June 7, 2018
As with most Google algorithm tweaks, the first that most people knew about the ‘Maccabees’ update (which happened in mid-December) was a sudden drop in page rank. That sinking feeling is familiar to most seasoned SEO experts, managing multiple sites and strategies. The Maccabees update seems to have had a significant impact on a larger-than-usual number of websites, with reports of 20-30% drops in traffic to sites that had previously been ranking well.
Again, as with most updates, the chattering classes in the SEO world were soon hot on the trail of the update, determined to fathom out the meaning behind it and to reverse the suddenly downward trend in their rankings. Sadly, guessing and/or gazing into your crystal ball, is a big part of SEO life. Google rarely admit to algorithm changes and simply don’t give out many clues as to what’s behind them. Guessing, or educated guessing, usually leads to a consensus in the SEO world as to the what, the why and the how to resolve, each update.
However, it can take a while and sometimes it’s easier to get back to basics and simply remind yourself of what exactly Google is and what is important to it.
Google is one of those rare companies to see its name become a verb. Since 2006, at least, the company name has found its way into global dictionaries, which is a pretty good indication of the impact the search engine has had on our everyday lives. Google is ubiquitous and, although other search engines are available, the majority of people turn to Google when it comes to searching the web. Becoming not just a multi-billion-pound, industry leading tech giant but also a verb, is something of an achievement to say the least!
This success and rare achievement doesn’t, however, happen by chance. Google is the ‘go to‘ search engine because it’s trusted; or trusted enough. Winning the trust of consumers and/or web-surfers is no mean feat either, nor does that happen by chance. Google holds the position it does today because the result of googling is, as most people see it, solid, relevant results that take you where you want or need to be. Google just loves high quality content and always has done. High quality experiences for its users mean they keep on coming back and that, ultimately, is how you get to be a verb.
OK, that’s obvious enough, rank the page or pages of choice in the highest possible ‘natural’ position. Of course, there’s nothing natural about search results, between Google’s own algorithms and the whole SEO industry, ‘chance‘ and ‘natural‘ play very little part in the results. SEO professionals strive to manipulate their pages into that top (or as close as) position. Traditionally, that meant by any means necessary and not all SEOs were entirely ethical! Early SEO techniques were often clunky and, though they may have briefly worked, Google soon became increasingly sophisticated and equally quick to stop poor optimisation tactics in their tracks. The war of attrition between the SEO industry and Google began and has been fought ever since. Yet, the odd thing about this difficult and often acrimonious relationship is that, ultimately, Google and SEOs are working, generally speaking, towards the same ends. Google wants to get internet users to the ‘right‘ place as quickly as possible and so do SEO professionals.
So, back to Maccabees; several theories flew around the ether for a while; once it had been spotted. Was Google targeting desktop sites in favour of mobile sites? This idea was soon dropped when it became clear that both mobile sites and desktop were equally affected. The timing of the update (at the peak of the Christmas frenzy in the sales world) had some guessing that it was a seasonal update. But this also soon floundered as the intention seemed unclear. Finally, after much soul-searching the industry seems to have concluded that Maccabees was targeting poor quality content. Who could have guessed that?
In this particular case, however, poor quality content of a specific kind seems to have been the main target. Many sites use multiple pages, effectively for the same product or service, to target a whole range of keywords (the aim being to rank highly for as many permutations of those words as possible). Technically, this is not a bad idea and is sometimes relevant for specific products or services. If you run a group of hotels, then a page for each hotel makes sense. However, if you’re distance selling designer handbags across the UK, using different pages to target different locations, re-hashing or even just copying the same information, results in a pretty thin site. One with low quality content and a poor user experience!
Maccabees seems to be targeting this type of tactic and, whilst some sites with a genuine need for multiple pages and keywords have been hit, those hit hardest have tended to be the ones where a single page would really do! Going back to those handbags, if you’re using different pages to target keywords/phrases such as “Designer handbags Swanage/Ecclefechan/Insert locality here” then it’s time to rethink your strategy.
If the product or products are ones that simply need a page each and you can target relevant keywords in those pages, then strip back the site and forget the multi-page approach. Again, Google wants top quality content, so keep it simple and place good content where it’s going to count. For sites where a multi-page strategy is necessary or desirable the rule is to ensure that each page is filled with unique content relevant to the particular product/service it’s describing.
Ultimately the hunt for meaning, in the case of Maccabees at least, comes full circle, back to where most algorithm tweaks lead us! Google is, and it’s made no secret of this over the years, simply striving to ensure that it remains top-dog in the search world by serving up fresh, high-quality and juicy content. SEO professionals who forget that this content is for human consumption, not simply robot fodder, will soon be dusting off their crystal balls again.