Google MAYDAY Update Hitting Long Tail Ranking?

May 3, 2010 • 8:10 am | comments (21) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Our ongoing WebmasterWorld thread hit a new month and although I normally cover this type of thread as an overview of the past month, today, the thread took on a new development. So maybe later this week I will do the Google May report, but today, I am discussing what SEOs and Webmasters codenamed "MAYDAY."

The WebmasterWorld summarized what many webmasters have noticed over the past few days with Google. That being, and I quote, "webmasters from very clean, very large websites report dramatic drops in long tail search traffic. MAYDAY seems to be the appropriate shout-out for those affected."

Yes, most of these complaints come over webmasters seeing a huge drop in traffic from Google over "long tail keywords." Keyword phrases that are 3 or more keywords long. One person said he had a "traffic dropped 50% in a few days, 100,000's of long tail k/w." Another person "recovered until this Mid April, when it started seeing some recovery, then bang now 90% of its traffic, mostly long tail disappeared." Then we get the "me toos," "that's exactly what has happened to my site. 50% loss of traffic and constant hammering by googlebot."

Tedster, WebmasterWorld administrator pulls out a patent to explain what might be going on. He said:

I'm wondering if Google has made a change in their phrase-based indexing approach - something that the new Caffeine infrastructure makes feasible. Recently there has been more patent activity in that area.

"Indexing of phrases is typically avoided because of the perceived computational and memory requirements to identify all possible phrases of say three, four, or five or more words.

For example, on the assumption that any five words could constitute a phrase, and that a large corpus would have at least 200,000 unique terms, there would be approximately 3.2.times.10.sup.26 possible phrases, clearly more than any existing system could store or otherwise programmatically manipulate."

In other words, until recently queries for long phrases may have had something like "best guess" results using some secondary signals -- but now Google has the infrastructure to index longer phrases much more directly.

It's a brainstorm idea at present, and not a solid "statement of fact". But hey, we have to start somewhere.

In short, Tedster said, "Something very real has shifted at Google, but apparently it takes a certain type of webmaster/website to notice it - significant long tail traffic closely monitored in detail."

Some are arguing about if this is "long tail" or "fat belly" keywords. Fat Belly is more like 2 or 3 keywords in a query, long tail is normally a bit longer. That being said, a shift like this of course has people wondering about Google Caffeine and the status of that index.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

Update: After this post, a bunch of us at Search Engine Land decided to get Google on the record on the May Day update. We got them to confirm this is a change to the ranking algorithm and not a change to indexing or crawling. Vanessa Fox wrote it up and goes into more detail there. Here is a quote:

Last week at Google I/O, I was on a panel with Googler Matt Cutts who said, when asked during Q&A, ”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.”

I asked Google for more specifics and they told me that it was a rankings change, not a crawling or indexing change, which seems to imply that sites getting less traffic still have their pages indexed, but some of those pages are no longer ranking as highly as before. 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.

Update 2: Matt Cutts of Google posted a video on this topic, watch the May Day Video on our blog.

Previous story: Google Transliterated Search Results?



05/03/2010 12:37 pm

Interesting but it might be too early to check site traffic if you are using Google Analytics because of the 24-48 hour delay processing it. I just checked one of my large clients and it seems there is a 11% drop in keywords used to visit the site but once more data is processed that drop might be less. It might also just be to traffic and not traffic.


05/03/2010 01:05 pm

I've had a 15% drop these last days. It doesn't seem to hit the "top pages" of the site, just the "poor-linked" deep ones. Maybe an update in internal linking calcs ?

Michael Martinez

05/03/2010 05:28 pm

My sites aren't losing Google traffic and I depend almost entirely on long-tail referrals. However, the link quality angle always deserves consideration. Whenever Google filters out large link sets many sites suffer a drop in traffic.

Dave C

05/03/2010 06:19 pm

Thank you for the patent reference! Interesting. I have a hunch we'll be hearing from Google's Matt Cutts sometime soon ;) Here's an article I just published relating to this topic: New SEO Practices for a Google Caffeine World ...

