Panda, Penguin, and the EMD Update – What You Need to Know

Last week was a busy one for Google. The search giant ushered in a parade of algo changes starting with the announcement of the spanking new exact match domain (EMD) update on September 28. Then, a couple of days later, Google confirmed that it rolled out a major Panda algorithm update the day before the EMD. To say the tandem updates threw webmasters for a loop would be the understatement of the century.

But wait… there’s more. Head of Google webspam team Matt Cutts announced on Twitter that Google was rolling out the latest data refresh for Penguin.

Is all this action coincidental or deliberate? Any guess would be speculation at this point, but many prominent webmaster news sources have already voiced their suspicions. On that note, let’s examine each update to discern what exactly went down.

The EMD Update

When Google announced the rollout of the new EMD Update during those last days of September, it came as little surprise to most webmasters. Google alluded to the change repeatedly as far back as 2010. Some niche site builders have ignored the threats entirely, opting instead to continue tempting fate by churning out low-quality websites en masse. These sites often hinged on exact match domains to help secure their position in the SERPs.

The EMD algorithm is actually a filter through which Google sifts every website it has in its index. Now, websites with exact match domain names and low-quality content won’t cruise by Panda undetected any longer. If you are the owner of such a website, prepare yourself. The EMD algorithm will periodically refresh its data just like Panda and Penguin do now, so even if you escape the first go ’round, you may get caught in a follow-up attack down the road.

There are already rumors flying around that every owner of an exact match domain website is doomed. The folks at Search Engine Land vehemently disagree. The thought is that websites with high-quality content and an eye on good user experience will remain untouched by the algo. This remains to be seen, however – we’ll find out for sure when the dust settles after all the changes over the next few weeks. According to a post on Search Engine Land about the EMD update:

“Is that Google just favoring itself? I wouldn’t say so. After all, it didn’t wipe out:

– Cars.com for “cars”
– Usedcars.com for “used cars”
– Cheaptickets.com for “cheap tickets”
– Movies.com for “movies”
– Skylightbooks.com for “books”

Instead, EMD is more likely hitting domains like online-computer-training-schools.com, which is a made-up example but hopefully gets the point across. It’s a fairly generic name with lots of keywords in it but no real brand recognition.

Domains like this are often purchased by someone hoping that just having all the words they want to be found for (“online computer training schools”) will help them rank well. It’s true that there’s a small degree of boost to sites for having search terms in their domains with Google, in general. A very small degree.”

In theory, this amounts to five-page affiliate sites and websites made to host AdSense blocks getting the axe while all the rest of the higher-quality EMDs out there remain un-phased. Again, this is the theory. The real results will take a while to sort out.

One fact is certain, however: Google tends to roll out updates hastily and then tweak and perfect with each refresh. If you have a high-quality site with an EMD and you were hit, don’t despair. You may have a chance to come back in the SERPs as the algorithm refines further over time.

The Panda Update

It’s very interesting that Google rolled out the newest Panda algorithm update the day before the EMD algo, yet neglected to announce Panda until a few days after the announcement of EMD. If you follow Google’s changes, you’ll notice that Matt Cutts almost always announces updates directly before, or as they’re happening. This oversight seems like a deliberate move by G. If it is, the real question is, “Why the confusion?”

Some are speculating that the overlapping updates were an attempt to confuse webmasters and SEOs whose rankings would take a nosedive. It would be hard to decipher whether the hit was because of the EMD filter or due to Panda. When it’s hard to pinpoint the cause, it’s tougher to manipulate the rankings for a second time – forcing webmasters to play by the rules instead.

The Panda update is the twentieth refresh of the algorithm, and it was a big one: the change impacted roughly 2.4% of English-language search queries and it’s still baking into the index at the time of this writing. Remember, Panda deals with on-page issues such as keyword density and the overall quality of your content.

The Penguin Update

Penguin first burst on the SEO scene in late April of this year. It’s a separate algo, different from Panda in that it deals with inbound links to websites. If a website has a large number of low quality inbound links, Penguin will likely demote that site in the SERPs when the filter runs. The Penguin algorithm has only had one update so far, before the summer even began.

The latest makes the third update of Penguin, and it’s a major data refresh that will affect websites spanning many different languages. Think of Penguin as a periodic filter that Google runs to catch websites with sketchy backlink profiles.

