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My Take on the Mayday Update: Strengthen Your Niches or Land in the Ditches

June 21, 2010
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Google

Google Maydat Update...WTF happened?There have been some interesting theories and observations about the Google’s recent Mayday update and how Google has "…increased the emphasis on quality and is giving smaller sites a chance." The official word out of Google is that they’ve made an algorithmic shift to "looking for higher quality sites…for long tail queries." 

Since the Mayday Update was implemented, all Hell has broken loose across the Web, with many sites reporting a sudden loss in long tail traffic. But for every site that lost SERP share, another site was there to scoop it up. Lucky for us, WordStream was one of the sites to benefit from the update. Immediately following the Mayday rollout, our organic traffic spiked 50%. So, as you can imagine, we were thrilled to hear Mayday is here to stay and there won’t be a rollback.

But is an emphasis on better long tail queries and a nod to quality documents the only thing that changed with the Mayday update? Is there anything else going on “under the hood?”

After combing through our analytics, I found some really interesting data points and have a theory to float that I haven't seen mentioned in the SEO blogosphere. Yes, Mayday appears to be favoring “quality sites with quality content in the long tail.” But I think there's more to it.

Given the changes I've observed with WordStream.com and various client sites, I think Mayday is rewarding sites (and entire segments of content on those sites) that are specialists in a particular niche market (big or small…I don’t see size as a factor here). To be more succinct, I believe Mayday is a site-level (not specifically page or document-level), concept-driven update that is floating a sites tightly-themed, bread and butter content to the top of the SERPs. More on this in the next section...

Data to Support The Theory

Like I said, after the Mayday update, our organic traffic surged 50%. But what was really odd was that the spike in traffic was really isolated to a certain baskets or segments of content (those that contain the term “keywords” or “keyword”), while other baskets of keywords/content saw only a minor bump in traffic/ranking or no move at all.

Here's a chart of our organic traffic for queries containing the term “keyword.” This entire group of keywords experienced close to a 70% boost in traffic following Mayday.

After the mayday update, we saw a 50% spike in organic traffic

And here's a content drilldown chart for pages containing "keyword" in the URL slug, which shows a near 100% increase in pageviews.

following Mayday, we saw a near 100% surge in pageviews for our keyword-related content

Now, this isn't some minor, incremental move. This is a significant and sudden surge in activity. And it's not isolated to a particular keyword that trended higher in the rankings. It's concentrated to a large basket of "keyword-related" keywords that we track where every single term in that group saw a simultaneous and marked rankings increase. And the jump in traffic wasn't just coming from tail queries. This is across the board...head, mid and long tail keywords.

Conversely, we have a number of pages that target "PPC" and "pay per click advertising-related" keywords, but not nearly as many as we have in the “keywords” group. As such, we saw no boost in rankings or organic traffic surrounding terms in the "pay-per-click" group (NOTE: I have many examples of this phenomenon across different groups in our account, but I'm not going to divulge our entire keyword strategy ;).

Mayday update long tail keywords...no change in these<br />
keywords

So what gives? Why would the Mayday algo update prompt a surge in rankings and traffic improvement for just a certain segment of keywords/content on our site?

Here's my theory. At WordStream, we've worked to brand ourselves as keyword specialists. Thus, we have a lot of content on our site about "keywords" as well as countless pages that with high usage of the term "keywords." According to Google site search, 250 pages on our site contain either the term “keyword” or “keywords” in the title tag, which equates to about 20% of our total indexed content (and that's just instances found in the title tag).

So given this data, I believe that the Mayday update had a profound impact on our "keywords" content segments because:

  • We’ve established WordStream.com as an authority on the subject of "keywords" and keyword-related topics--it's our niche, our specialty, our genre--and Mayday could potentially be rewarding sites identified as authorities in a particular category
  • We’ve developed an effective information architecture around tightly-themed pockets of content, and we've apparently done a very good job particularly with structuring, organizing and linking to "keyword-themed" sections of content

Need more evidence? Let's look at Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). If you're not familiar, GWT has a content analysis feature that determines the “most common keywords” found on your site. In my opinion, this is how Google interprets the focus or theme of your site. And in Google's eyes, there is a strong association between WordStream.com and the terms "keyword" and "keywords."

Our top keywords from Google Webmaster Tools

Now, I'm a firm believer that if Google gives you data on your site in Webmaster Tools, you should sit up and take note. Don't believe me? Okay, so Google recently said that site speed is important to them. In fact, they said they're "obsessed with speed." Then, guess what happened? Google included site speed as a feature in Webmaster Tools. Get the picture?

