Analyzing the Latest Google Update – The Maccabees in Detail

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The month of December saw the latest Google algorithm update that was named the Maccabees update and had plenty of changes for the webmasters and SEO experts to drool over and also incorporate with time in their evolved techniques. Usual webmaster complaints included bad links, low quality spun content or the most common one of selecting a business model that Google doesn’t appreciate at all. Although all these have been talked about in the recent past but with this new update, these got hit the most.

The Google Maccabees update seeks out to sort many of the persistent problems that have loomed around in the search engine industry and have plagued true SEO with their not so true bypasses or shortcuts that practically have put people who aim to make real efforts to improve their search rankings behind the ones who took rather easy and not so ethical shortcuts. Although this is no official list of all the new changes but this article tries to identify the major few that will affect a lot of website. Here’s what has changed:

Index Bloat

When any given website somehow manages to get a high number of non-valuable pages into Google, the result is termed as index bloat. Cannibalization problems, crawling issues or thing content issues are all signs of this.

After working and analyzing some affected websites for countless hours and trying to figure out why it happened and what was causing it, the log file analysis and Google site: searches actually produced nothing satisfactory. The real cause had not been tracked and the best guess we ended up with was that how indexed URLs got measure by Google had to be altered. The possibility of there being URLs with non-200 status until they didn’t get checked anymore or the inclusion of images or other static files got taken into account as opposed to previously they didn’t still couldn’t be ruled out.

Though the possibility is great but no hard evidence is available that this is related to the m.URLs or actual index bloat. Only time will tell for sure that whether this is the case or not but for now most analysts are suggesting it to be rather irrelevant.

Dubious Links and Thin Content

Dodgy links have been targeted by Google in the past as well and the Maccabees aims to hit then even stronger. Thin content in layman terms means content that is short and filled with irrelevant keywords just for the sake of getting the crawlers to think that it is relevant. Thin content should be really easy to spot and if you have managed your website yourself, you should have a good enough idea of what’s week and what needs a lift. For dodgy and dubious links, try the following:

  • Searchmetrics or SEMRush are great tools to find out if your links have observed any previous penguin drops. Run them through any of these and find out what has the potential to get penalized.
  • Tools like Majestic and Ahrefs are great options to get all the links for your domain and often you can get these free as well. Even when you have to pay a small fee, go for any of these and make your links digging much easier.

Slow Site or a Poor User Experience

One of the areas that can cause a site to rank low in the new Google algorithms is its response time or not so up to date user experience. Google’s crawlers have been intelligent for a very long time now in judging how user friendly the website is and how easily can a person navigate on it trying to get to a specific place or locations.

Similar case is with page load speeds, the faster your website is, better it will be ranked by getting more ranking points. This Maccabees update focuses on these two particular areas every more and fortifies their importance notifying webmasters to speed up their domains and also make them as user friendly as possible.

Judging your website for being user-friendly is subjected to personal preferences however and getting to a solid decisions can be a hard job on its own as practically every website has some elements that can be labeled as non-user friendly. Looking for a perfect or even near perfect user friendly website will just not work but in actuality, what you are really looking for is the main templates being exposed to search to be in easy understandable places on the website.

The WebPageTest is usually a great indicator of your website speed. Below 3 seconds is the absolute gold site load standard with 3 – 6 seconds causing the slightest of problems and anything over that should just not be acceptable?

The Many Possibilities and Theories

Before the update got live, there were many theories being talked about. Most of these got to be true and here are a few most significant ones:

  1. Mobile-First Maccabees Update
    • The newest Google update certainly focuses on mobile-first principles since mobile search has overtaken desktop search across most industries.
  2. Affiliate or E-Commerce Related
    • E-commerce related websites and affiliate techniques related ones will certainly take a hit as their core purposes are not entirely in line with what Google indicates to be perfect.
  3. Websites Targeting Keyword Transformations
    • When your website doesn’t have a good number of combination landing pages but there is a lot of user-generated content (especially found on retail oriented websites), the keyword transformation for websites will become a problem. This one will be hard to avoid but will have to be done.

