Have Your Law Firm Rankings Dropped? Google’s Latest Exact Match Domain (EMD) Algorithm Update and How You Should Respond

By on

Several non-client law firms have contacted us about rankings’ drops due due to Google’s Penguin and Exact match domain updates. Exact match domains (EMDs) have been a trusted marketing tool for law firms for years. Exact match domains are websites that are created using desirable keywords in the domain name to help the site rank for those keywords. One example would be “SunnyvilleAccidentLawyer.com”. The goal of this site would be to gain an advantage in Google results when someone searches for “Sunnyville Accident Lawyer”. While these domains have been popular, the door is closing fast. On September 28th, 2012 Google released an algorithm update specifically designed to combat low quality EMDs. For more information on what EMDs are, please read Dale Tincher’s fantastic article on Keyword Specific Domain Names.

EMDs have been popular with the SEO community as a whole; not only law firms, because of their ability to influence rankings. In the years past, Google has given a higher ranking to websites that contained keywords the user is searching for in the site domain. I am sure you have all seen domains in search results like “best-airline-flights.com”. These are domains that the webmaster has created to exploit this opportunity to rank highly in Google with little work. This example domain is probably not the most relevant page for the user to go to get information on the best airline flights. More often than not, the page will contain thin content and advertisements that profit the webmaster.

So why did Google allow this in the first place?

There are many businesses that have keywords in the title. A company’s name might be St. Louis Orthopedic Clinic. Similar to the fact that if you search for “IBM” you would expect to be taken to IBM’s website, if you search for the name of the business above, you would expect to be able to easily find the company’s website.

With that said, Google has much more data now than it had 10 years ago. Think Google maps, Adwords, Google+, etc. This means many more data points are available to assist in understanding which result is a legitimate business and which is a shallow website. It has been well known for the past couple years that a law firm’s website will receive a bump in local search results by having a physical location connected with the site via Google+ Local (formerly Google Places). EMDs could not benefit from this bump because the location was normally tied to their main website.

What do I do with these old EMD websites?

With the devaluation of the EMD bump, it is more important than ever to consolidate your great content around a single authoritative domain. Not only do you receive a boost in the areas that you have a physical location, but the content that was diluted to five separate EMD websites can be compounded to give your main website added authority on these themes. Google has apparently worked out the kinks with separating manipulative domain names from true brand names (There was some collateral damage to actual quality domains in this update for sure). But our advice remains: Unless you are willing to make a significant investment in your EMD websites to get them on par with main websites, you should get rid of your low quality EMDs and focus on making your main site a quality reference for your customers.

For additional information on Google’s EMD or Penguin updates or for assistance with your website marketing, please contact us at marketing@consultwebs.com or 800-872-6590.

JR Oakes is the Director of Search Marketing for Consultwebs.com. You can read more from him by subscribing to LawWebMarketing or by following him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

JR Oakes

J.R. Oakes is in charge of developing and managing a comprehensive approach to search engine optimization for the law firm clients of Consultwebs.com. In this role, J.R. constantly analyzes and adapts the marketing firm's SEO strategy to address the constantly changing factors that go into high search engine rankings. Follow JR on Google+ or Twitter

Comments Comments

Steve Gordon

Though true that Google has incorporated into its algorythym an aspect looking at exact match domains, you should not be worried about this if you have quality content on your Exact Match Domain (EMD). The analysis turns upon Google’s qualified in this update of “low quality”. In the past, it is a true statement that a low quality EMD could/would be responsive in a competitive search just due to the its EMD characteristic. This phenomenon is what Google is trying to prevent.

Where I disagree with Mr. Oakes is that there is no question that lawyers get clients from the internet by being on page 1 or page 2 of a Google search if that is the chosen search engine. However, that same lawyer stands a higher chance of getting clients if they occupy more than one result, or slot, upon the the most expensive piece of real estate in the world, i.e., the 1st page of Google. It is exceedingly hard to achieve 1st page results and the money spent to achieve that must be worth it. However, and I am sure Mr. Oakes will agree, it is exceedingly hard, if not highly improbable, to achieve two or more separate slots on the 1st page of Google for one web site. Thus, if you want to have more lines in the water to increase the chance of catching more potential clients, you must have different web sites in your portfolio. If Mr. Oakes is saying that an EMD cannot help you achieve that and you must have a non-EMD to be responsive on the 1st page of Google, with all due respect to Mr. Oakes, he would be incorrect. One does not have to have an EMD, but a good EMD is certainly as good than a good non-EMD in Google’s new eyes. However, there is something I call: “Googleitis”. My definition of Googleitis is that, and this is something that almost all Lawyer Related SEOs suffer from, is that there is only one search engine and that is Google. Unfortunately, Googleitis is not helpful to the lawyer as +/- one-third (1/3) of all searches are made upon search engines other than Google, e.g. BING & Yahoo. It is irrefutable that a high quality EMD tromps a high quality non-EMD in both of those search engines. Thus, if you can own, or somehow, occupy space upon, a high quality EMD as a component of your lawyer online presence, this is the best of all possible worlds. So, if this is what Mr. Oakes is saying then I agree with him. But, if that is not what he is saying, then vive la différence!



    Thanks for the comment Steve. My main focus here is not to disparage EMD(exact match domain) websites. It more often comes down to advising clients on where their dollars can be most effectively spent. Dale Tincher had a great post recently on ROI for TV advertising which talks about the diminishing return for attorneys. Likewise, EMDs (Exact Match Domains) for years, carried more weight in Google search results and therefore were a great investment for firms. With Google discounting the value of keywords in the domain name, it makes us have to take a hard look at where our client’s money is best spent. Google is not the only search engine, but does drive the lion’s share of traffic.

    If a firm is willing to invest in multiple sites at a level that will provide great content on each, then that is another story. That can be a really effective strategy, but the cost of competing in many markets is increasing greatly per site. With many firms, EMDs were built quickly to leverage the value of the boost from the domain name. In this case, it is much better to look to add unique content to their main site and gain benefit from its strength. It is also known that the main site will receive a great benefit in the areas that the firm has locations due to Google’s tendency toward featuring local businesses. Additional EMD websites cannot take advantage of this.

    So summing up, EMDs have lost a lot of their magic dust on Google. Having a strategy of multiple sites can be effective with the proper budget. It is very important to put emphasis on your main site due to the local bump and to establish the authority that will allow you to rank for a wide range of terms.


Jeff Howard

The deciding factor on this tactic is the total bandwidth the firm has to support internet marketing. If the firm can support SEO on their main site, and microsites then I still think this is a viable tactic. But, not a tactic to chose over reinforcing the main site first.

Increasing firms who specialize are winning online. I think attorneys who can brand themselves with their content will win on Google. Here is a demo site I created for smaller sites that achieve this – http://microsite.jeffmhoward.com.

I recently watched a client of mine go out of business because they did it all. There budget for SEO was minimal, and they had a single website trying to compete in many extremely hard niches. This firm didn’t stand a chance in Google, and a content rich microsite strategy was their only hope. Unfortunately the price tag in terms of time and dollars was out of there spectrum and they dissolved.


Leave a Comment

* Fields Required

Please keep in mind that comments are moderated and rel="nofollow" is in use. So, please do not use a spammy keyword or a domain as your name, or it will be deleted. Thanks for visiting!

Loading Facebook Comments ...