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Mayday Alert for Webmasters after Google Algorithm Change

Stephen Logan

by Stephen Logan on 2nd June 2010

Google’s latest algorithm update sees many websites losing rankings and traffic, particularly for long tail terms; so what is the Mayday update and is it time to panic?

Websites across the world have noticed slumps in their Google rankings and traffic levels. SEOs have been frantically seeking explanations and deliberating the true cause of these sudden dips and increases. Is this search Armageddon? Is Mayday the algorithm update that pushes many towards extinction?

Probably not. In fact almost certainly not. Whilst Google have been predictably aloof over just what their Mayday algorithm update includes, evidence suggests it isn’t something that most will need to be overly concerned about.

If you have suffered a large drop in your site traffic, indexed pages and long-tail keyword performance since May 1st, you are not alone though. This is particularly true for larger sites, such as those ecommerce outlets with a diverse product range, according to Search Engine Land [see: Google Confirms “Mayday” Update Impacts Long Tail Traffic].

In the first real post to address the issue with facts rather than speculation, Vanessa Fox got to the crux of the update. As we know, Google have been looking to achieve a few fundamental things with their search engine:

1)    Improve speed of results
2)    Improve relevance of results
3)    Increase the amount of time users spend on Google

The Mayday update (along with the left-hand navigation) appears simply to target these three principles.

Leaving Google’s stickiness to one side for a moment, the biggest issue for site owners and webmasters is quality. Unfortunately ‘quality’ is something of a loose term and Google certainly don’t do much to provide a definitive answer as to what they expect.

In Vanessa Fox’s piece for Search Engine Land, we get an understanding for how and why some sites have been affected. We also see how deeper pages using long tail keywords are being impacted the greater.

To see how some sites may suffer, here is a quick (slightly exaggerated) example:

Say you have a website with 30 pages. You have just 12 core products and have optimised the entire site to target these pages. There is an excellent linking profile, including plenty of deep links to your individual product. You have also developed a good internal link structure, with all pages easily accessible and sharing their content. Better still, you have unique content on each page and customer reviews to keep a fresh stream of information for the search engines to index.

Your competitor on the other hand has a sprawling site covering thousands of pages. They offer a variety of products in a wide number of categories. Each product has the manufacturer’s description attached, but no dynamic or unique content. The site has a high number of links, but the majority go to the Homepage and other main money pages.

Now you both have the same product. You are also both targeting the phrase ‘Sky Blue Brand X Sports Jacket’. This is a long tail keyword; it is also a term that you are likely to be far more optimised for being as though you have created original content. This could mean that you could now possibly overtake your rival due to your page’s greater authority.

Google usually tries to use a variety of methods to determine a website’s authority. Going beyond just including the main search keyword, it looks for synonyms, uniqueness and of course the strength of its linking profile.

If you have no links to your child pages across the site, there is a fair chance that your pages will suffer a Mayday relevance drop. Equally if you don’t have unique content, even on what you might consider to be less important pages (such as individual products), you could see a dip.

Brand Recognition Counts

Seemingly, the brands are benefiting most from this. Google have been working hard to ensure that brands (or their preferred distributor) are being seen first for their own goods and products first. This of course is common sense, but hasn’t always been the case (and still isn’t).

So if you were ranking first for a Sony Bravia television, you probably won’t now. As I say, this is something they have been slowly rolling out over a number of algorithm updates (especially the Florida update at the end of last year); now though it seems to be for more apparent than ever before.

What is the Solution?

If you have 10,000 products on your site, writing 300 words of engaging, unique content for each just isn’t going to be viable. Neither are you likely to be able to gain the number of links required to boost its profile sufficiently.

The solution really is about prioritising. If you have found your traffic and rankings slip significantly on a select few pages particularly, you’ve got yourself a starting point. See what you can do to make the page unique. Review the link structure and the content, see where improvements can be made and implement them.

Site-wide changes including customer comments, can help you to increase your page’s content organically and ensure that the Googlebot has something to crawl. Ensure that your internal linking structure allows for straightforward crawling and the passing on of page strength.

Should you Panic?

Easy for us to say, but there’s no reason to get too carried away with this. Even if your rankings have suffered take stock of the situation, look at who overtook you, what they’re doing differently and make changes accordingly. Don’t resort to spam, don’t try to buy up some links to quickly reinstate your position. Focus on quality and develop your site.

Traffic isn’t everything. You need to be more focussed on ROI, so only when this suffers should you really be concerned. Obviously the two often go hand in hand; but many site owners are seeing that whilst some rankings have faltered, others have thrived.

