The Google Maccabees Update (What Is It & How To Fix)

Google Maccabees Update

Close to the middle of the month, webmasters started noticing uncommon traffic volatility levels. The update got its name, “Maccabees’ ‘ to honor historical events and people commemorated by the Hannaku holiday.

There started to be an influx of 25 percent or more of sudden organic traffic losses and with numerous measures of SERP fluctuation signifying that an algorithm update was live.

Google did confirm at a later date that there were some “slight improvements” released and the ones suffering the most were the sites whose landing pages targeted specific keyword combinations.

Many agreed with this assessment that a number of Fred-related modifications coincided with the Maccabee update to establish pinning down the real nature of the latter more of a struggle

There were reports between December 12 and 14th in the search community that the website took major hits. Google confirmed several minor changes during those time frames to the core algorithms. However, they downplayed the importance of the period of flux.

While the specifics of the update remain unclear, several theories and reports have emerged in an attempt to shed light on its motivations. Before delving into these theories, it’s important to acknowledge the unusual nature of this update, which extended far beyond the typical targeting of blackhat SEO tactics.

Even “official” celebrity websites tumbled down the ranks

Glen Gabe, of G-Squared Interactive, made a startling observation regarding the December Google update. His analysis revealed that several high-profile celebrities’ official websites had experienced a significant drop in search engine ranking positions, losing their top spot to non-official sources.

One notable example was John Lennon’s official website, which plummeted to the #9 spot for the query “John Lennon.” Gabe brought this concerning trend to the attention of Google’s Danny Sullivan, hoping for clarification and potential solutions.

This shift in search results highlights the evolving landscape of online visibility and the increasing importance of effective SEO strategies for official websites to maintain their online prominence.

SEOs Report Sudden Loss of Knowledge Graph Panels for Branded Terms

In a concerning development, some websites have reported losing their knowledge graph panels for branded search terms.

This means that when users search for these brands, the detailed and visual information that typically appears in the right panel of the SERPs is now absent.

This issue was brought to light by a thread in the Local Search Forums, where several SEOs expressed their concerns. One individual even contacted Danny Sullivan, Google’s Public Search Liaison, to notify him of the problem.

While Sullivan acknowledged the issue and promised to “pass it on,” Google has yet to make any official statement regarding the cause or potential resolution.

The loss of knowledge graph panels can have a significant impact on brands, as these panels provide users with quick access to key information such as logos, social media profiles, contact details, and important facts.

This absence can lead to decreased visibility, reduced engagement, and ultimately, a negative impact on brand awareness.

It remains unclear whether this is a temporary glitch or a deliberate change by Google. However, it is a development that SEOs are closely monitoring, and hopefully, more information will be forthcoming from Google soon.

Following the initial complaint, several other commenters voiced their concerns about experiencing the same issue. The disappearance of branded terms knowledge graphs garnered significant attention, as many users reported having relied on them for years.

Notably, one user highlighted that even authority sites were affected, suggesting the issue wasn’t confined to specific site types or rankings. This observation further fueled speculation about the reasons behind the sudden disappearance, indicating a potentially widespread impact beyond individual cases.

The Theories

True to form, Google maintains a shroud of secrecy around the reasoning behind their updates, prompting a flurry of speculation. We’ll delve into these diverse theories below, exploring the potential motivations driving these algorithmic shifts.

1. Having too many keyword permutations

Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable suggests that the Maccabees update primarily targeted websites with a plethora of keyword-permuted landing pages.

These pages often targeted various combinations of location and service or activity, like “Location + White Water Rafting” or “Location + Scuba Diving.” Interestingly, his analysis of roughly 100 websites affected by the update revealed a common thread: internal linking strategies built around these keyword permutations.

This suggests that the update might be penalizing websites with excessive keyword-focused internal linking, particularly those targeting multiple variations of the same service or activity in different locations.

2. Having too many ads (Fred Extension Theory)

The Google Fred update, notorious for penalizing sites prioritizing ad content over user experience, significantly impacted the affiliate marketing landscape.

