The Maccabees update rolled out in early December, and several websites noted traffic drops of anywhere between 20-30%. Google refused to acknowledge it as an update, calling it “several minor changes” to the Google core algorithm.

Update Tweet Maccabees SEO Agency Sydney

Maccabees Update Tweet

Despite their reassurances, the data tells a very different story. Minor though the changes may have been, their impact was felt keenly by a lot of websites.

Data Flux Maccabees Update | SEO Agency Sydney

Maccabees Update Data Flux

The people who live off the magic juice of SEO immediately started to analyse this period of flux between 12-14 December, when the updates rolled out. Several prominent theories emerged, the most credible being:

Maccabees is Linked to Mobile-First Algorithms

Mobile First Indexing Maccabees | SEO Agency Sydney

Maccabees and Mobile-First Indexing

One of the strongest initial theories that appeared credible was that the update was being rolled out in conjunction with and in support of Google’s mobile-optimisation.

This theory was debunked by Moz by analysing traffic on desktop and mobile pages for the same websites. The analysis revealed that the traffic drops in the pages were almost identical, and this pattern was confirmed with multiple websites.
No doubt Google will release mobile-first core engine algorithms in the future, but thanks to Dominic Woodman at Moz, we know that Maccabees isn’t one of them.

Maccabees targeted E-Commerce Websites

E-Commerce Sites Maccabees | SEO Agency Sydney

Maccabees and E-Commerce Sites

This was a good theory to start with, but like Dominic pointed out in his Moz article, a website that he was optimising for SEO got de-ranked by Maccabees, and it wasn’t an E-Commerce website. This, however, gives us our first clue.

First Clue Maccabees Update | SEO Agency Sydney

Maccabees Update Clue

The sites that got de-ranked must have something in common with E-Commerce websites, because almost every E-Commerce website took a hit in the flux period. We now know that we are looking for an element in websites that is present almost universally in E-commerce platforms.

Maccabees was targeting sites with excessive advertisements, poor and thin content or bad user interfaces

The websites that are built poorly are not exactly our best contenders for SEO analysis, but according to people on the Internet, plenty of these websites escaped the Maccabees scythe, while some were slashed badly. It appeared to the casual observer that the update was de-ranking sites left, right and centre on seemingly random criteria. However, on close observation, there were patterns to be spotted here. What do content websites, E-commerce websites and badly built websites have in common? This would be our second clue to analysing the update.

Maccabees targets Keyword Permutations

Our final clue would come from Barry Schwartz, who gave this group of updates its current moniker: The Maccabees Update.
He noticed after extensive analysis that the websites that were being de-ranked were using repetitive keyword permutations to rank on the SERPs page. Repetitive keywords do not make a great user experience, and that was the key highlight of this update. A common example would be travel websites that classify places by name, then location, and then repeat this on other pages by naming activities specific to that page as well. Or, a more local business centred example would be a plumber making different pages for the different suburbs that he was providing his services in. This tactic earlier meant that people were able to rank well by building their websites for search engines.

User Experience Maccabees Update | SEO Sydney Agency

Maccabees Update Affects User Experience

The Verdict

It was the butler, in the living room, with a core algorithm who killed the keyword permutations.

Unmasked Maccabees Update | SEO Agency Sydney

The Maccabees Update Unmasked

Let us see how the butler did it. The key to understanding why all these seemingly random websites got de-ranked is elementary. Think back to the websites that were killed/de-ranked. E-commerce websites were almost universally a target for the Maccabees update. This is due to the fact that because of their very structure, and their pattern of offering multiple identical products (how many types of shirts does an average online shopping store offer?), filtered by location and brands causes repetition. It isn’t from a bad user interface, it is just the way the websites are structured that caused them to take a hit. Our first innocent victim lies there in a pool of blood.

Our other victims are not completely blameless. The other websites that took hits may have been legitimate and built well, but they weren’t built for people. They were built for search engine bots to crawl and rank, and that was their downfall right there.
Google has finally released an update that is able to differentiate between user-friendly websites and websites that are built to be crawled conveniently by search engines.

What You Can Do If You Were Affected

If you were affected, then there are a few fixes that you can implement to immediately remedy some of the damage. Start with analysing your website and try to identify the pages where you have thin or duplicate content. Avoid creating duplicate pages offering the same service/product in different areas. That is exactly what the Maccabees update targets. Keyword permutations will no longer work to help in ranking your website, so focus on creating good, quality content and a good user experience.

Damage Control Maccabees Update | SEO Agency Sydney

Maccabees Update Damage Control

Another way to improve your website is to ease up on ad monetisation and make sure that ads on your website are not ruining the user experience for people visiting your website. There is nothing worse that a legitimate website that loses rankings from trying to over-monetise it’s ads. It ruins the user experience, and it isn’t beneficial for either the advertisers or the website.

Ensure that the blog content posted on your website is relevant to the products and services you offer, and linked properly to trusted sources.

If you do not already have Schema implemented on your website, then consider adding it in to define the elements of your website better. Schema helps with SEO (search engine optimisation) by explaining to Google what every element on your site means. Once you’ve finished the steps listed earlier of creating a good website, a Schema based design should help boost your rankings close to where they were before the update pulled you down.

User Interface and Why It Matters to Google

One thing that we have always known about Google is that it is the best because it focuses on the needs of its users. The user interface on a website is one of the key elements of the user experience. Satisfied people who like the website they are visiting tend to convert a lot better than people who struggle to navigate between the pages of a poorly constructed website, which should be obvious.

The essential idea to take away from this is simple: Build an experience that people will like, and the Maccabees update will push you up in the ranks.


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