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Get twenty different search marketers in a room and you’ll often get twenty different opinions on a subject; but there is a growing consensus that some tweaks were made to the Google Algorithim in the last few days of April to first few days of May.

This has become known as the Google May-Day Update.

Whether it’s a full blown-update or not, a large number of people seem to have noticed a change.

It’s not something we’ve seen much with our clients; but an in-house SEO at one of the UK’s most popular websites, recently told me about a huge downward shift in traffic which matches the trend being talked about in the blogosphere.

So what are the symptoms?

Are you a site which has thousands of indexed pages where each page receives traffic from a variety of long-tail phrases?

Have you seen these pages lose traffic, each page may only have lost a few visits each, but in aggregate this has a material impact on your traffic?

Does this change seem to have occurred after the 28th of April? 

If you answer yes then you seem to have been affected by the May-Day update.

It’s pretty difficult to reverse engineer Google at the best of times, especially if you don’t have access to dozens of sites which have been affected but one of the best write ups on the subject is Redfly’s.

Whether you have been affected by the changes or not I think it highlights a very real risk for e-commerce players. 

Have you been relying on building link equity to your homepage and then been using boiler plate product descriptions? With good basic SEO for every product this would probably have been enough to rank, but not anymore.

Go to any of the top online retailers who dominate natural search results, their product pages will be loaded with content, unique user generated reviews, extensive product descriptions which go well beyond the basics, maybe they’ll even have high quality editorial copy which helps buyers understand where this product fits in comparison to its competitors?

This content is the type of thing that customers early in the buying cycle love, so it only makes sense that it’s the type of content that Google would look to reward. 

So here are my top five tips to future proof your product pages and avoid being penalised by the Google May-Day Update.

Have user generated reviews  

I can’t see any reason why a serious online retailer would avoid having user generated reviews.

If implemented correctly they’ll add variety, depth and honesty to your product pages. No competitor could ever duplicate it and it’s far more likely to have the keyword variations that your customers actually use.

Invest in good product imagery

If you were relying on domain authority to rank internal pages you need to build more external links to your product pages.

One way we’ve had success in doing this is with product imagery. Investing in interesting photography for your products not only increases customer confidence but it will also naturally attract links as people link to the images.

Give every page some character

Usually product descriptions are bland beyond the point of redemption. You can often see that no love was spent describing the product and that is a terrible reflection on the retailer’s (your) perception of that item.

If you aren’t familiar with Woot.com, visit the site once a day for the next week. I’ll buy you a beer if that hasn’t inspired you to write better product copy.

Make it obvious for people to link to your product pages

You need to understand why people would link to your content before you stand any chance of making it happen. Maybe people want to share what they’ve bought from you, on their blog? Give them an embeddable piece of code which they can include along with their personal review.

Perhaps there are two obvious products in a category that often go head to head, like the iPhone vs. the HTC Desire, create a page comparing the two products and not only will you tap into a rich vein of “product x vs product y” search terms, you will also have the type of content that will be referred to when that comparison is raised in a forum.

Stay one step Ahead of Google

Though no-one can predict when Google is going to make changes to its algorithm, you didn’t have to be Mystic Meg to foresee that content thin product pages on e-commerce sites might not rank forever, since equivalent pages on affiliate sites have struggled for years. 

So spot the obvious next steps and take them before Google force your hand, for example at the moment I’d advise everyone working in e-commerce to be taking a good look at the hProduct microformat now.  

Kelvin Newman

Published 17 June, 2010 by Kelvin Newman

Kelvin Newman is SiteVisibility's Creative Director and is the editor of the UK's most listened to Marketing Podcast. He also spends his time at conferences, tweeting too much and working on top secret research and development projects. He's also on Google+

21 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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Ryan @ Linkbuildr

I recently researched the effect on my clients and definitely noticed a boost to the sites with user reviews. I'd also add that the sites with a well down internal linking structure thanks to their blogs, has done wonders.

over 6 years ago


Modelle milano

You need to understand why people would link to your content before you stand any chance of making it happen. Maybe people want to share what they’ve bought from you.

over 6 years ago

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

Unique keywords, titles and descriptions are needed for category as well as product pages - and not just the home page which is where many small ecommerce sites leave it. 

And deep linking on the big money phrases to turbo boost the intial positions that your on page optimisation will get you.  Through deep link building we made one of our smaller ecommerce clients £38,000 on one big prase in one month earlier this year :-o

over 6 years ago



I've definitely noticed this, and probably heard more complaints than praise about it, but lets get one thing clear - this is the right thing for Google to do. There is no benefit to the end user for Ecommerce sites or thin affiliate sites with standard manufacturer descriptions to rank better than a niche site dedicated to the product or product type. I think it is finally a bit of payback for all those webmasters who have been doing the right thing and adding useful content to their product pages.

over 6 years ago

Sandis Viksna

Sandis Viksna, Brand Portfolio Manager at MoreNiche Ltd

Thanks for the great write up and links. I see this will play big role against SEO spammers that puts content behind various hacked sites etc.

over 6 years ago


Paul Middleton

I've been hit by these changes. I'm starting to understand why Google may have felt justified with the algo change, but they don't appear to applied the update evenly. Many of my competitors are still ranking for pages that use similar (sometimes identical) content to mine. Why aren't they also being re-ranked?

over 6 years ago

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