Nikke Lindqvist

05/04/2010 12:42 am

I've been watching these changes since April 1st when more 75% of the amount of indexed pages dissappered from numerous large sites. lost more than 4 million pages. Since I work with a number of large Swedish sites, I can see a small decline in traffic for these "fat belly" phrases, and I've also got a feeling that it affects other results as well, for pages with strong internal links. However, I can't actually "find" any missing pages. It's almost as if Google has implemented a third "non featured" index as a complement to the complementary index where all dupes where dropped some years ago. These pages are still possible to find even without revokong filters, but they aren't as active in the main index. At least, that is my working theory at the moment.

Michael Martinez

05/04/2010 07:13 am

" It's almost as if Google has implemented a third "non featured" index as a complement to the complementary index where all dupes where dropped some years ago. " What you're describing is the Supplemental Results Index and it never went away, although it was repurposed several years ago to be the repository for low-PageRank (internal, not Toolbar) pages that are not fully indexed. The discussion at WMW appears to be people shooting blanks in the dark. These kinds of mass deindexings happen 2-3 times a year. The most likely cause, based on historical precedents, is usually a mass devaluation of links across the index. That may not even be due to Google doing anything, as many sites now (foolishly) rely upon social media links -- and a LOT of social media sites have been implementing "rel='nofollow'" on their user-generated links.

André Scholten

05/04/2010 10:05 am

For those who are using Google Analytics. Use the following regular expression in the filter field below the keywords report to get an overview of all 3-words-or-more searchphrases: "(\s).*(\s).*".

Seth Rietdijk

05/04/2010 02:35 pm

We also see a drop in traffic with about 10%. However... I doubt it has something to do with long-tail words. I checked the regular expression and it does not shift that much it justifies the "drop". I have seen more of these shifts in the past and it could easily be it will change next week for the better. BTW: Big sites which have millions of pages are already loosing a lot of indexed pages for months... so that is not entirely new and is not exactly caused by a update this beginning of May.

Anand Srinivasan

05/08/2010 05:45 am

One section of my site has seen a terrible 50% drop since mid-March and I presume it's the same long-tail MayDay update at work since the section is full of long tail keywords. What do you suggest be done?

No Name

05/10/2010 03:31 pm

@David, there is no 24 to 48 hours delay in analytics, its real time, you just need to select the date range from the top calender [sorry about this off topic thing] The fact that long tail is being abused so badly, it was expected, but then i would like to know that where the traffic will be sent by google if they are not sent to long tail keywords links and sites... ?

No Name

05/12/2010 05:35 pm

hmmm.. interesting thoughts all around - I wonder if google isn't increasing rankings for more narrowly focused sites with emphasis on these longer k/w's?


06/01/2010 04:11 am

I noticed a big drop in traffic since google changed its algo's again. This has had a terrible effect on traffic, why do they manipulate it so much and so often? What purpose does this serve but give the user a bad experience?

No Name

06/08/2010 10:39 pm

My site's traffic and ranking dropped tremendously after making slight changes. The ranking in Yahoo is still the same but for the terms I usually rank for, I can no longer be found in Google. It may be possible that its because of this Google Mayday - and it's bad! What do you think needs to be done?

antonis vourtsis

06/17/2010 07:53 pm


No Name

06/25/2010 10:24 pm

i recently launched my mini site will this google caffeine affect it positively? any thoughts? thanks!

No Name

06/25/2010 10:31 pm

please let me know if this will have positive effect on newly launched site. thanks!


07/03/2010 08:07 am

I found this stuff. It says "Google has urged webmasters to prioritize having quality content on their websites in response to the sweeping changes that it has implemented. The search engine giant introduced the changes, called “May Day” update, on April 28. And May Day has already caused the disappearance of many websites from Google’s search index since then." Here's the full article:

No Name

07/25/2010 04:00 pm

will this change affect new and old site owners alike?


10/23/2010 02:35 pm

What does "very clean" mean?

No Name

10/24/2010 02:12 am

Has any further clarity been achieved since June?

No Name

10/26/2010 12:07 pm

And do I understand correctly that Caffeine essentially means much more computing power and storage to index longer phrases?

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