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June 23, 2010

Never Underestimate the Real Power of Long-Tail Keywords

Before 2010, May Day simply referred to May 1st, a celebration of the beginning of Spring, or International Workers’ Day (Labour Day), as practiced in many countries, most notably in Russia… The alternate spelling Mayday was a signal used by ships’ captains and airplane pilots to announce “Come and Help me!”, as derived from the French word, “m’aidez”…

Google’s Mayday Update

Beginning in May 2010, Mayday became the code word for a major ranking change in Google and new attacks of “Google paranoia” by webmasters everywhere…

As webmasters, we should leave the paranoia to those who truly have a reason to be paranoid, like my ex-wife and her family. 😉

Google has always advised that we, as webmasters, should focus on giving searchers what they are trying to give Google’s search users: the most relevant, useful results possible for searchers.

As for myself, many of the new ranking factors included in the Mayday Update are things that I have expected the engineers at Google to include for a long time…

Call me strange if you will — my ex-wife and her family do — but I have always tried to plan my website optimization based on what I thought Google should have been doing already…

So, when Mayday finally came, I was ready…

Unlike many of my peers, I was not crying in my beer in the aftermath of Google’s Mayday Update…

About the Mayday Algorithm Update

An article on Search Engine Guide (, about Google’s May Day Update, suggested that Matt Cutts, of Google’s Webspam Team, said at Google I/O 2010, “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.”

So if your website was hurt by the Mayday Update, you should pay attention to this article, because “the way things were” is gone forever…

Vanessa Fox, formerly of Google, in another article at Search Engine Land ( suggested that the update primarily affected e-commerce websites that rely upon a product manufacturer’s product description… In other words, if a webmaster uses the default product description given by the original product manufacturer, then the product sales page will have taken a hit in Google’s search listings…

Fox also said, “Before, pages that didn’t have high quality signals might still rank well if they had high relevance signals. And perhaps now, those high relevance signals don’t have as much weight in ranking if the page doesn’t have the right quality signals.”

It seems that a lot of webmasters dismissed Fox’s view as just plain wrong, but I side with Dave Davis, who said, “I believe she was right on the money.” (

As the questions about Google’s Mayday Update spiraled, Matt Cutts did a video for the Google Webmaster Central Channel at YouTube (, about the Mayday Update ( In that video, Cutts emphasized that Mayday is only one of more than 400 tweaks that Google does to its algorithms each year, and he further emphasized that Mayday has been fully tested and is a permanent change to Google’s search algorithms.

What Mayday Means For Google Search

The Mayday Update was primarily focused on changing how Long-Tail Keywords were handled by Google’s search engine…

To make sure that you and I are on the same page, Long-Tail Keywords are those search phrases that contain more than 3 words. For example, as I was researching this article, my search query at Google was: “Google long tail keywords mayday”.

My five-word search query is a great example of Long-Tailed Keywords.

In the Matt Cutts’ video noted above, Cutts defined Long Tail Search Queries in contrast to Head Search Queries, with Head Queries being the one-, two- and three-word search phrases.

I found it odd that an article at Small Business Computing ( suggested that this Google algorithm update was simply a reflection of the changing habits of search engine users, who employ more long-tail keywords in their searches today, than they had in previous years…

To be honest, I find it hard to believe that long-tail search queries are a new trend… I suspect the truth is that Google finally acknowledged the importance of long-tail search queries… and in doing so, they fixed their weakness in that area…

Long-Tail Search Queries Were The Red-Headed Stepchild of Google Maile Ohye, senior developer programs engineer at Google, announced at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) Toronto 2010 conference, “For long-tail queries, we now just consider them as all other queries and place as much value on them as we do into shorter queries.”

Myself, I am blown away by that statement…

Okay… Let’s see if you and I see the same message here… Until the Mayday Update, Google had always treated long-tail queries with a different algorithm than “head of demand” queries (1-3 word queries)?

