Redfly Online Marketing, Dublin, Ireland

View From The Other Side Of The May Day Update

There has been a lot of chatter, complaints and the inevitable “let’s start a class action lawsuit against Google” over the past few weeks in relation to an algorithm change dubbed the “MayDay Update”. I wont go into much detail here about all of the complaints or absurd theories, but you can read the main source of this over on the WMW thread here.

Last week Vanessa Fox wrote an article on these updates and speculated as to what happened. While most dismissed her speculations, I believe she was right on the money. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Vanessa (Who’s an absolute sweetheart in real life as well as a genius) might even have known something that the rest of those on WMW didn’t and she was really REALLY doing her best to give a “please read between the lines” post. For that she was shunned. Their loss.

Note* As I do with all posts, I left this one in drafts to sleep on it. It just so happens that Matt posted a video with a little more information. It’s brief and you can watch it below. Please note that all content on this post was produced before this video was released.

Get the Flash Player to see this Google AdWords tutorial about building your keyword list.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?:

One poster on the thread mentioned:

“Everyone here is complaining about loss of traffic and nobody is gaining traffic, the lost traffic has to be going somewhere

Let me tell you that we, our clients and our network of websites, are on the “other side”. i.e, sites like ours and our clients took that traffic.

We have concrete Google Analytics evidence that shows 30-60% increases in traffic to some of our and our clients sites just before and after May. It is important to note that these sites are all eCommerce and forum sites that had a steady flow of long tail traffic and now have a much greater share of this traffic. All this traffic increase is from Google search term referrals with a word length of 4 or over. I will follow this up as usual in another post with data as soon as we can anonymize  it and get permission.

So what do we do different to our competitors who we’ve now drastically overtaken in the serps?

Here at Redfly, we’ve almost always started a PPC campaign and all that goes with that long before even attempting to look at the SEO side of things. Those of you who deal almost exclusively with AdWords will know what I’m talking about here. Google has always taken a hard line towards ensuring quality on it’s network. They have penalized, suspended and even banned advertisers who pay a significant amount of money in order to keep their paid search results top notch. AdWords advertisers are constantly adapting to changes in Google policy and I for one have noticed that what works in AdWords is usually, eventually included in some form in the organic search algorithm. Site speed, relevancy, CTR (Don’t tell me CTR in SERPs is not or will not be  a ranking factor now that Google has released this data in WMT).

The MayDay update is something that a lot of AdWords experts knew was coming a long time ago. What really made me laugh is that some people genuinely think that Google has made a mistake and that things are broken and it will eventually roll back. If anything, it’s only rolling out. It’s going to get worse for you.

As an aside, this reminds me of a book I once thought was an incredible condescending read after being recommended to me by Rand Fishkin called “Who Moved My Cheese”. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d recommend this book or even make reference to it but I have to say, it really hit the nail on the head with this one. To all of you in denial, I’d recommend reading this book (It’s a short book, I completed it in under 15 mins). It’s an almost child like story about change, complacency and the dangers/opportunities of each. It’s available on Amazon for $3, but if anyone wants my copy, just let me know in the comments.

So, how come we’re sucking up all your “hard earned” traffic? Well, from Vanessa’s post and from the point of an AdWords advertiser/manager, it’s pretty obvious. The majority of those complaining have relied too much on domain authority and internal linking. IN MY OPINION, rather than site authority, being used by most of you as the main egg in your basket, carrying all the weight, Google is now seeing individual documents as their own entities a lot more.

Basic SEO principles still stand true here. Think about it. A document on a less authoritative site might be more valuable and more useful to the Google user than a page with less useful information pushed to the top of the SERPs by the authority of the root domain.Only 4 months ago everybody was complaining that big brands had the advantage. Google has done SEOs and small businesses a huge favor here and leveled the playing field for those of us who produce valuable, relevant content. Content that produces links. In every example of sites that I have seen “lose their rankings” those pages were overtaken by pages on domains with not much authority, but with a lot more backlinks to those individual pages. A lot of those links may be spammy, but they’re still backlinks.

OK, so let’s break it down.

