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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 ( 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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