Google MAYDAY Update Hitting Long Tail Ranking?

May 3, 2010 - 8:10 am 21 by

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.


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