highly related site to your search.

        Now it seems Google wants the world to go brand crazy, perhaps if we were called Pins&needles Bangkok we would still be number one? Yet if i saw that in the serps and would assume its about sewing and skip it.

        So now because they made the BIG mistake of choosing a relevant domain name, their business, staff, employees, kids, families, will have too feel the pinch of 70% less sales, unemployment? who knows?

        It really is not one of Googles most intelligent updates. Especially when they don’t ever make announcements of what can be done to recover if you were an innocent civilian caught in the SEO crossfire.

        Most of us assumed that having an EMD gave you a higher relevancy score, or the EMD bonus. Now it seems there is perhaps a penalty. Whether this is related to adsense, KW density or whatever. And a simple 301 – well penalties are passed as-well as link juice, so its an important factor.

        The question is who will Actually benefit?
        Are Octobers annual EMD updates for Amazon, Ebay and the big players to monopolize on the Xmas rush?

        Does Google have its 20% shareholders like Amazon at the algo decision table once a year?

        With Xmas coming how many adwords managers will be called upon by small struggling and medium business owners eager to redeem at least a small portion of the apple pie now they have lost 70% of their traffic just 3 months before that most profitable time of year. EMD updates always seem to be in around October/November.

        It was getting harder to find EMD and when you found one it was almost like panning for gold, you felt a sense of WOW i got the last golden ticket!

        Are they all just worthless now? Have those valuable EMD suddenly become the most unwanted domains on the planet, or did the domain giants stand to profit from recent EMD events too? Now brand name domains are hotter than EMD and PMD. Will we see them all cast back into the unwanted auctions pile, whilst the domainers recycle and re-profit?

        But a more level headed theory is: That Google are probably just tweaking Algos for the love of its users and to deliver valuable and highly relevant content. Ofcourse, there is always Blekko.

  • Zach says:

    I lost 90 of 100 niche websites in this update. Each site was a EMD with 10 unique, relevant 400-600 word articles. I had 90 sites in the top 10 and now I only have 10. I am not sure why those 10 stayed and others dropped so low. I am waiting for the dust to settle before making any changes. It is very frustrating looking at all of the time it took me to get these sites up and ranking only to have Google throw out an update and blow me out of the water overnight. I am now working towards working on plans for a business model that is not “owned” by Google or any other 3rd party.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Painful, Zach…

      I hear what you’re saying about not being “owned” by Google but, respecfully, no matter what your business strategy it’s likely that you’ll have “masters” you answer to or rely on that could cause you issues/problems. It’s one of those “pick your poison” problems, unfortunately.

  • Colin Unger says:

    Once things settle it might be a great time to get into the business. There’s probably a lot of new opportunity created by this update as it’s might no longer be only about who ones the exact domains.

  • kevinpascal says:

    Thanks Justin for the useful post. I was eagerly waiting for it. I had few of my sites tanked too. But some didn’t. In one of the niches, my site went down, but my competitors didn’t. I spent couple of hours trying to figure out why my competitors did not go down or why some of my other sites didn’t go down. And on all the sites where it didn’t go down (including the competitors) the keyword density was too low (perhaps less than 0.75% or not even 2 or 3 primary keyword (in this case EMD). I have changed some of the websites today by reducing the EMD (primary keyword density on the homepage). I will wait for few days and let you guys know if this helps being back the site. Meanwhile would be eager to hear about your experiments too.

    Btw, the backlinks were similar in all the cases, so I doubt if backlinks have anything to do this time around.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Interesting point about the keyword density. I doubt it will affect the sites of ours that are “tanked” and I’m not sure I want to invest the $$ and time required…but it’s definitely something to consider for future sites…

    • Hi Kevinpascal,

      Its a valid test one I satrted on friday. Making it less “seo optmised” (below 0.5%) may be a good idea. Especially as google claim (and seem) to be better able to understand the page anyway. your simply reducing “keyword stuffing”.

      Do bear in mind you MIGHT not see any change until the next time the algo is refeshed and your page has also been recrawled. which could be sometime.

  • Alex says:

    Thanks Justin both for the detail you go into and the openness. My major site was blasted by Penguin and I think this is kinda Penguin-Panda Lite. I suspect it is one more “optimisation” penalty aka Affiliate Marketing penalty.

    Looking forward to more info and ideas!