E-COMMERCE SITES:

All our eCommerce sites and client eCommerce sites have never taken the “easy route” to market.  We have made sure of that because this is essential as an AdWords advertiser and the majority of AdWords policies eventually become reality for SEOs. Advertising a page with just a manufacturer boilerplate description and a buy now button wouldn’t survive a day in an AdWords auction. All our eCommerce sites/clients have put in the effort in creating unique descriptions, reviews, videos, UGC reviews (good and bad) and used incentives to get links to these product pages. As Vanessa mentioned, look at what Amazon does!  Google mentioned before (no source at present) that a lot of user feedback focused on the excessive amount of almost identical shopping results in the search engines. Why do you think they introduced the “less shopping results” feature in the sidebar? You need to build links, build quality and interesting product pages and get creative. After all, that’s your job as an SEO.

Every single one of our eCommerce sites have seen an increase in traffic since May despite the annual seasonal downturn.

FORUM SITES:

All of our forum sites sites and client forum sites have noticed a significant boost in long tail traffic too. This is because we insist on building links to and promoting every single thread created (that’s of any value of course). This has taken the form of incentivsing users and site owners to blog about and reference thread titles to bring inlinks, traffic and contributors to the forum thread which in turn encourages others to do the same. Self reinforcing. Write customized versions or synopsis versions of long forum threads, syndicate them, guest blog about the opinions expressed in a forum thread, get links from national newspapers on topics in your forum to build links to those threads/individual pages. After all, that’s your job as an SEO.

Every single one of our forums have seen an increase in long tail traffic since encouraging linking and externally referencing valuable threads.

Handy tip. To get you started, tweetmeme and topsy widgets on each page provide a starting point, a frequently crawled dofollow link from their main site when you use their widgets which also adds to the user experience. There are countless ways to build links to pages as long as you make them link worthy. Now the “secret” is out, I don’t expect this one to last long.

SOME QUESTIONS SEEN ON THE WMW THREAD:

Some “questions” I’ve seen on the WMW thread that I would like to address:

Q:”How can I get my eCommerce item page to rank where it once was, all I have is the manufacturer description, who’ll link to that?”

A: I think I’ve addressed that already. I hate to (really, I do) sound like a Google fan boy but put yourself in the users shoes. Do you really want a list of generic eCommerce site results in the search results for a product? Do you want to shift through them all, offering the exact same product at the exact same price, each offering only a unique-ish design and then pick which one you want? Or do you want Google to do what it’s good at and use it’s algorithm to show the top results by using it’s advanced (largely) link based algorithm? Isn’t this what you started your SEO career on? Building links to quality content? Just so happens that now Google is working just as designed and giving more weight to those pages with more links. If anything this is a rollback from the “brand update” a while back. If you’re good at what you do and have not gotten complacent (which I dare say is now rampant among “professional SEOs” who have inherited authority sites) you should be able to build a better links than your new competitors for you and your clients to these pages. After all, that’s your job as an SEO.

Q: “Really spammy sites are appearing above mine, can’t Google see this?”

A: No. They don’t. Google sees more links, which you as an SEO should know (in general) is a vote of confidence for this page. The question now is two fold: 1) Why does this site have more links than you? 2) What can you do to get more/more valuable links to YOUR page than your spammy competitor? This should be easy for you. After all, that’s your job as an SEO.

IN CONCLUSION:

Your cheese has  moved. Go find it again or go find more. It’s not coming back. Matt says so in his video.

Oh, and trust me, if you spent as much time on the AdWords help forum as I do, you’d realize, like all the other posters and top contributors on the forum that no amount of bitching, moaning, law suit threats, class actions, begging or bribing will get Google to roll this back. Google doesn’t care that it has “wiped out entire businesses” with this algo update. Google has literally wiped out billion dollar VC funded companies overnight on AdWords without even an explanation when they introduced quality score. Let this be a lesson that AdWords advertisers have learned countless times over the past 3 years, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If I may dust off an old chestnut, build your site as if Google didn’t exist. Then, when you’ve exhausted every possibility of getting traffic to every page on your site that doesn’t require a search engine, focus on Google.

“Familiarity tends to breed complacency” – Christopher Jones

“When a great team loses through complacency, it will constantly search for new and more intricate explanations to explain away defeat.” – Pat Riley

*I realize that this may upset a lot of the SEO industry folks but I believe that it is pretty obvious what has happened considering the timing and data that we have. It is very rare I write a post like this but I was astonished at some of the unbelievably outlandish theories presented as explanations for the update. I welcome any rebuttals, a few “you have no idea what you’re talking about”s and and more than a few anecdotal proofs that I’m wrong in the comments below.