Stephen Logan

Google MayDay Update Puts focus on Site Wide Optimisation

28th Jun 2010 SEO Blog 3 minutes to read

Avoiding the politics of the Google MayDay Algorithm update and subsequent fallout, one benefit of the changes is that attention has been drawn to optimising pages as an individual entity.

While search engine commentators were endlessly speculating about Caffeine, Google themselves were readying a major algorithm update. MayDay came in almost unnoticed and certainly unheralded. But the consequences of this algorithm update were felt far wider and in greater concentration than anything Caffeine has offered so far.

Principally affecting pages lower down in a website’s architecture, MayDay relegated and promoted thousands of sites almost overnight. The strength of opinion and the impact of these changes was evidenced in the responses we received to our post earlier in the month – Mayday Alert for Webmasters after Google Algorithm Change.

Clearly there were winners and losers, as there are with any algorithm update, but in this instance the outcome seemed more distinct. These weren’t slight changes, they were wholesale shifts. Just the small cross-section of people responding to the aforementioned post saw losses in traffic ranging from 57% to 90%! This can be devastating to any business.

Where there are losers there has to be winners of course. If one positive has come out of this algorithm update, now almost two months on, it is that website owners now have to be more aware of each page and its respective strength. Not that this will provide much comfort to those who dropped.

Now though there can be no doubt that replicating manufacturer descriptions verbatim throughout a site will provide no benefit. You also can’t rely on link juice simply filtering down through from your homepage.

Each page needs a smattering of external links, focussed keywords and unique content. SEO professionals have always recommended this, but restrictions on time and a need to prioritise have always provided a reasonable excuse. Now that just isn’t the case.

Long-tail keywords were traditionally seen as being easier to obtain, hence why sites didn’t need to optimise as much for them. But MayDay appears to have changed all of this too. Even if competition levels appear to be low, you have to have some kind of unique identifier that sets you apart – whether that’s in your on-site optimisation or linking profile.

Of course it’s no consolation to those who have already received penalties across their site, but we now have a far clearer idea of what Google expect from websites.  Duplicated content, unfocused keyword usage and no external links won’t result in any kind of ranking. Where possible, you have to treat each page as a unique entity and optimise it as such.

For those with large ecommerce sites this is by no means a small undertaking. Writing unique product descriptions for 1,000+ items is going to take time and trying to get links to each is next to impossible.

But small things, such as allowing customer reviews, can make the difference. This provides more information on a page and gives Google more reasons to return back to the page. By building content in this way, just as Amazon have done so successfully, rankings can return.

Whilst most SEO experts would recommend a minimum of 200 words on any given page, as long as it is unique, a quick 100 word description will be more beneficial than duplicate content. For many, the MayDay update has prompted a re-building process, for others though it should serve as a warning.

Search engine rankings aren’t set in stone. Positions come and go, but rarely with the speed that some experienced following MayDay. Whilst we can all complain about the injustices of massive traffic losses, unfortunately it is the search engines who dictate the rules.

Clearly this latest set of rules dictates that if you want a ranking you’re going to have to work for it. Getting on-site SEO right is vital, making sure it is site-wide though is equally important. So if you have noticed a drop off in rankings for some pages and aren’t sure why, do a little digging. See why your competitors are benefiting and where your pages can improve. It might not be easy, but it could be extremely worthwhile.

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