  • Anton says:

    I`ve been screwed big time by this.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Sucks, man…feel your pain. Nurse your wounds, get your head clear, and then come back to the problem and attack it. That’s our plan! 🙂

  • says:

    Most of my sites have been decimated in the same way. I’m seeing it across the board in both thin sites and thick sites full of fantastic original content. I was about to make a fairly large domain name purchase (500-1000 domain names) but am definitely going to hold off till I figure this all out. So aggravating! -John

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Ack…sorry to hear that. Ultimately, I think (opinion here) that it had very little to do with EMD’s on their own…and much more to do with a profile that EMD’s have. It may be one of several signals looked at that causes the sites to tank…but only one piece of the pie.

  • Hi Guys,

    1) As
    always you can be trusted to be thoughtful, resourceful and open. I
    wholeheartedly support the idea of not responding to doom and gloom. I lost a
    month or so last time, when i could have refocused.

    2) Based
    on looking at two portfolios each of over 100 sites I’m involved in managing
    (not my own domains) they have been decimated. Commonality that i have observed
    so far, EMD with low quality content and NO freshness. Both were aspects being
    worked on anyway.

    3) a
    third portfolio that’s smaller has withstood the attack well. Its EMD’s but the
    content quality is goo-very good and a new article has been added each month to
    all sites.

    4) I also
    have seen two sites, built at the exactly the same time, strategy, theme (CTR)
    and had backlinks prior to penguin not many but some. Both ranked top 5. One
    tanked, one has not moved at all in serps. is
    of interest and may have some relevancy. It’s been around for a while and the
    patent itself show some ideas they (Google) had (but of course could partially
    or fully implement or not at all)

    for the rapid update Justin and Joe. I hope others will respond as professionally.

    To my
    mind new fresh content and improving existing content and on page seo (turn the
    knob down on over optimisation again?) make sense. My concern is putting lots
    of effort into sites that are now “penalised” may take a long time to recover.

    my thought for what it’s worth is to build the next batch with the very best
    guess of what Google may accept for an EMD domain. Assuming this is now higher
    than before.

    I hopefully ive differentiated, what I have seen from what I think/hope.

    the doom masters (and reading too many opinions, mine included :-)), Stay Calm,
    Wait out the storm, redesign and rebuild seems to be a wise move.

    • Andre Garde says:

      Appreciate your input Steve but with regards to #2, I’m still seeing plenty of 1-page wonders that IMO are low-quality still ranking up top, EMD or not. I’ve checked freshness as well and these haven’t been touched in ages (almost a year with no content). There’s more at play; I think we need to let it sink in another week or two.

      Until then, back to work.

      • Hey Andre, always intrested in how you see things. Hope your well.

        but non EMD’s should not be effected.
        i page EMD with rubbish content have survived.

        But thats been true for all major chnages (sites escape for no apparent reason) I saw sites survive 9 month so panda with no new content or fix’s that should have been killed off. Also sites get killed that should not.

        I also suspect google of applying multiple filter at the same moment so for example they may apply penqui/panda/goat/zebra or what ever on top of the EMD (why isnt it called shark or something) update. Which is what i think your suggesting.

        I support the last two sentence whole heartedly
        As the sayings go – Up and at them and Dont let the bastards get you down. 🙂

        • Andre Garde says:

          Multiple filters make sense to me as if we think in terms of the algorithm applied that would explain:

          a.) A lot of the collateral damage.
          b.) The ones that got away.

          In the meantime this is the opportunity to dig deep and use your tools (elbow grease if you have to) and refresh the portfolio. And here I was thinking I could get a new computer this month. Looks like I’m back to reinvesting profits, lol.

      • Daniel says:

        Perhaps having adsense on EMD sites was also a factor to determine who got totally tanked and who got just the bonus EMD factors removed. I’m looking forwards to what Justin and Joe come up with, altho it looks like they are here in Thailand for a 2 week jolly now, guess we will all have to wait and see 😉

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Steve,

      #3 is interesting I think our process is going to cost more, for sure…just hoping our ROI will be there on the monthly earnings. I’m HAPPY to spend more if they make more!

      • Hi Jusin, this is the nub isnt it.

        One page EMD with great content with no backlink cost was a very cost effective means of testing niches as had been developed.

