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Our thoughts on the latest Google ‘Maccabees’ update

Our thoughts on the latest Google 'Maccabees' update 1

With a focus on user experience and relevancy, ensuring that the most appropriate results to your search queries rank highest has always been Google’s sole focus – and therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google is continuously tweaking and improving its algorithm. In turn, the job of an SEO is ever-changing, and because Google never reveal the details of their algorithm, determining the effects of a Google update – and how best to overcome reduced rankings when your site is negatively impacted – is largely based on guesswork, trial and error, and endless research (of other people’s guesswork and trial and error).

In December 2017, Google released yet another update, unofficially coined the ‘Maccabees Update’, based on its occurrence during Hannukah. The update caused a storm in the SEO world, as many websites have seen a loss of up to 30% in organic search traffic as a result of Google’s ‘minor changes’.

From what we can determine, the update covered a few key areas, with keyword permutations, an extension to the previous Google Fred update and extended meta-descriptions being some of the most noticeable.

‘Keyword permutations’ refers to instances where multiple phrases or long-tail keywords have been used, which all ultimately mean the same thing. So instead of creating just one landing page, the site manager is creating multiple pages, all with slightly different variations of the same keyword or key phrase. 

For example, a travel site may have different pages for each of the following long tail key phrases: 

Cheap holidays to Portugal
Low cost Portugal holidays
Cheap holiday packages to Portugal
Cheap all inclusive Portugal holidays

Although each of these key phrases will generate high levels of traffic in their own right, it creates a poor overall user experience, as well as creating lots of duplicate content – which is why these pages are now being penalised. 

The only way to fix this and climb back up the rankings is to use one good-quality landing page to showcase well-written and relevant content. It doesn’t even need to include all of those exact keywords in order to rank for them – ‘semantic search’ was introduced in Google’s Panda update in 2012 which made the need for exact wording obsolete. As long as the content is strong and relevant, you’ll continue to rank regardless of wording. Remember, although we want to tick Google’s boxes, we mustn’t forget that we’re ultimately writing for humans!

The extension to Google Fred was the other key observation from the Maccabees update. Google Fred was an update in March last year, which penalised sites that published unclear, ‘thin’ content; covering all sorts of topics, just for ranking purposes. The Fred extension in this update has targeted ‘aggressive monetization’ on websites.  This refers to pages that were overloaded with irrelevant or deceptive ads, for example where the ads look like a part of the content or affiliate links, which are masked as supplementary content. One of the biggest hits was to sites that direct you through long ‘slideshows’ – often for product reviews – where each ‘slide’ is on a new page.  Each page contains a whole new host of irrelevant ads, which is earning the site much more money than if all the products were listed on the same page. Google have finally cracked down on this, and as a result we should be seeing less content like this moving forward.

Longer meta-descriptions are something that most site managers will already be familiar with – Google officially increased the length of meta-descriptions and featured snippets back in November. Although this change has been live for some time, it’s only now that it is starting to become prominent. Those that are well-versed in SEO will have already updated their meta-descriptions and therefore will already be ranking well (if not better than they were previously). It also means that users are seeing less search results at first glance – as the snippets are longer – so it’s more important than ever to be at the top of the list. If you haven’t tackled the task of updating your meta-descriptions yet, it’s something that needs to be addressed as a priority, so as not to see competitors overtaking you in the rankings.

While it’s important to be reactive to Google’s algorithm updates, we appreciate the time it takes to go through your site and make the changes needed to maintain your standing in the rankings. The good news? We’re here to help! If you think you’ve been affected by the update, or if you just need a bit of direction with your SEO strategy, get in touch and see how we can help.

Creator and co-founder of Ecrubox Digital, MBA student at Warwick University and mum of three.