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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?