In a recent analysis, Matt Diggity of Diggity Marketing highlighted two prominent examples: 10 Beasts and Supplement Police, both heavily reliant on affiliate content and previously ranking highly for numerous keywords.

Diggity conducted a survey among 44 website owners affected by Fred, revealing a majority were affiliate sites. Notably, Amazon affiliates constituted the largest segment, followed by other non-Amazon affiliate programs.

Delving deeper, Diggity unearthed two alarming discoveries that warrant further investigation, each deserving a dedicated section in this exploration.

This analysis promises to unveil the key factors contributing to Fred’s impact on affiliate sites, providing valuable insights for e-commerce businesses navigating the SEO landscape.

3. Using scholarships to build .edu links

Among the lesser-known theories about Maccabees, not explored in detail by SERoundtable or Moz, is Matt Diggity’s intriguing proposal. He suggests that .edu scholarship links may have played a key role in the update’s impact.

While conducting his own survey, Matt confirmed that the majority of affected websites were indeed affiliate sites.

Further investigation revealed a striking commonality: 40% of these impacted affiliate websites utilized links directing users to .edu scholarship resources.

Scholarship links, which are backlinks from .edu sites, were traditionally acquired by launching a scholarship program and partnering with educational institutions to promote it on their websites with a link back to the sponsor.

While these schemes appeared to be charitable acts supporting students, their true purpose was to manipulate search engine rankings by leveraging the high authority of .edu domains.

Matt Cutts’ data suggests that Google has caught on to this tactic. His suspicion was further solidified when Luqman Khan, the previous owner of, helped recover the penalized site’s ranking within five days.

When asked how he achieved this, Khan identified the culprit as .edu scholarship links, corroborating Matt’s initial analysis.

4. Not having Mobile-first and compliance

To gain insights into the latest Google algorithm updates, Search Engine Land conducted a survey among executives at SEO companies, who possess greater access to website data than the average user.

Data from SEMrush Sensor, led by Product Owner Iya Onskul, revealed significant SERP fluctuations primarily on mobile, with slightly less volatility on desktop.

While the specific industries most affected varied across SEMrush Sensor’s observations, a common thread emerged: the volatility primarily impacted mobile search results.

Searchmetrics founder and CTO Marcus Tober shared similar insights, noting that their engine identified a correlation between decreased visibility and a lack of integration.

However, both experts emphasized that due to the limited time frame since the updates, drawing definitive conclusions remains premature. Further observation is necessary to fully understand their long-term impact.

5. Having content cannibalization

In an attempt to unravel the mystery of the Google Maccabees update, Moz analyst Dominic Woodman analyzed a large, undisclosed dataset of websites. Strikingly, he found that all penalized sites displayed evidence of content cannibalization.

These websites had multiple pages targeting the same keyword or topic, most of which received minimal traffic and engagement. This suggests a potential link between content cannibalization and the Maccabees update’s impact.

In response, Dominic identified surplus pages with lower value and no-indexed them. He then consolidated remaining, effective content into a single, comprehensive article. He implemented Schema markup to improve search engine understanding and potential rankings.

6. Using Blackhat Link Building Strategies (Penguin Extension Theory)

Recent discussions in SEO communities like Black Hat World and WebmasterWorld suggest a significant shift in the search landscape.

Websites employing manipulative link-building strategies, including link spam, unnatural links, and private blog networks (PBNs), are reportedly experiencing a dramatic drop in search engine rankings, seemingly vanishing from the SERPs.

This sudden disappearance points towards a potential mass manual action penalty reminiscent of Google Penguin’s impact on manipulative SEO practices.

While the exact cause remains unconfirmed, these observations raise questions about the future of black hat tactics and their viability in the evolving search engine landscape.

Conversely, sites prioritizing Google’s requirements, such as implementing schema markup, have witnessed a rise in search engine ranking positions. This proactive approach clarifies website content for search engines, leading to improved search result visibility and organic traffic growth.