The Way Forward

There’s quite a bit to digest here. We have three events rolling out simultaneously but completely independent of one another. Obviously, checking your stats now would be an important move – you’ll want the real-time data to analyze later. However, you can’t make a definitive call about what (if anything) hit your site until a couple of weeks pass.

When the dust settles, you’ll begin to see a little more clearly where your sites have relocated in the search result pages. That’s when it’s time to break out the stats and analyze site details such as your backlink profile, your content, and your domain name.

Do you have an EMD with thin, mediocre content? Then the EMD update probably hit you. Don’t have an exact match domain, do have great backlinks but still felt the sting? Then it was likely Panda. Everything beautiful onsite but backlinks include some shady websites? Blame Penguin.

Once you know what hit your website, you can take corrective actions to fix the errors. The downside? You’ll have to wait until the refresh of the suspected algorithm attack to see if your website will bounce back. The upside? With a little work and the right analysis, your website’s position in the SERPs can be restored.

Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews,
one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.

About the author


Nell Terry

Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for'SiteProNews, one of the Web's foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the 'net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.


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  • Google is actually upgrading every day and with Panda and Penguin and now EMD updates. Its good as spamming will also reduce and only good quality sites will have a place in SEO. Thanks for this informative blog.

  • Before read your post i was completely unaware about “EMD Update” in-spite of it that i am well aware about panda and penguin updates. Now i learn a lot of things from “EMD Update” you shared with us and yes off-curse we are ready for it.

  • Google is just playing tricks. Why not just say we only rank websites that is willing to pay. End results — poor quality search results!

  • EMD is all about English name web-sites, how about international? Any one has an idea how it works? Thanks in advance.

  • Thank you so much for this article so well wrote and easy to understand I think everybody suffered under the hands of Google let’s hope it settles down as I know I was hit very badly I sell greeting cards that’s it I just do not understand why I was hit so much o well let’s turn a negative in to positive and move forward
    Once again thanks for explaining what Google is up to.

  • The update mostly hit spammy websites with little content but as you said exact keywords. You hear a lot of belly aching in forums that deal with black hat SEO on how their websites were hit and dropped from Google. There’s not a real way to recover if you are completely dropped from the listing. You can only hope Bing and others didn’t also forsake you.

    But this is good news for all of us with actual content and good SEO practices! I don’t see a real downside to this. I’m getting better results from my searches now, and I’m happy with it.

  • I think I can confirm these changes too. Over the last 10 days we saw our traffic from Google decrease to a point we wondered what was happening. ( we had not yet read about the updates) So, we checked our sitemap submissions, our links, our seo descriptions and other metadata and they were all fine as always. The page-rank had not altered , just the traffic.
    This week however, we saw traffic go back to normal or better than before.
    After reading this, we anticipate everything for us will go up since we believe we have been working within guidelines for long.
    Wonderful article you have provided here.

  • Hi,
    I am panicking slightly as I have noticed a drop in my analytics already.
    My website is what it says on the tin We are a directory of camping sites and parks etc. I have hundreds of low ranking links going to listings. If i removed these I will loose my business. My advertisers add their own information how do I know that that info is not copied and pasted from their own website.
    This is a nightmare for my business I have over 5,000 pages and cannot change all of them.

  • I have a host of language learning websites under the brand name “SpeakOut” (SpeakOut! Italian, SpeakOut!French, SpeakOut! Chinese, etc.) My Italian site lost ALL of it’s rankings this week, but my other sites–which are built exactly the same–have not been affected! I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what happened. The sites–including backlinking– follow the same strategy! …very frustrating!

  • Hi and thanks for the update, didn’t even know about the EMD until I got your email.

    Just did a search on my terms that were all number 1 in google and I have been hit bad, hope when the dust settles we will recover.

  • My head hurts! I am relatively new to the world of SEO but every day I receive a deluge of reports about Google and its updates. Will I ever get up to speed :-(.

    Thanks for this article it was very interesting.


  • Well it looks like google is going to well and truly stuff my website with my domain name. I have great unique content and images, However my industry appears to be dominated by those with big adwords budgets and the parasite sites that just regurgitate what the fan sites are saying. I believe these so called updates are to drive us into google adwords so that they become richer. Quality will be lost to big budgets.

  • Nice intel. I’m glad that google changes focus to brand rather than exact match domain. In the end branding should be the primary focus of any business.

