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Understanding Google's May Day Update

Well, I know it’s been awhile since Google’s May Day update that occurred somewhere between Aug 28 and May 3. But understanding Google’s algorithm changes takes testing, research, and more testing—which takes time.

Before I get started, it’s important to understand why the May Day update caused such an uproar in the SEO world. With Google pushing out 1+ algorithm changes a day, why spend so much time understanding the May Day update? Because this one update was responsible for traffic losses not seen since 2007.

How do you know if your website was effected by the May Day update? Go into your Google Analytics and see if you experienced a loss of Google organic traffic between April 28 and May 3. If you did, then this article concerns you.

The Research

Long Tail – It was pretty clear to the entire SEO industry that the algo change was squarely aimed at improving results for long tail of searches. Many sites (including a few of mine) saw a 5-15% dip in Google organic traffic. Using Google Analytics, it was fairly easy to see that the loss in traffic was from long tail keywords. But why?

Google Patent 7,668,823 – By mid-June my SEO team had unraveled Google’s May Day update. But on July 22, a colleague of mine named Burt emailed me a Google patent for identifying inadequate search content (U.S. patent 7,668,823) which made us even more confident in our findings. Burt sent me the patent because of a discussion we had months earlier regarding websites pushing out spammy content in order to capture long tail searches. It turns out that Google was also aware of this content generation scheme (much earlier then Burt and I had figured it out) and were looking to fix this problem.

You don’t have to read through the entire patent, but I’d like to point out item #9: “wherein rankings are based upon a quality of content associated with the topic corpus.”

Quality of content is what jumps out at me and is what I believe is the focus of the May Day update.

The Testing

Our testing was simple. Take one of our database generated pages that had nothing more then properties for sale on it (MLS properties are considered duplicate content and not quality content because multiple sites are displaying them), and that had lost long tail rankings, add quality, unique content to the page, then cross our fingers and see what happened.

No surprises here. Not only did the rankings come back, they improved. Most likely due to decrease in competition as other sites have also been effected by the May Day update.

Matt Cutts’ Take

Fortunately, my SEO’s had a little help from Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, who released this video on May 30th (kudos to Google for their ongoing communication with webmasters). Notice he mentions, “adding great content”.

About Justin Britt

Justin Britt (justin@hawaiilife.com) is Head of Innovation and Co-Founder of a little Hawaii Real Estate company. Britt oversees user interface design, SEO, programming, public relations and social media for Hawaii's 6th largest and fastest growing real estate brokerage.

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  • http://www.limeyboy.com limeyboy

    excellent work! This is just what i had been looking for. You're right that understanding the algorithmic updates takes time and research, and blessings to for you doing it, for the likes of me. Much appreciated

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Justin-Britt/540707035 Justin Britt

      Yes, this has changed our view on how we build websites. The days of database generated pages are coming to an end. This is good news for Realtors who will have an edge over their larger competitors serving the entire nation. Individual agents can now write unique content about their niche market that will have a better chance of ranking in the SERPs.

      • http://www.limeyboy.com limeyboy

        I couldn't agree more. When agent's market to their niche, they can be more specific than a broker is inclined to be, or can be. Niche marketing is how agents can stack the search deck in their favor, rather than trying to mimic a broker site in it's geographical reach.

        • http://www.bonnebaker.com Hawaii Real Estate

          Yes, this gives a lot of hope to the small agent. How exciting! It will be that if you know your market then you shall be rewarded for that.

  • http://arizonarealestatehome.com/ Tempe Real Estate by Steve

    I didn't realize what had happened, but I for one love the update! My traffic has doubled in the past couple of months.

  • http://www.atlantarealestateinfo.com/ Atlanta Real Estate

    This is indeed good news for us local agents that are on ball for Organic rankings.

  • http://www.DesertMountainHomesOnline.com CarmenBrodeur

    Wow you are really on top of your SEO. This is the first I have heard of the May Day update. I’ll have to check my analytics to see if we were affected. Sounds like a good news/bad news scenario. In some ways it is good that google is rewarding new original content, bad news is indesable IDX will not help as much :(

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