Lookback: Decoding Maccabees Google Algorithm Update

Though I lack real-time insight, I can offer a general timeline of the Maccabees Google Algorithm Update based on historical information.

  • December 14, 2017: The Maccabees update, though never officially confirmed by Google, is suspected to have launched around this date.
  • December 15-16, 2017: Webmasters and SEO professionals witnessed sudden shifts in search rankings and traffic, sparking speculation about a potential algorithm update.
  • December 20, 2017: Industry experts and webmasters began discussing the update, dubbing it “Maccabees” based on its observed impact.
  • December 22, 2017: Google confirms a major update to its search algorithm, but details remain under wraps. The update began earlier this month and will continue rolling out over the coming weeks.
  • December 2017 to January 2018: Webmasters and SEO professionals are keeping a close eye on the Maccabees update and its impact on their websites and search rankings. Discussions and speculation are ongoing in online communities and forums.
  • Occurring: As time passes, Google continues to refine the Maccabees update, making incremental improvements to its algorithms. This ongoing process ensures that search results remain accurate, relevant, and helpful for users.

What should you do if you’ve been hit by a new algorithm update?

This recent update has been shrouded in mystery, with no clear consensus on its root cause. While it’s tempting to hastily attribute the change to specific factors, a more measured approach is key.

Instead of jumping to conclusions, focus on testing and implementing strategies that demonstrably yield positive results.

If you’ve diligently maintained top SERP positions for your clients and suddenly experience a dramatic drop without apparent explanation, it’s understandable to feel alarmed.

However, panicking and making sweeping changes impulsively can exacerbate the issue. Instead, take a step back, analyze the situation, and implement data-driven solutions for a sustainable recovery.

Don’t Do Anything Drastic. Wait, Observe, Audit, And Test Cautiously.

While observing industry trends and conducting a thorough site audit remain crucial steps after encountering a Google penalty, waiting passively might not be the optimal solution.

With Google’s increasing opacity regarding algorithm updates, a proactive approach holds more promise. Leveraging a large network and robust data pool can significantly increase the chances of identifying patterns and commonalities among penalized sites.

This valuable information serves as a powerful guidepost for crafting effective recovery strategies.

Diversify your traffic sources

Relying solely on one traffic source is a recipe for disaster. Just like a house built on sand, a digital presence solely dependent on a single channel can crumble with a single algorithm shift or platform change. To ensure long-term stability and growth, diversification is key.

Fortify your digital ecosystem by exploring alternative traffic avenues like email marketing, social media engagement, and even paid advertising. This multi-pronged approach ensures that even if one channel experiences a setback, the others can keep your business afloat.

The same applies to link building strategies. Overreliance on a specific technique can leave your site vulnerable to algorithm updates targeting that method. Diversifying your link acquisition efforts by securing backlinks from a variety of trustworthy sources strengthens your website’s overall authority and resilience.

Spreading your eggs across multiple baskets, you create a more robust and resilient digital presence, one that can weather any storm and continue to thrive. Take the initiative to diversify your traffic sources and link building strategies today, and build a foundation for sustainable online success.

Final Thoughts

The veil of secrecy surrounding Google’s algorithm updates has thickened in recent times, leaving SEO professionals scrambling for answers.

Unlike past iterations with clear-cut guidelines, the latest changes, like the “Google Maccabees” update, have been shrouded in ambiguity. Theories and analyses abound, often based on anecdotal evidence, creating a confusing landscape for SEOs.

While some studies boast limited empirical data, ranging from mere dozens to a few hundred sites, their generalizability remains questionable.

Christopher Smith
Author: Christopher Smith

SEO and linkbuilding expert. More than 7 years of work in the field of website search engine optimization, specialist in backlink promotion. Head of linkbuilding products at GREAT Guest Posts, a global linkbuilding platform. He regularly participates in SEO conferences and also hosts webinars dedicated to website optimization, working with various marketing tools, strategies and trends of backlink promotion.

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