Google’s Mayday Update and the Power of Long-Tail Keywords

Before 2010, May Day simply referred to May 1st, a celebration of the beginning of Spring, or International Workers’ Day (Labour Day), as practiced in many countries, most notably in Russia… The alternate spelling Mayday was a signal used by ships’ captains and airplane pilots to announce “Come and Help me!”, as derived from the French word, “m’aidez”.

Google’s Mayday Update

Beginning in May 2010, Mayday became the code word for a major ranking change in Google and new attacks of “Google paranoia” by webmasters everywhere.

As webmasters, we should leave the paranoia to those who truly have a reason to be paranoid, like my ex-wife and her family. 😉

Google has always advised that we, as webmasters, should focus on giving searchers what they are trying to give Google’s search users: the most relevant, useful results possible for searchers.

As for myself, many of the new ranking factors included in the Mayday Update are things that I have expected the engineers at Google to include for a long time.

Call me strange if you will — my ex-wife and her family do — but I have always tried to plan my website optimization based on what I thought Google should have been doing already.

So, when Mayday finally came, I was ready.

Unlike many of my peers, I was not crying in my beer in the aftermath of Google’s Mayday Update.

About the Mayday Algorithm Update

An article on Search Engine Guide, about Google’s May Day Update, suggested that Matt Cutts, of Google’s Webspam Team, said at Google I/O 2010, “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.”

So if your website was hurt by the Mayday Update, you should pay attention to this article, because “the way things were” is gone forever.

Vanessa Fox, formerly of Google, in another article at Search Engine Land suggested that the update primarily affected e-commerce websites that rely upon a product manufacturer’s product description. In other words, if a webmaster uses the default product description given by the original product manufacturer, then the product sales page will have taken a hit in Google’s search listings.

Fox also said, “Before, pages that didn’t have high quality signals might still rank well if they had high relevance signals. And perhaps now, those high relevance signals don’t have as much weight in ranking if the page doesn’t have the right quality signals.”

It seems that a lot of webmasters dismissed Fox’s view as just plain wrong, but I side with Dave Davis, who said, “I believe she was right on the money.”

As the questions about Google’s Mayday Update spiraled, Matt Cutts did a video for the Google Webmaster Central Channel at YouTube , about the Mayday Update. In that video, Cutts emphasized that Mayday is only one of more than 400 tweaks that Google does to its algorithms each year, and he further emphasized that Mayday has been fully tested and is a permanent change to Google’s search algorithms.

What Mayday Means For Google Search

The Mayday Update was primarily focused on changing how Long-Tail Keywords were handled by Google’s search engine.

To make sure that you and I are on the same page, Long-Tail Keywords are those search phrases that contain more than 3 words. For example, as I was researching this article, my search query at Google was: “Google long tail keywords mayday”.

My five-word search query is a great example of Long-Tailed Keywords.
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In the Matt Cutts’ video noted above, Cutts defined Long Tail Search Queries in contrast to Head Search Queries, with Head Queries being the one-, two- and three-word search phrases.

I found it odd that an article at Small Business Computing suggested that this Google algorithm update was simply a reflection of the changing habits of search engine users, who employ more long-tail keywords in their searches today, than they had in previous years.

To be honest, I find it hard to believe that long-tail search queries are a new trend… I suspect the truth is that Google finally acknowledged the importance of long-tail search queries… and in doing so, they fixed their weakness in that area.

Long-Tail Search Queries Were The Red-Headed Stepchild of Google

Maile Ohye, senior developer programs engineer at Google, announced at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) Toronto 2010 conference, “For long-tail queries, we now just consider them as all other queries and place as much value on them as we do into shorter queries.”

Myself, I am blown away by that statement.

Okay… Let’s see if you and I see the same message here. Until the Mayday Update, Google had always treated long-tail queries with a different algorithm than “head of demand” queries (1-3 word queries)?

And now, Google is treating both with the same algorithm?

No wonder I wasn’t ever satisfied with long-tail search queries at Google. No wonder I had been looking elsewhere for some of my search results. Google was using two algorithms, and most of my search habits were met with their other not-as-good search algorithm.

Digging Deeper Into Mayday Update

I came across the May 11th edition of the Search Engine Facts newsletter . The newsletter stated, “It seems that this is not a penalty but a change in Google’s ranking algorithm. Google might now be able to index longer keyword phrases more accurately. There’s a new Google patent that deals with this topic.” (United States Patent #7693813)

So the story is becoming a bit more clear… Before Caffeine, then Mayday, Google did a poor job with long-tail keywords, because its main algorithm did a poor job with long-tail keywords.

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~ by Ravi Shanker on July 27, 2010.

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