Working Through the Search Console Data

If you have been smart and have stored all your search console data on Google’s cloud-based data analytics tool, BigQuery for a number of months (a year or two in the perfect scenario), you are in luck and can immediately pull out a table indicating all the dropped keywords. Regardless of how careful you have been, there will be a couple of keyword permutations or themes that will be hit hard and it’s time to dig into them looking for the answers. Having this data in a table will allow you to plot each page’s rank that ranks with a single keyword over time.

In some cases you will also find your primary landing page that has been ranking consistently higher to be cannabalized by articles you would have written on the same topic or even by user-generated content that you have less control over.

One of the first things you should check, is it actually a Google update caused error. Be sure to rule out any of your recent changes like a switch to HTTPs or any other similar ones but if you haven’t made any significant changes in the past couple of months and are 100% sure that any change you have made haven’t affected this drop (which almost certainly you cannot be), you can determine that it is an update caused drop.

How These Can Be Fixed?

The best case scenario will be to get all your traffic back after getting hit by the aforementioned changes but it’s not all bed of roses of course and the phrase “correct pages to rank for correct keywords” is a bit harder than it might look. Focusing on getting the traffic back whichever way possible might be the settling solution. Try these out:

User-Generated Content Left Out of Indexing

This one is the most obvious solution keeping in mind the fact that these bring the smallest percentage of traffic anyway that also performs worse when compared to users landing on your proper landing page. The first reason you would want to have your user-generated content indexed is that it can sometimes start ranking some of your keyword ideas that you’d never have tried by yourself that can then be shifted to the landing page. But when you consider the somewhat greater possibility of cannabalization on main pages, the balance of things works against indexing your user-generated content regardless of what your business niche is.

Using Schema.org “About” Property to Better Effect

To get Google understand your content better, this can be summed up as using the About property highlighting multiple authoritative sources such as, Wikipedia, Dbpedia or Wikidata. This not only removes the confusion for Google regarding your content and how you intend to use it but also provides the chance to be less worried about having to explain it all in your own content.

If the articles you’ve ranking are usually sub-articles derived from a larger topic or content, going in explicit details about it, Google will possibly find better places to use them without getting confused as to what or why they are there in the first place.

Combining Informational and Transactional Intents

Often webmasters have used two different and separate pages for targeting transactional and informational intents. This used to work great up until this very recent update. However, the Maccabees update wants webmasters to unify both their informational and transactional intents into one distinctive page. There are still some chances that the old technique of having separate pages for both might work for some unique business sites types but the general rule of thumb is going to have you combine them both and forming one understandable page.

This also has the potential to make your work much less fussy as well. Where you used to have two pages to worry about, now you can do with one and getting it right.

Final Thoughts & Recommendations

This insight into the new update and the issues it brings with it will only be possible when you have all your Search Console data stored and this is an absolute necessary recommendation to store it enabling you to undermine this kind of an investigation in the future as well. Paginating the API to get this data is recommended and though it’s not your perfect solution but does avoid many other problems and difficulties. Look for a script to do this and then be ready to dump it into BigQuery and it will be ready for you to access it when required.

The best guess about this Maccabees update so far is that it has brought in a weightage change that now values relevancy even more and also tests more pages that might be topically relevant. The drop you might have observed in your traffic could have been caused by these new tested pages being less strong and performing just as you expect them to, not as well as some of the more stronger pages.

Of course these are still early days into the Maccabees update and like us, you might have experienced this drop only on one of your websites, digging further deep into the new changes might reveal something more interesting and overwhelming. We do understand all this jabber can be a bit too technical for the average user or even someone working hard to get top ranking and search visibility, The SEO Company is always here to help you find your best way through the dusty roads ahead. Contact us at www.seo.com.pk for any of your queries and our friendly people will oblige at their quickest response.

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