        Medium term the plan was always to flesh out sites and increase relevance to a niche. Im realy curious to see if there is a freshness element to this update. nothing is clear yet for sure.

        Of course theres a real argument that spending more will result in better sites that might ride the waves better. However my model has always been panning for gold, and inceased costs are never good in that strategy.

        looking forward to your feedback in a few weeks.

  • Hi guys.
    I’m sorry to hear you took a hit. Matt Cutts in the first tweet said the words “low quality”, so it’s probably not that EMDs are bad now, but those sites have a higher mountain to climb. Imho you should try to take a few sites and expand them, posting more articles, not keyword-rich, so it looks a bit more balanced. Obviously, check the sites that weren’t hit for common stuff.
    This site has some signals that make it look valid: LLC in the title, typical sections like products (without outgoing links) & about, physical address. You also may want to try to add these to a few of your sites and see what happens (yeah, it will take time to get noticed by Google if ever).
    Hope those ideas help. Best of luck.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Chris,

      We had JUST started an “expanded niche site” test where we add additional content to fill the sites out and test ROI. I think we’re going to put that test on hold, though…it doesn’t make sense to expand penalized sites and we need to let the dust settle to see what’s left, what’s not, etc.

      I think that was a slight change that would have been interesting…but we’re going to have to look at more aggressive, all-encompassing changes to the process, I think. Your second paragraph will be more of what we’re going for…with some variation to each individual site, probably…

  • Phil Jensen says:


    Sorry to hear about the hit.

    I’ve been seeing some examples like the teeth whitening one above that just seems unfair.

    It might be that this update will take some time to filter through before we see the real effects.

    But, I don’t think sites should be penalized just because they have an EMD.

    I’m also hating the lack of diversity I’m seeing on the first page of SERP for some keywords. I’m constantly seeing the same site’s ranking in all 10 spots for a specific keyword. From a user perspective I hate it…..give us back some diversity.

    Good luck guys.


    • JustinWCooke says:

      Thanks, Phil.

      It may just take some time for some sites…some may even pop back up. I think that’s unlikely, though, for the majority of our sites based on the thought that they’re penalized and haven’t just lost their “EMD bonus”. We’ll see…

      From a user perspective, I do agree that the search results have become worse in some ways. My biggest beef is the paid results, though, not the organic results. Still…maybe I should start giving Bing a look for personal search? hehe

  • Steve Eason says:

    My primary site, Ingenious Internet Income, was affected but I believe that’s primarily because of the newness and lack of solid back links. I’ve primarily been promoting my site through social media. So when searching for the exact keywords, ingenious internet income, you will find all my social sites, posts I’ve made and all, except my exact domain itself. I’m a bit nervous and slightly freaking out a bit about the update, but I know I’ve written solid unique content that will stand the test of time. I just have to trust that when I keep doing the right thing, I’ll see it return.

    As for my niche sites, they are toast. I am pretty much unsure about what I’m going to do at this stage of the game. Eager to see what you guys come up with. Thanks for the update and hopefully things will change.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Steve,

      Interestingly enough, we’ve had something similar happen with one of our sites previously, Searching for TwitArt will give you some of our social media profiles but not the site itself. It’s an outstanding BMR penalty, we believe. It’s been that way for quite a while now, though…

      We’ll have more info when we’ve had more time to digest and get together to work out a plan.

      • JamesInJapan says:

        Don’t know if others have this, but- I have a site that was targeted by the update, i.e. tanked on Day 1, but it is not an EMD, and the domain is not optimized for any one keyword.

        For an example illustration (this is not the real domain), with pages on bicycle helmets, sports helmets, padding, etc. Was ranking decently for a couple of the secondary keywords, then, suddenly pummeled with the EMD update. It is not a micro/thin site, has video, helpful info, graphics etc.

        Some UAW backlinking, but nothing overly aggressive.

        Anyone else see this happening? Again, in my site’s case, i was decidedly NOT trying to rank for the EMD keyword. No mention of that keyword in any articles, actually.

        Anxious to hear people’s responses

        James in Japan

        • JamesInJapan says:


          • Part of the update is another Panda type link spam update going after repeat anchor text. Did you sufficiently vary your anchor text? I would start with that, but it’s probably impossible to recover from this sort of penalty short term. Better to move on or try repurposing the content (see methods talked about above).

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