Point is, Google isn’t parsing and providing you this information for the Hell of it. If Google is telling you that the #1 keyword they've found on your site is "X," it's safe to assume that they:

  • Associate your domain with "X," which could very well be...
  • Influencing your search results on searches with "X" in the query string.

So if you’ve worked hard and been able to:

  • Distinguish yourself or your site as an authority or a leader on a particular topic, genre or niche like we have (essentially some keyword or keywords are synonymous with your brand);
  • Aand you've been effective at organizing your content into tightly-themed clusters...

Then it’s quite possible that you’ve seen entire segments of content your site that concentrate on your branded niche ranking higher in the SERPs since Mayday was implemented.

Why Would This Be Happening?

As with every algorithmic update, the goal is better search results and a better user experience. Face it, the SERPs are littered with thin, crappy, content factories pumping out automated long tail content and relying on their PageRank to penetrate and dominate every vertical possible. This is a bad user experience and Google knows it.

So to me, Mayday could be a site-level (and not specifically page or document-level), thematic update that is meant to be a shot across the bow to content factories (think eHow, About.com) that:

  • Publish crap content
  • Are "authorities" on nothing
  • Specialize in nothing
  • Have zero brand identity
  • Offer no real value to searchers looking for unique content, information or answers on a particular topic.

I think a good analogy would be this: say, you’re looking for really good Baklava. Are you more likely to find it at a Safeway or at your local Greek specialty grocer? Now, even though the big chain grocer may be a decent place to shop and may even have a gleeming "Foods of the World" section, they don’t really specialize in traditional Greek fare. To me, the Mayday update is rewarding the Greek grocer for Baklava searches rather than the grocery chain store.

So my thinking is, if Google is serious about giving searchers they best, most authoritative information from experts on a topic, then it only makes sense that they’ll return sites that it identifies as specialists in a particular topic. And like I said, I feel that Google sees and trusts WordStream.com as a "keyword" authority and Mayday pushed us high in the SERPs for a host of keyword-related queries.

Now even though this attempt to weed out all the thin content scrapers and content mills may have not been 100% successful the first time around, it's where Google is moving with the algos. And the smart money says they'll eventually getting it right. So you've been warned. Pick your niche and distinguish yourself as an authority, a specialist, a leader in a topic with great content that is tighly-themed, or risk becoming more and more invisible with future updates.

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Comments

[...] Here’s the article entitled: My Take On Mayday – Strengthen Your Niches Or Land In The Ditches [...]

Great post and conjecture of what I believe is a solid theory. Yes, content is king is being reinforced here for the sites that have been consistent in producing quality themed content. Love the analogy to Baklava as it not highlights why this appears to be working but also names my favorite dessert.

Ken Lyons
Jun 21, 2010

Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Cheers!
Ken

Jun 23, 2010

The baklava analogy is also important with the dessert being recognized as Greek even though it is actually Turkish. Greeks have traditionally done better theming around long tail concepts like baklava, dolma, yoghurt etc. :) Seriously though, this is all good news to web entrepreneurs like me as I had recently been thinking about including someone with "automatic page creation" and scraping experiences to my team. I can also imagine a new kind of automated SEO approach will be invented by those who sell the dream of easy dollars.

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Congrats for achieving positive results after May day update. Most of the giant sites lost ranking for long tail keywords. Its time to implement some new SEO strategies.

Jul 10, 2010

That is interesting data. So I guess that would mean that siloing, or creating content themes, is more important than ever. It would make sense, as I noticed before May Day that the common factor in the top sites for niches I was targeting was that they had links from authority sites in their theme. I know that there is a lot of debate about backlinking, some say that a link is a link. But from what I've seen, a link may be a link in terms of PR, but for keyword ranking, relevance does matter. Both on site and off.

Andrew9 (not verified)
Jul 14, 2010

When meeting with search analytics and engineers a few years ago someone in audience asked if they "categorize" the web and websites within those categories and the answer was "yes". The follow-up question was whether that information could be provided to the webmasters so they knew whether their site was properly categorized or not and the answer was "no". Someone asked specifically about their site formerly being a "portal" and was changed over to a niche site and they were worried that they were still in the "portal" category but didn't meet certain pagecount and traffic thresholds that a portal would need to meet and wanted to be switched to a niche site status. The engineers said they would look into it. Maybe your site is properly categorized and reached those thresholds or maybe part of the recent update was to simply tweak the thresholds? There are tipping points in the signals. Wisdom of the crowds, etc.

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