image liberally appropriated from Roger Hollander
Thanks to Vanessa Fox as always for eliciting grains of truth from Google. At last week’s Google I/O conference Matt Cutts confirmed that there was an algo change at the beginning of May that will likely be affecting sites that generate a lot of long-tail traffic:
”this is an algorithmic change in Google, looking for higher quality sites to surface for long tail queries. It went through vigorous testing and isn’t going to be rolled back.”
I have already seen the impact on a couple of large sites that I monitor, as well as on smaller sites. In the case of the large sites, the traffic has drifted downward, with a couple of extreme drops, and in the case of the smaller sites traffic growth has either flattened or slowed down to barely noticeable.
While we are testing various hypotheses on some sites, based on what I have seen thus far, sites that have a lot of URLs (e.g. tens of millions) with thin and/or generic content and have most of their inbound links focused around a relatively small set of URLs or that are not generating regular inbound links have seen the biggest impact.
This shouldn’t surprise anybody in SEO land as unique content, good site architecture and strong backlinking have been the cornerstones of SEO for years. That said, it appears that this algo change has raised the game to a whole new level. It used to be that an authoritative domain could add pretty much any content, even duplicated content, it wanted to its site and with a little bit of effort get strong organic traffic. That does not appear to be such an open and shut case anymore.
Which brings me back to everybody’s favorite punching bag, the yellow pages sites.
What are most yellow pages sites?
- Giant directories of generic content most of which is available on thousands of other sites (including Google Maps, Yahoo Local and Bing Local)
- Sites that typically don’t encourage a lot of brand affinity and don’t do anything too remarkable, therefore rarely inspire others to link to them
Over the past few years there have been numerous challenges for yellow pages sites to overcome – the 10 pack, Google Maps, Place Pages, SEM resellers, etc., but for some reason I am feeling like this one is the big wake up call and if you want to survive you probably don’t want to hit the snooze button this time.
If I were you I would revisit those SEO presentations from the past few years and look for all of those items that were recommended as “P2” – stuff you should do but because they were tricky, you never quite got to them:
- Get unique content on your business profile pages and other important pages (and I’m not talking about just putting Yelp and Twitter feeds on them). You need your own user generated reviews, editorial, q&a forums, etc.
- Consolidate the number of pages you show Google and limit them to only those that are “valuable” (i.e. have unique content and/or inbound links). This one’s tricky as it’s hard to know on a large scale which ones are the best.
- Continue or start to drive links to deep URLs
- Make sure all URLs are as close to inbound links as possible
- Prioritize valuable content in the architecture so that they are as close to the home page and other valuable URLs as possible
- Do something remarkable with your service that gets people talking about you and linking to you