Mayday Google Algorithm Update
Get comfy – this post is one of my longer ones. But it’s full of very important current information about some Google changes.
The Mayday Update
Have you been hearing all the talk about the Mayday update and all the fallout? I’m going to break it all down and tell you what it means and what you need to do. Let me just start with a quick overview for beginners.
If you own a website, you want top rankings. With more than 8 out of 10 people using search engines to find what they need online, you are missing out if your site isn’t ranked well in the engines.
We can all agree on that! So, how do you get those coveted top rankings?
While I wish the answer was “magic fairy dust” but it’s not that simple (which is too bad because I happen to have a fresh supply of fairy dust – my niece shared it with me!).
Search Engine Optimization is the process of optimizing your site for the engines. Don’t know what SEO is? Then likely your site isn’t optimized and missing out on traffic.
Already had your site optimized in the past? That’s great and it’s a start but SEO requires on-going efforts on your site to gain and increase rankings.
Because the engines frequently make changes to their algorithms (the formula used to determine how to rank your site in the search engine results pages [SERPs]). We’ve heard rumors that Google changes their crawling/indexing or ranking algorithm as often as once a day. Sometimes these tweaks are minor and other times they are bigger and the impact is widely felt by webmasters and site owners.
Here is an explanation of what’s going on from Ex-Googler Vanessa Fox:
“Last week at Google I/O, I was on a panel with Googler Matt Cutts who said, when asked during Q&A, ”this is an algorithmic change in Google, looking for higher quality sites to surface for long tail queries. It went through vigorous testing and isn’t going to be rolled back.”
I asked Google for more specifics and they told me that it was a rankings change, not a crawling or indexing change, which seems to imply that sites getting less traffic still have their pages indexed, but some of those pages are no longer ranking as highly as before. Based on Matt’s comment, this change impacts “long tail” traffic, which generally is from longer queries that few people search for individually, but in aggregate can provide a large percentage of traffic.
This change seems to have primarily impacted very large sites with “item” pages that don’t have many individual links into them, might be several clicks from the home page, and may not have substantial unique and value-added content on them. For instance, ecommerce sites often have this structure. The individual product pages are unlikely to attract external links and the majority of the content may be imported from a manufacturer database. Of course, as with any change that results in a traffic hit for some sites, other sites experience the opposite. Based on Matt’s comment at Google I/O, the pages that are now ranking well for these long tail queries are from “higher quality” sites (or perhaps are “higher quality” pages).
What’s a site owner to do? It can be difficult to create compelling content and attract links to these types of pages. My best suggestion to those who have been hit by this is to isolate a set of queries for which the site now is getting less traffic and check out the search results to see what pages are ranking instead. What qualities do they have that make them seen as valuable? For instance, I have no way of knowing how amazon.com has faired during this update, but they’ve done a fairly good job of making individual item pages with duplicated content from manufacturer’s databases unique and compelling by the addition of content like of user reviews. They have set up a fairly robust internal linking (and anchor text) structure with things like recommended items and lists. And they attract external links with features such as the my favorites widget.
From the discussion at the Google I/O session, this is likely a long-term change so if your site has been impacted by it, you’ll likely want to do some creative thinking around how you can make these types of pages more valuable (which should increase user engagement and conversion as well).”
More notes that Fox got from Matt Cutts at Google. This update:
• has nothing to do with the “Caffeine” update (an infrastructure change that is not yet fully rolled out).
• is entirely algorithmic (and isn’t, for instance, a manual flag on individual sites).
• impacts long tail queries more than other types
• was fully tested and is not temporary
More good advice from Fox:
“Google made between 350 and 550 changes in its organic search algorithms in 2009. This is one of the reasons I recommend that site owners not get too fixated on specific ranking factors. If you tie construction of your site to any one perceived algorithm signal, you’re at the mercy of Google’s constant tweaks. These frequent changes are one reason Google itself downplays algorithm updates. Focus on what Google is trying to accomplish as it refines things (the most relevant, useful results possible for searchers) and you’ll generally avoid too much turbulence in your organic search traffic.”
The Take Away Here?
This isn’t the end of “long tail” – which is something people are spouting on Blogs and ezines the past few weeks (someone is always declaring the death of something SEO related. SEO has more lives than a cat because it’s outlived many proclaimed deaths!)
Optimization is important to get top rankings – but optimization does not mean manipulating the current “hot button” or “hot topic item” that everyone is speculating about with the algorithm.
Consistent site updates, high quality relevant content and good on-page optimization and clean code, as well as earning links because your site is a good site (and not because you play a link exchange game or belong to a link network) are the way to get top rankings.
Rankings aren’t constant and you do need to maintain them and weather some storms but the sites that don’t fall for the latest rankings ploys are the ones that do better long term.
These days most site owners realize they can’t just rely on Google alone for traffic and they are looking to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to help boost their exposure online.
So your action plan?
• Check your stats and see if you were in fact impacted by the Mayday update (did you lose traffic from some long tail phrases).
• Check out your linking practices and make sure you haven’t done any shady linking lately.
• Look at your link strategy and make sure you are passing link juice to your internal pages.
• Bulk up your internal pages with unique content and quality info (other than just manufacturer supplied product info)
• Make sure you have a Facebook Fan Page/Business Page
• Get going on Twitter
• Contact me for a no obligation consultation or SEO and Social Media proposal if you aren’t where you need to be!
One final thought: while it’s important to stay current and be aware of changes, it’s just as important not to freak out and start making too many changes. If you are using a strong and stable SEO strategy that covers the fundamentals, then you will be just fine for the long haul.
Author of this Article is Jennifer Horowitz
She is also the director of Marketing on Twitter