July 1, 2010 (CAP News Wire) – Part of Google’s business plan is to constantly change its algorithms. Any given week, it’s almost certain that the Google you’re using to search (or to which you’ve engineered your SEO) is different than it was the week before, if just slightly. But sometimes those changes aren’t so slight, and some online marketers can suddenly face unexpected problems with their SEO.

“Google made between 350 and 550 changes in its organic search algorithms in 2009,” writes Vanessa Fox at Search Engine Land. “These frequent changes are one reason Google itself downplays algorithm updates. Focus on what Google is trying to accomplish as it refines things (the most relevant, useful results possible for searchers) and you’ll generally avoid too much turbulence in your organic search traffic.”

True enough. However, as Fox eventually points out, a recent algorithm change, made in May and going by the nickname “Mayday”, seems to be affecting a handful of websites in a big way.

The change is an adjustment to ranking — not crawling or indexing — algorithms, and affiliate marketers are reporting that it seems to be hurting their sites, with a handful even claiming catastrophic drops in rankings.

Some of the comments regarding this change at the WebMasterWorld Forum: “90% of my traffic’s gone”; “50% loss of traffic and constant hammering by googlebot”; “90% of the internals pages have been hit … my home page, whose got a pretty good LT has not been hit”;  “traffic dropped 50% in a few days, 100,000′s of long tail k/w.”

Per Matt Cutts himself, the change impacts “long tail” traffic, “which generally is from longer queries that few people search for individually,” as Fox reminds us, “but in aggregate can provide a large percentage of traffic.”

Fox goes on: “This change seems to have primarily impacted very large sites with ‘item’ pages that don’t have many individual links into them, might be several clicks from the home page, and may not have substantial unique and value-added content on them.” That’s the way a lot of eCommerce sites are structured, as it happens, which means that it may not be affecting online gambling affiliates sites as much (although some have reported being affected). 

Since this is reportedly a long-term change, it needs to be dealt with, especially if your site has been hurt by it. Fox also advises a basic solution: Try to “isolate a set of queries for which the site now is getting less traffic and check out the search results to see what pages are ranking instead.” (This is based on the logic that, for each page that loses rank, another, competing site will raise in rank to fill the void.)

Then try to determine what qualities the newly highly ranked pages have that your page does not. This isn’t pleasant, of course; if you can figure this out you still have to re-engineer your site to become competitive for a new set of factors. It will, of course, make for a stronger website with greater SEO presence, but it’s also a whole new task you have to tackle—and like most affiliate marketers, that’s probably the last thing you need.

But as long as we’re living in Google’s world, these algorithm changes (and their sometimes destructive consequences) will sometimes happen.

One more detail: Matt Cutts has posted a YouTube video focused on this change, in which he says “it’s an algorithmic change that changes how we assess which sites are the best match for long tail queries.” He also notes that the change “has nothing to do with ‘Caffeine’”, is “entirely algorithmic” (as opposed to manual flag on certain sites), and is NOT temporary.

And here’s an interesting comment from an anonymous poster at Search Engine Roundtable: “We saw a huge ranking change on one of our sites serving long tail business traffic in a European traffic. Mayday I saw traffic drop of 80%, June 19th a traffic increase to 85% of former levels. We have verified this with another similar but unrelated site in the same country, who experienced exactly the same pattern.”

Has the Google “Mayday” change affected your affiliate marketing website? Sound off in the comments and let us know. If it has, perhaps the community can come together to offer solutions.

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