  • It’s all about Google greed eliminating their main competitor small businesses with their websites. If you perform any search now you will find out that their first 3 pages is flooded with directories. Guess what? Google own them or have shady agreements with the rest so they still get cut from every spent dollar in order to be listed on these directories. Don’t you get it? Wake up people? Stop making this crooks that important start using Bing and they will come to you begging you to use their polluted search engine.

  • Thanks for the updates. I struggle every single day to keep my website floating. These articles help so much.

    I have always tried to write quality content and format my html with everything properly.

    But.. When the update hit, my site traffic took a nosedive. The update also hit on highly optimized image title and alt tags and header tags. These used to be a key point in optimization. No longer. Now I need to de-optimize my site and use more natural words for image names and less keywords.

    As a website owner and struggling diy SEO, I am sweating daily with these updates and burning candles late into the night to stay afloat.

  • Good article – concise and informative. Oddly enough, all the changes Google has introduced over the last few years have consistently improved the volume and ROI-relevance of traffic to all the sites I maintain. None of Google’s new stuff have inspired me to make any changes of any kind: It turns out that a user-centric design and promotional strategy based on quality and relevance is what Google is looking to detect and reward. Who could have guessed? It would be safe enough for me to just ignore the SEO news – sound fundamentals are all anyone needs and these do not change. But I do like to stay current and “buzzword compliant” because I need to be ready to explain to my clients why one or another “black hat” method is a “bad idea” and make it stick – so I keep reading Site Pro. Thanks guise!

  • really thanks for this info.. it will really us in taking precautions…. really thanks for this useful update… thanks again..

  • It’s getting tough out there. This explains a lot as to why many of my sites are slipping. Guess I have some work to do.


  • Very well compiled and timely published information, especially the update on EMD. It’s actually good for genuine businesses. It will keep domain squatters from taking over the internet. Panda and Penguin have not only disconcerted SEO webmasters, but also the entire system of search engine. It will be interesting to note who gets hit and how hard by the new EMD update!

  • I find it comforting that Google stays up on reducing search engine SPAM. I have been following Matt Cutts since his personal debut. His involvement with the Google team has only increased my focus for the industry in which I serve. SEO is simple if we keep it simple. I have found over the years and by way of my clients that a high percentage of SEO Firms tend to be fraudulent, tell you what you want to hear, grab your money, and run.

    If your looking for a quality SEO company then do some research on the company first and get references from actual clients in which they served.

    Good Luck and may the best SEO win!

  • Our shop website is packed with information about fish, including Bettas. Our stats benefited enormously from Panda, and seemed unaffected by Penguin. But with our domain: “bettatrading.com.au” we were slightly affected by EMD, but seemingly only for the keyword betta. The rest of our keywords continue to rank reasonably.

  • It seems there are never-ending fixes to be done, even on good quality unique content websites. Can’t wait for Bing to take over share so just better results without games can help good websites flourish online.

  • Wow, so many changes in such a short time period… Thanks a lot for this summary and let´s see what the giant is going to implement in future.

  • With all of that, the search results are still garbage. I keep getting outdated search results from as far back as 2009. So, I have to go to Bing for more recent information.

    I have a friend who has only been on the internet for about 14 months. Being a novice, she has figured out something that the freaking gurus STILL have not (or won’t admit to.) With Bing, you get higher quality search results.

  • Thank you for explaining the different google updates for me, it has really helped me to understand the updates.

  • Hi Nell,

    Thank you for sharing this very informative article, i have read it in detail and it really make alot of sense on the different updates that google have made over the past two weeks

  • I do sympathize with all those hit by Google algorithm especially those who did honest work and to build their back-links. Yet I like it as Google is giving out lines so it is clear to every Webmaster what he/she is expected to do.

  • Thanks for the great information! I don’t know about EMD. I don’t loose any position.

  • Hi “Nell Terry” Thanks for this information. it is very good information for all the seo’s who read this article.

  • I want help for my site http://www.rugsandlighting.com i cant find wht problem my site is having as my serp is decreased from last 5 mnths its nt improving at all i am so confused about it. I have never done black hat seo of my site i never used any unathecial tactics for my site then what is the problem that i am having please help me i want my positions back…

  • A very good article. Will continue to follow your writing efforts. Thanks for the info.

  • I really needed this update on Panda, Penguin … not so much the EMD. It’s really complex for the average blogger to process what needs to be done, but you explain it well. Thank you.

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  • EMD still uses as a ranking factor but not like 2011. its one of the ranking factor. keyword on domain name.