Google`s Mayday Update Making You Scream for Help?

If you own a fairly large ecommerce site with lots of product pages, you may have noticed a drop in site visitors – and income – starting in May. If you track these things, you might even be able to trace it to a drop in your position on Google’s search pages for very long tail keywords. You haven’t made any changes to your site to account for this, so what’s going on?

In the various SEO forums and SEO-focused websites, it’s being referred to as Google’s “Mayday” update. It’s widely known that Google tweaks its algorithm on an ongoing basis, of course. Back in the old days (say five years ago), SEOs and site owners would get frantic with every update and what it would do to their site’s standing. Nowadays, however, Google updates its algorithm several hundred times a year, and most of the time, nobody notices.

This one, apparently, is special. Mayday specifically seems to affect long tail keywords – searches that use three or more keywords. While any single specific long tail key phrase attracts limited traffic by itself, taken as a group, such keywords can bring a substantial amount of traffic to a site. Furthermore, searchers who use long tail keywords often know exactly what they want; they’ve done their research, and they’re ready to buy that specific model of camera, cell phone, computer, or what have you.

This effectively means a double whammy for the ecommerce websites that seem most vulnerable to Mayday: not only have they lost some traffic, but the traffic they lost is (at least theoretically) the traffic that converts the best. And Matt Cutts’ words about it aren’t exactly reassuring if your site is affected: “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.” Furthermore, this is a rankings change, not a crawling or an indexing change…so you can’t console yourself with the thought that maybe Google hasn’t indexed your entire site.

But what’s this business about bringing higher quality sites up in the results for the long tail? Vanessa Fox writing for Search Engine Land notes that the change seems to mostly be affecting “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.” That’s a pretty common profile for ecommerce sites. Fox speculates that Google tweaked the algorithms that track a page’s quality signals and relevance by making quality more important (and relevance a little less important) to the overall score.

So if Fox is right about what’s going on, what can you do about it? Painful as it sounds, it may be time to go back to Competitive SEO 101. Take a few of your pages that used to rank well for certain long tail keywords. Do the searches in Google. See where your page is now, and take a look at the pages that rank higher. Click through to the highest few pages and see what they’re doing that your pages aren’t.

If you sell a lot of different products, you may be relying only on the manufacturer’s description – which may be informative, but is hardly unique. Amazon does this, too, but the online retailing giant finds lots of other ways to add unique content to their pages and make them stand out: user reviews, a good internal linking system with recommended items and lists, and so forth. They even attract external links to pages with such features as the “my favorites” widget.

You’re not Amazon, of course, but there are surely some things you can do to make your content more original. Google has always looked for – and rewarded – high-quality, original content. The Mayday tweak just emphasizes this point a little more than in the past. This change is not going away, so you’d best learn how to accommodate your website to it. To put it bluntly, your bottom line depends on it.

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