SEO Mayday – Did Google Break Your Long Tail?

by seoibiza on 19, July, 2010

So Google Caffeine has been *officially* live for a little while now, and for most people there doesn’t seem to have been too much effect, either positive or adverse.  However some sites have been hit quite badly by what we were watching  rollout which was the Mayday update that was just *prior* to Caffeine:)

Here’s a great interview with Maile Ohye from Google that sheds as much light as Google are likely ever going to give us on the subject,  quoted below.

We tweak little things in our algorithm all the time. Mayday was a significant update that really impacted long tail terms.

A lot of people were leveraging long tail phrases for lots of traffic but it was frequently done via automated methods. We’ve looked to eliminate spam, and that’s been a big priority for us. At the same time, there were people developing not quality content (not a violation of guidelines, but also not providing value).

What it does is for long tail queries, is we now just consider them queries like anything else. We are going to put as much value in those search results as all search results.

Someone else on another forum said:

“Google toned down the importance of exact match titles, perhaps all the way to zero. They were being gamed.. ..Searching for the example above “Cheap Red widgets in New York City” used to return a lot of exact match pages but now you may see none of them in the top 10 (20-30?).

It just means you can’t go out of your way to target just longtail (at least not with titles). When every longtail query is met with 1000′s of pages with those exact titles the titles became useless anyway”

We haven’t had any issues with any established client sites however we’ve been watching the long-tail devaluation effect on a new-build “bricks & mortar” small business website.

Anybody who’s built and/or ranked websites will understand that the longer a phrase,  in general, the easier it is to rank for? – well now it seems that’s not necessarily the case any more with these new algo changes.

For instance in the past, if you were concerned with ranking for the long-tail phrase “Janitorial service in Forth Worth” obviously you wouldn’t build the whole site around that phrase because hardly anyone is ever going to use that exact string, but you could be reasonably confident that if it ranked for “Janitorial Fort Worth” (or in reverse – FW Janitorial etc)  which “should” be harder and in effect the next level up, then the longer phrase would be at the same position, if not higher.

…Not any more.

There also seems to be something strange with the new treatment of the “in”, because again, in the past you would always assume that if it was say around position #60-ish for “Janitorial service Fort Worth” that it would be there if not higher for the same phrase with “in”  – ie  “Janitorial service in Fort Worth” ? – again, no, that’s changed.

It’s actually more like page 19.

Maile mentions two types of sites this was specifically aimed at in her interview:

  • Sites with content created by automated methods.
  • Sites with low-quality content that doesn’t provide value.

By this they mean these automated scrapers and such (Mahalo etc) that copy other site’s titles exactly and can then outrank them for their own Titles by virtue of their domain authority. Removing just those sites probably would improve the general search results quality, but it also seems to be having a very adverse effect on genuine small businesses who whilst actually providing a real live janitorial service IN Fort Worth,  now find themselves more likely to be ranking in the top 100 for “Janitor service”  nationwide before they even show up for their local search terms.

The other side of the coin for this is that more powerful sites have started showing up regularly in things they weren’t optimized for, or really even focused on, we’ve seen a considerable amount more hits (via Woopra) for reasonable strength 3 word phrases, where NONE of the words is in the ranking page’s page title, and the words are spread around the page, and not even used in the order of the query, on the page.

In fact, we wouldn’t be at all surprised at all to see this post turn up for the query we’ve been discussing while the actual site who have the service in the area is languishing on page 19.  – Still, must be good for Adwords revenues too, eh?

Well apart from putting a couple of articles up on hubs for them we’re not doing any ongoing SEO for this site as small business budgets don’t allow, but as we’re curious (about a lot of things, but mainly) whether this can be  overcome with quality links, or whether this is something more fundamental at work, so lets see..

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