Google’s ranking and indexing processes change constantly. Unfortunately, they don’t always tell us what these changes are. This seems to be the case for the unconfirmed May 22nd Google Algorithm update.

Naturally, this makes life difficult for SEO pros.

Ultimately, the goal of SEO is to make your site as attractive as possible to Google’s algorithm. This is difficult when the goalposts are constantly changing, and information from Google is unclear.

Although unconfirmed, the May 22nd Google algorithm update seems to have been pretty major.

In fact, webmasters around the world have reported significant drops in their traffic. Few people are reporting increases. Additionally, trackers are flagging consistently high algorithmic activity in May 2021.

May 22nd Google Algorithm Update Featured Image

But does anyone actually know what’s going on? Even more importantly, if you’ve been stung by this update, how can you recover?

Let’s start with the basics.

What Was the May 22nd Google Algorithm Update?

As we said already, the May 22nd update is unconfirmed. That doesn’t mean that we don’t know if anything actually changed. Rather, Google simply hasn’t announced any specific changes.

This is actually fairly common. Google is constantly updating its algorithm in some way or another.

So what makes May 2021 different?

The difference is the extent of the fluctuation.

There are plenty of smart folks out there tracking how the algorithm changes over time. They all pretty much agree that something seismic occurred on May 22nd 2021. However, there’s some disagreement about whether this is a core algorithm update, or an experiment gone wrong.

May 22 update tweets
Reports of the impact of the update have been mixed. Image credit: Twitter

Some webmasters are even of the opinion that the AI is in the driving seat, changing the weighting of different ranking metrics on the fly. Others think that a bug could have occurred.

Even before the 22nd, May 2021 has seen extensive fluctuations in Google ranking algorithm. In fact, pretty much every weekend in May 2021, there has been speculation of an unconfirmed algorithm update rolling out.

Other Algorithm Updates in 2021

Some confusion is also arising from the fact that other algorithm updates have been announced and are expected in the near future. One of the big sources of confusion is the upcoming Page Experience Update.

This had previously been scheduled for May 2021, but has been postponed until the summer. It seems like we were expecting one algorithm update, but got another.

The Page Experience Update has been in the works for a long time, and will introduce new UX factors as direct ranking metrics, including largest contentful paint (LCP) and cumulative layout shift.

Page experience update infographic
The page experience update was previously scheduled for May 2021. Image credit: WordStream

It’s possible that the May 22nd Google algorithm update is related to this somehow, although there isn’t much clear evidence of this.

Google also recently held their annual I/O conference, where they announced a new technology, dubbed their multitask unified model (MUM). Essentially, this is a machine learning algorithm that will help Google answer complicated queries.

Could this be related to the May 22nd update? Opinions are divided.

What Does the May 22nd Update Impact?

Anecdotally, the May 22nd update seems to have had a net negative impact on websites’ traffic figures. That is, across most webmaster forums, more site owners are reporting losses than gains.

Of course, this isn’t exactly scientific. For one thing, webmasters who have lost traffic are obviously a lot more likely to post about it on a forum than ones who have seen gains.

However, this still gives us some clues as to what’s going on.

Think about it this way. If Google simply changed the way it decides which sites rank the best, you’d expect to see around the same number of winners and losers.

Since we seem to be seeing more drops in traffic than gains, this probably means that there has been a certain amount of de-indexing. That is, rather than reshuffling the search results, Google has simply stopped displaying some sites for given keywords.

There also doesn’t seem to be a specific geography which is impacted.

The majority of webmasters reporting problems are based in the US, but this doesn’t tell us much, as the majority of English speaking webmasters are also Americans. Closer to home, we’ve seen clear evidence of drops in the UK and Ireland too.

Change trackers have noted a higher change in the US, and more moderate fluctuations in European countries.

What Should You Do if Your Traffic Dropped in May 2021?

Not panicking is a good start. In fact, the impact of the May 22nd update is still unclear, and we still don’t know the specific reasons for changes in ranking. Even if we did, chasing the algorithm is never likely to be an effective strategy.

May 22 SEO practices inforgraphic
Even when algorithms change, the core levers of SEO do not. Image credit:

Instead, it’s important to stick to the tried and true methods of good SEO.

Focus on Strong, Valuable Content

There are no shortcuts in SEO. Rather than trying to predict what the algorithm wants, your efforts will be much better served by creating the best content you can for users. This is the best chance you have of consistently ranking for a wide variety of keywords.

This means optimising your service pages for appropriate target keywords, as well as engaging in regular content marketing to boost your domain level rankability and authority.

Keep Your Technical SEO in Check

Additionally, it’s vital to ensure that your technical SEO is perfect in order to maximise the ranking potential of your content. This applies to both metadata and site performance and security.

Additionally, the Page Experience update is still coming in the near future. This means that your load speeds and UX need to be up to scratch. You can use an audit tool like Google PageSpeed Insights to check out where you need to improve your page experience.

Talk to SEO Experts

There are countless SEO strategies out there. Choosing the right one means that you need to know what the pain points are with your site as it stands.

Of course, if you want to improve your SEO, the best thing you can do is work with someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Speak to our SEO experts today to decide what the best steps are for your website.

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