Back in the day when Google updates used to cause panic and elation in equal measures, it was always pretty apparent what had happened. In some ways it is a shame that Google are now very much in the ‘law of diminishing returns’ phase where many of their algorithm changes go pretty much unnoticed. However, within the last month we have had the ‘May Day’ update which is a little bit more than one of the usual tweaks and is worth mentioning.
The phrase ‘long tail’ when applied to search engine listings describes the countless phrases that are used by us all that fit outside of the ‘head terms’. A ‘head term’ would be something that is used many, many times by lots of different searchers e.g. ‘pizza delivery’, ‘mortgage quote’, etc. The ‘long tail’ are the less used, but multiple search queries that often use more qualifying words e.g. ‘negative equity mortgage advice company’, wheat free pizza bases delivery’, etc.
The (very) basic premise of the ‘long tail’ is that roughly speaking you will get the most of your traffic (or sales if you run a ecommerce shop) from the ‘head terms’, but these head terms from a diversity perspective will be much, much less in number than the multitude of different ‘long tail’ queries. For different niches this weighting can be very different and in fact the ‘long tail’ can be your most important traffic source and the one that leads to most sales.
So how does the ‘May Day’ update relate to the ‘long tail’? Well, Google have decided to tackle this type of query in more of an isolated way and try to more closely match the needs of the searcher in relation to the page(s) that are delivered.
Here is a video from Matt Cutts that talks about this change.
So how does this relate to your site? Well, the best way to evaluate your ‘long tail’ exposure is to run a search query report on your analytics programme from a relevant month and look at all the individual searches that bring traffic to your site that are relatively low in number (but are many when all added together) and contain multiple words. Than you can run a report from around mid-May onwards and see if this has changed either positively or negatively.
I am still evaluating what I think the triggers are for this change and how Google is making the judgment call on the relevancy and quality of the results it hopes to delivery for ‘long tail’ queries.
More on this in a future post, but in essence this could be a great directional change for Google. However, I am sensitive to those of you out there who have had a real and negative traffic hit from this change.