And now, Google is treating both with the same algorithm?

No wonder I was never satisfied with long-tail search queries at Google… No wonder I had been looking elsewhere for some of my search results… Google was using two algorithms, and most of my search habits were met with their other not-as-good search algorithm…

Digging Deeper Into Mayday Update

I came across the May 11th edition of the Search Engine Facts newsletter ( The newsletter stated, “It seems that this is not a penalty but a change in Google’s ranking algorithm. Google might now be able to index longer keyword phrases more accurately. There’s a new Google patent that deals with this topic.” (United States Patent #7693813: )

So the story is becoming a bit more clear… Before Caffeine, then Mayday, Google did a poor job with long-tail keywords, because its main algorithm did a poor job with long-tail keywords…

Mayday Winners And Losers

Around April 28th – May 3rd a lot of sites ( included) noticed a sudden loss of 5-15% of their normal long tail traffic ( Some e-commerce websites reported losses as high as 90% of their global traffic.

But by the end of May 3rd, there were still ten listings on page one of Google, so for every website that lost, someone else picked up new visitors.

My websites picked up around 10% across the board. However, I was not among Maydays’ biggest winners.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned Dave Davis, who is the Managing Director of

On the RedFly Marketing blog, Davis said, “We have concrete Google Analytics evidence that shows 30 – 60% increases in traffic to some of our and our clients sites just before and after May. It is important to note that these sites are all eCommerce and forum sites that had a steady flow of long tail traffic and now have a much greater share of this traffic. All this traffic increase is from Google search term referrals with a word length of 4 or over.” (

Davis suggested that a lot of AdWords advertisers, managers and experts saw these changes coming long ago.

Sadly though, a lot of webmasters are still waiting for Google to fix its mistake. Those folks might just be the May Flies of the Internet — here today, gone forever.

Conclusions to be Drawn From Mayday

Davis said, “The majority of those complaining (about Mayday) have relied too much on domain authority and internal linking… Google is now seeing individual documents as their own entities a lot more.”

I agree. I have been preaching the value of Deep Links — inbound links to pages deep within your website — for a long time. As a result of my practicing what I preach, I am one of the Mayday winners.

Before the Mayday Update, you could build links exclusively to your domain’s home page, and use internal linking to support the rankings of your internal pages… But that was yesterday’s Google… That strategy will never work again…

Returning to Maile Ohye’s comment, one more important distinction can be drawn…

If you have come to understand how to rank your website for Head Queries, then you already have the knowledge of how to rank your website for Long-Tail Queries. You simply have to take that knowledge you already possess and apply it to your website, one page at a time.

Try the Popular Marketers Free Long-Tail Keyword Research Tool here: Get your free profile page at and consider one of our Premium Membership packages, designed to help marketers sell more products and services. Learn more at: Written by: Hunter Waterhouse

13 Responses to “Never Underestimate the Real Power of Long-Tail Keywords

    Thanks to Hunter Waterhouse, Long tail keywords are giving good results. But unfortunately i have lost most of the keyword rankings for the last few days. I was applying up to date seo techniques to all my websites. but i need an update seo procedure. I mean new steps to taken in 2010. Could anybody send me a list. thanks in advance.

    SEO Services Hyderabad | Web Designing in India | Web Development in India

    avatar Michelle Carvill says:

    I wrote a blog post about how search could and should evolve about a year ago – and in that I focused on the power of long tail search – as Dave Davis – I would have assumed that Google pushed search out via long tail anyway – so May Day is a welcome change in my view – content is king!

    avatar Reid Peterson says:

    Question… for a solopreneur who is bumping up their SEO efforts, how many long tail keyword phrases do you recommend they go after? I know, it depends, but give a ballpark figure here.

    Great article – just shows that playing by the rules (Google’s rules that is) pays of. Exploiting loopholes will only ever be a short term strategy with Google constantly refining its algorithms to close those loopholes.