Invariably one person’s loss is another’s gain in the world of search engine rankings, so it is far from doom and gloom. If you haven’t seen any significant changes, you can rest a little easier. There’s no reason to cease your website optimisation, if anything there’s more reason to continue.

At the moment the only solid confirmation of the Mayday update has come in the form of a Matt Cutts YouTube post (below). This simply confirms the above, as well as dismissing suggestions that it is part of Caffeine or indeed is likely to be a temporary thing.

If you have experienced significant changes, good or bad, keep us posted. For those that have suffered drops, do you hold Google accountable? What are you doing to get traffic back? What affect has it had on your overall business?

Generally speaking, do you believe that the Mayday update has been a positive thing for searchers or not? Is Google giving too much weight to the big brands and letting down the small guys? Are they playing God online, holding the fortunes of millions in their hands?

Stephen Logan

Stephen Logan

Stephen Logan is our Senior Content Marketer at Koozai. With four years experience writing exclusively for the search engine marketing industry, he has amassed a wealth of industry related knowledge. He will be breaking news stories and contributing compelling SEO related stories.

6 Comments

  • Coding Strategist 2nd June 2010

    I did get a lot of questions because of Google MayDay. That is why I wrote this tutorial on how to make an ‘advanced segment’ in google analytics to see stats for only long tail searches (4 keywords or more): http://codingstrategist.com/google-analytics-segment-for-long-tail-searches. I thought it might be useful to you too.

    Reply to this comment

  • Che 2nd June 2010

    One of my 5 year old site with 2 M pv/month dropped 67% traffic. Almost all of the long tail keywords lost traffic. I searched for most of the terms that my site lost, couldn’t find a reason that why my site shouldn’t be there in the SERPs.

    If there is not even a small change in the quality of the sites appear for that terms, what’s the point of penalizing some site for nothing.

    Its frustrating. I think Google grew so big, we need some other search provider with at least a 30% share. Other wise they will dictate things.

    Reply to this comment

  • Coding Strategist 4th June 2010

    I learned yesterday how easy it is to share a Google Analytics segment. If you are logged in with GA and you click the link below, a segment will be ported to your account. The only thing you will have to do is give it a name and save it and you are ready to go. http://www.google.com/analytics/reporting/add_segment?share=UIf6ASkBAAA.RD_MY1rbVaEf7ayaUJLvVPiQ_LI1ChyUtn-bOjPcugvm98hF09ctMD2732tnFzNec3Y4S4q5xNbXFxVAT-lQJg.pGuMKmo-gbRxnK6DKgDvDw This specific segment will show all data from organic search that found your site with 3 or more keywords.

    Reply to this comment

  • Michael T 4th June 2010

    My site was hit hard by the google mayday update, while it was running successfully two years now… I have good unique content, although I’ve lost 70% of my organic traffic!

    It’s not fair…

    Reply to this comment

  • Paul Stanton 7th June 2010

    large drops in natural SERP – going from 1st, 2nd, 3rd to 8th, 9th or further.

    we have pages such as xyz business plan where xyz might be golf course, used car dealer etc.

    http://www.interstellar-solutions.co.uk/Golf_Course_Business_Plan.html – used to be 5th is now 12th.
    This is pretty typical drop and therefore results in less sales – this weekend we had 3 sales where we might normally have about 10 sales. Our sales have dropped about 50% overall.

    To me it doesn’t make sense..i can see about 3/4 results above us that shouldn’t be above us…and same for a lot of the keywords – we have around 2500+ plans.

    For example…

    http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/golf/

    this is nothing to do with golf course business plan…it’s just a description of a gold course for punters to play on – not build your own.

    If someone types into google golf course business plan – then it’s clear they want a document on how to write a business plan – or a ready made golf course business plan.

    Come on google – pull your finger out!

    Reply to this comment

  • Allan 19th June 2010

    I am in the UK so focus on UK sites. I saw about a 70-90% drop on the 4th June that affected 95% of my sites. I went from earning $5000 a month to nothing overnight.

    I produce all unique content myself that I have done over many years providing information that you cannot get elsewhere on the internet.

    The drop affected not only long tail but my main keywords too. I have no idea how to fix this as I have always followed the mantra content is king. Never done link buying, getting social links etc or anything else that could be considered trying to game the system.

    If I knew what I had done wrong I could fix it but I honestly do not know what went wrong.

    Over 3 years of hard work with many 12+ hour days all worthless, thanks Google.

    Reply to this comment

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