Google May Day Update

The code name “May Day” stands for a comprehensive and permanent update to Google’s ranking algorithm. The algorithm update went live worldwide over the time frame of April 28th to May 3rd, 2010, which is the reason why it is called “May Day”.

What is the Google May Day update?

The May Day update had a massive impact on so-called long-tail keywords while short-head keywords were mostly spared.

According to Google, their goal for this algorithm update was an increase in the quality of search results.

What makes this algorithm update so special?

Long-Tail keywords, especially those with three and four word phrases, have the highest conversion rate. They are the most profitable and lucrative keywords in e-commerce.

Conversion-rates for short-head und long-tail searchqueries
Conversion rate from Short-Head to Long-Tail search requests – source: The Search Engine Landscape: 2010 by Rand Fishkin

If a website does not appear in the long-tail search results for a search requests anymore, due to the May Day update, a significant traffic and profit loss will follow.

Explaining long-tail and short-head keywords:
A long-tail keyword is a search request that contains two or more words.
Example: the search query “loan” (1 word) is called a short-head keyword.
The search query “loan without credit score” (4 words) is a so-called long-tail keyword.

What is the goal of the May Day update?

The algorithm update is supposed to improve the quality of the search results. In order for this to happen, the “quality” of a page will be re-evaluated for multi-word search queries. Pages that either do not offer unique content or where the content is just “bad” (not helpful to the user) for the long-tail query are removed from the search results, or to be precise, moved to the back of the search result pages. This update has mostly affected “big” companies. According to Google, the results of the update are satisfactory. examined a number of onlineshops which were affected by this update and found a commonality throughout these shops, where, among other things, the bounce-rate was extremely high. We can therefore assume that the bounce-rate is a ranking signal when Google decides on the quality of a page.

What are the effects of the May Day update for affected websites?

The Visibility of the affected websites will decrease noticeably as a result of the drastic decrease in traffic, caused by the missing long-tail rankings in the search results.

Visibility Index history for a domain affected by the May Day update. Shown through an event-pin in the SISTRIX Toolbox
Visibility Index history for a domain affected by the May Day update. Shown through an event-pin in the SISTRIX Toolbox

Websites were able to stop the decline caused by the algorithm update and even re-gain some of their lost rankings for long-tail queries by optimising their content as well as the bounce-rate.

Video response from Google/ Matt Cutts on the algorithm update