    Slowly but surely Google is weeding out the bad apples. Unfortunately, it took way too long for many webmasters who simply gave up along the way…

    Bottom line: the better your content, the more traffic you will get.

    Which is exactly as it should be.

    Google has always rewarded quality content – they’re just getting better at sifting out the rubble.

    Just my 0.02c


    ps…i hope next on the list is a way to filter sites that create internal search result pages – like many software sites…

    when you do a search for “solution X”, and you get a number of results offering you “solution X” – and when you visit them none of them even contain it…

    but because you visited them, Google remembers, and lets them pop up again next time…

    c’mon Matt, help us out here – it’s a BAD use experience…

    there must be a way to show REAL results.

    avatar ANAwebs says:

    Hunter, to tell you thr truth I like the idea behind what Google wants to do, but you saying that yoy get better results now for long tail keyword searches – I don’t belive it. For about a month it’s a complete mess in Google rankings for long tale searches. I have to go 10 sites and still can;t find what I want.

    I don’t say I was not hit by the changes, I was with some niche sites, but some facts i found:
    – niches sites update regularly, over 100 pages around a certain topic and ranking before for 3-5 keyword tale searches dropped from 1st position to below page 3
    – domains I own with those keywords, no content (just one page with the domain name and text “this website is coming soon”) ranks in top 10, with no link building etc..

    And there are so many examples I was able to find lately. I don’t agree with the saying that results quality for long tale searches increased as you support in your article.

    avatar Ricard Menor, SEO freelance Barcelona says:

    Good article, in my oppinion long-tail keywords are amongst the necessary optimization steps if you want qualified traffic, someone doing long-tail queries is likely to target for a more precise profile, product, service and add a location…
    Exactly what you will be offering or promoting as a post-MayDay outsourced SEO.

    A few comments above I read about rules: for those who played football, know that from now on we all play handball. Just make your mind and, in words of Google, be natural. Good luck 😉 @seofreelance

    avatar mayhem1 says:

    Hunter, Thanks for this beautiful and informative article this is what google wants to give to end users,
    Great Quality Content. Every one should do the same..

    avatar Wood Flute Music Blog says:

    Interesting article hunter.

    avatar Kelly Smith says:

    Yes and no. I’ve been using long tail keywords consistently for about 3 years now. What I’ve noticed is that since Mayday, one of my personal sites, which is very niche specific has gotten a lot more Google love. But another site that I write for, Suite101, has seen plummeting PVs from Google across the board. But that site is not niche-specific, it is more of an e-magazine with a broad range of topics. Although the PageRank has not changed (7), PVs are in the toilet for us old-timers (3 + years) who have been long time fans of the long tail keyword. So there’s a more complex dynamic going on here.

    avatar Hunter Waterhouse says:

    Reid: I generally target 2-3 keyword phrases per URL, and I target a new keyword phrase ever two weeks. I have been doing that for years, so I have hundreds of long-tail keywords for which I rank well.

    I have ranked well for many of them for a long time; I simply rank for more of them now. 😉

    ANAwebs: It depends on your search query. I am getting better results from Google on a lot of long tail keywords, but Google is not perfect yet.

    With each major algorithm change, Google does start seeing some bad sites float to the top, but they also look at the results the way that we look at them… So they might see that this is a better algo for the long tail queries, but they also see that more tweaking will need to be done.

    Give it time. While most results are better now, the results will need additional tweaks.

    avatar Wink says:

    I had an interesting search experience yesterday. I picked up an article to publish at Ezine Articles. I posted the article to one of my WP blogs. Later in the day I was looking over my traffic logs and noticed that I had a visitor to that page less than two hours after posting. I followed the referrer link to the Google search results page and found that the article on my blog had been returned #4 on the results page, while the original on Ezine was in position number 6. Why would that happen? I had used the exact search term as a tag for the post.

    Morals to the story: Never underestimate the power of a WP blog to shout about a new post, and don’t forget to use some long-tails in the tags for your post.

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