Posted by: Chris Horner ( SEO Specialist ) | June 1, 2010

Losing traffic? How to turn the Google Mayday changes to your advantage

SEOs and business owners around the world are studying the fall out of what’s been labelled the Google May Day update. So far, so unhappy, with many web masters and SEO professionals reporting falls in traffic, especially long tail traffic, sometimes by as much as 50%. Clearly when visitor numbers drop in these sorts of volumes the implications when it come to sales and profits can be significant.

So what’s going on? What is the May Day Google algorithm change? Why are websites suffering and more importantly what can they do to fix things?

Now while there’s nothing new about Google tweaking their algorithm, in 2009 Google made non less than 350 to 400 changes, says Google SEO guru Matt Cutts, this one seems to have taken people by surprise. Happening at and about the same time as the Google search interface changes people have been struggling to to explain

both the reasoning and implications of the changes. The good and the great including Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz, Frank Reed at Marketing Pilgrim and Vanessa Fox at SearchEngineLand have all commented on the changes and shared analysis.

Could it be an indexing change designed to support the speed of Caffeine? Could it be a link valuation shift where even good sites are being punished from bad links? Has there been an increased bias given to authority/brand sites. Tedster at Webmaster World suggested a phrase match shift where Google has introduced new technology that regards particular types of long tail as less relevant.

Google themselves haven’t been too forthcoming about the specifics of the change though Vanessa Fox quotes Matt Cutts as saying: ”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.”

Google went on to confirm that May Day constituted a rankings change, not a crawling or indexing change, so even though pages are still being crawled they are now considered as less relevant..As Fox noted: “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.”

So what can you do if your site – say a large e-commerce site is failing to claim the rankings, and more importantly the traffic that it used to? First things first make sure you check out the pages that are ranking above you. What factors can you identify that might help them? Anchor text, rich content, strong internal linking, strong external linking? Google’s definition of long tail relevance has changed and you need to find out specifically what they are looking for. Remember too that Google craves compelling content. It’s rich, high quality content content that will always be rewarded with links and high ranking – not fusty old corporate catalogue.

It’s worth also asking yourself whether it’s such a wise move putting all your long tail traffic eggs in the one Google basket. If a relatively minor change like this can wipe out such a large proportion of your traffic then isn’t that a rather fragile strategy upon which to build your online marketing?

Hopefully this will teach some of the newer web marketers that Google is only one of MANY ways to get traffic, and focusing even closer on a single algorithm is only asking for trouble.

A strong SEO plan must encompass a range of marketing; strong social presence including Twitter and Facebook and especially blogs. You need to engage your audience too with great content and as well as getting out there and building links. Create that virtuous circle.

With an SEO strategy covering multiple ‘touch points you’ll never lose 50% of your traffic just because one aspect of your marketing fails you..

For many organisation the algorithm changes may in fact present opportunities. As Frank Reed at Marketing Pilgrim says: “The long tail has always been a target of any good SEO campaign especially by the smaller players. Now there’s a chance to make even further inroads against the big boys. Study up!“

By Chris Horner

In the video below Matt Cutts explains the May Day algorithm in more detail and explains that it primarily affects long tail searches.

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