Checking If You Were Hit by Google May Day Update aka Caffeine – SEO Monday

By Nik

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If you’re like most online retail business owners, you’re a little curious about how Google May Day Update works, but much more interested in knowing whether or not it’s effecting your business. Perfect – that’s what we’re covering today.

We’ve been studying Google’s Caffeine since the fall of 2009, before it was even live – when Google had given the SEO world an opportunity to look into this new indexing protocol. What we saw then is what we’re seeing live today – and the effects are quite equal to what we expected. Most websites did not see a major drop in rankings for particularly popular terms – but they surely saw a drop in long-tail traffic. In the online retail world, the effect was exacerbated by legacy tactics that have been commonplace for the online marketplace.

To summarize our logical deduction of these empirical changes, Google has remained quite persistent in their core focus of creating 2 tiers of pages in its index; a primary index and a supplemental index. The goal of the primary index is to house carefully vetted pages of every site on the internet that passes certain quality benchmarks as per Google’s current demands. Those demands typically consist of a blend between unique content and healthy spiderability. This higher quality index enjoys the liberties of 1st class citizenship in Google’s index including the ability to be easily retrieved (ie. rarely hidden in an expand results link) and more importantly, the qualification to rank for much more competitive search terms.

So that’s the primary index – the supplementary index was everything else essentially – a misfit island of duplicate content and rarely spidered pages on the internet. It’s here where we’ve seen the most impact from Google’s new caffeine push. Pages that would typically be put into the supplemental index have not been indexed nearly at the same pace since Google’s caffeine change – uh oh, May Day! As a business owners, you’re probably asking yourself – “ok, so my pages that were deemed low quality are now not being put in the index – how could that effect my traffic?” Well, quite a bit actually. The supplementary index pages have liberties too – they can be found, though not as easily; and they can rank for low competition terms ie. long-tail terms pretty easily. So if your long-tail-generating-pages are not being given the chance to generate long-tail traffic, then… you’ll see a big hit in long-tail traffic.

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I can save you a lot of time and say that if you are an online retail store, chances are you were hit by Google’s update – most probably around April or May of this year. How can you tell? Well, a quick exercise will show you everything you need about this concept. In 3 separate graphs, plot out 3 metrics for each month and see the trends:

  • metric 1: the number of google organic keywords that drove traffic to your site that month
  • metric 2: the number of landing pages that drove traffic to your site that month through google’s organic search
  • metric 3: the amount of unique visitors that entered your site that month through google organic search

If you see a dip in the number of keywords, the volume of landing page and ultimately, the amount of unique visitors through Google organic search, then you most probably are a victim of Google’s May Day update and many of the pages that you relied on to drive long-tail traffic are no longer being put into the supplemental index like they used to. You would have seen this in April or May of this year.

You can check if your approach is encouraging penalties from the changes to Google via the caffeine update. See, the swift reduction in supplementary pages within Google hinges mostly on reducing the number of duplicate content pages within Google’s index. That means that if a product page on your website is commonly found on other websites, then your page faces a highly probable risk of being penalized.

Let’s say for example there are 1,000 pages on the internet that all have the same manufacturer’s content about a specific product. Before caffeine, we would typically see most of those 1,000 pages being represented amongst Google’s 2 indexes; a few instances in the primary and the rest in the supplementary. How would some get in the primary index? All things equal, luck of the draw; as Google consistently refreshes its own index, it places first instances of duplicate content in the primary index. Before caffeine, the remaining duplicate instances would be placed in the supplementary index to enjoy the liberty of ranking for long-tail terms; now, Google has empirically put the kibosh on over-populating the supplementary; so by the same merit that the 1st instances of that duplicate content get your pages in the primary index; the next back of instances get you into the supplementary and then your chances run out until the next refresh of Google’s index.

To see whether you’re playing this circular game of luck, take a few moments to spot check 10-15 product descriptions on your website. Copy the content from each product page, put it in quotes and search for it in Google. If there are several instances of these descriptions, then you are facing a duplicate content issue and to some degree, are being penalized by Google’s changes. Actually, if this is happening then you may find it hard to spot your site at all amongst all the other sites with the same content. The first step in resolving this issue is recognizing that it exists.

Our understanding of these changes in Google come from our unique school of thought at Exclusive Concepts called Advanced SEO. Please feel free to give us a call or fill out an audit request to get more info on how we can help your site make the most of today’s world of SEO.

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