Will Google’s Recent Updates Hurt Your Sales?

Google Panda SEO and Ecommerce

Google Panda SEO and Ecommerce

(Sorry this update is a tad late, but spring break and the stomach flu took over the past two weeks of my life. Still, I think the information is useful and I hope you’ll find it to be helpful to your business.)

Google recently made two important updates to its search algorithm, know as the “Farmer” and “Panda” updates in the SEO world. The main goal was to weed out low-quality sites, particularly those known as “content farms” – sites that churn out hundreds or thousands of pages with short, unresearched articles.

These algorithms play a big part in the success of e-commerce sites too. Many sites of different kinds, including e-commerce sites, have already been impacted by the changes. If you’ve lost traffic due to the changes, what can you do to get back to your previous results in Google’s SERPs?

Write Unique, High Quality Content

The most important aspect of the new rankings comes from reducing the visibility of low-content sites, and increasing the rankings for those with higher-quality content. There are a lot of areas where e-commerce sites often suffer due to low quality content. Consider the following; do they apply to your site?

Your Product Descriptions are Provided by the Manufacturer

If you don’t write your own descriptions, then the major text on your important product detail pages is likely identical to tens or even hundreds of other sites that sell the same product. Google considers this duplicate content, and typically the only site that will benefit from this content is the original (most likely, the manufacturer themselves). Instead, spend time crafting unique and hand-written product descriptions that are designed to engage the customer. As Google continues to get better at understanding human language, they will continue to boost content written for humans instead of spiders.

Consider this query at Google for a popular pretend cookie toy set. I searched on the first few words of the description provided by the manufacturer, and here are the results:

Manufacturer's Description

Looks like there are about 33,599 sites not getting much use out of their description!

Your Products Descriptions are 5-20 Words Long

Really short product descriptions don’t even qualify as content – Google likely doesn’t even consider the page worth indexing. Plus, too-short descriptions don’t do much toward selling customers on your products, either. Make sure your descriptions are well-written, descriptive, and a minimum of 100 words in length. (300 is even better!)

Consider the description for a Corvette car cover from two different sites. Site 1 says:

(ND) PREMIUM 8 OZ. FLANNEL COVER (INDOOR/OUTDOOR) WATER REPELLENT YET BREATHABLE

Site 2′s description:

Perfect For Garage Kept Cars, Super Soft Flannel Lining, Machine Washable, Has Left Hand Mirror Pocket. Eckler’s Premium Tan Flannel car cover is ideal for Corvette show cars that spend most of their time in the garage. The super soft flannel lining is tailor made for delicate paint finishes. Plus Eckler’s 8-ounce polycotton out performs 100% cotton covers. All covers have scratch-proof grommets for optional lock. Includes storage bag.

Which one do you think Google prefers? Which one sells the product to its customers more effectively?

You Use the Same Description For More than One Product

Other than sheer laziness, there’s only one reason to do this – you only want one of those product pages to be ranked by Google. Even if the products are almost identical, rewrite the descriptions so that your wording is different for each one.

Your Category and Brand Pages Are Empty…Except for Product Links

Category and brand pages are great pages to get ranked in the search engines because they convert well. But Google has never liked pages with a list of links and nothing else, and that’s even more true with the new algorithm changes. If your category pages do nothing except list the products in those categories, then they aren’t working hard enough for your site.

Like product descriptions, your category pages need thorough and descriptive header and/or footer text describing the type of products that can be found in that category. Like other pages on your site, it needs to be original and a minimum of 100 words, 300+ preferred.

Protect Your Content

copyright symbol

After you’ve spent valuable time writing the content I describe above, you need to protect it. The two main things to do are to prevent its being stolen (as much as possible) and to make sure Google finds it on your site first.

CopyScape has a great free tool for checking for copies of content on individual pages. For more automation, they have a paid service called CopySentry that will look for copies of your content either weekly or daily, depending on the package. If you find copies of your content that has been stolen for use on an unauthorized site, contact the following people:

  1. The site’s webmaster. If no webmaster is listed, try webmaster@thesite.com.
  2. The site’s hosting company. You can often find this information in the whois records for the domain. For a whois search, I like domaintools.com.
  3. Google

Contact them in that order. Sometimes the site owner isn’t aware of the plagiarism, if an employee or contractor copied the content, and they are more than willing to remove the copied content. If not, the host will often force them to remove it or take down their site. If neither of those work, Google will often take action. For more complete details, see DMCA Notice of Copyright Infringement – Sample Template on Digital Inspiration.

To try and make sure Google finds your content first, submit and regularly update an XML sitemap using Google Webmaster Tools. The sitemap will help Googlebot find and crawl new pages on your site.

Follow the Rules

Follow the SEO Rules

The last thing to do is to make sure you’re using white-hat techniques, not black-hat ones. (And especially not OLD and well-known black hat tricks!) Don’t buy links for SEO purposes. If you do buy them for traffic, make sure the site nofollows the link (adds a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the anchor tag). Don’t engage in reciprocal link exchanges or even 3-way linking; Google can easily spot these. For more do’s and don’t, head straight to the source: Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

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Comments

15 Comments

  • Asim says:

    Writing unique content is doable, but, protecting your unique content is just tough to manage :(

  • Arca says:

    Everybody’s making a fuss out of this changes made in algorithm. You scrutinized well the main concerns for social media marketer. Doing white hat methods might take time but sure its worthy.

  • This Panda algorithm has got my websites ranking in top rankings in google and other search engines. My site is unique content, and google gave importance to unique content.

  • It didn’t hurt all my sites, but the ones which were badly optimized.

  • georgelivingstone says:

    i don’t think its easy to avoid duplication because their are several writers in the world and do you think nobody among them have the same idea and typing the same words as you do? hahaha. i don’t mean literally but hey that’s possible, agree? and Asim’s right its hard to protect your content :(

  • Ok, I agree that executing white hat strategies only is a great way to avoid losing rankings. However, a lot of these e-commerce sites weren’t doing anything wrong, rather, they were penalized due to the fact that heir product descriptions matched others around the net. I don’t think that is deceptive.

  • Daniel Tan says:

    You are right about need to protect content — to contact webmaster one also can use email from whois lookup. Best site providing whois info is http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp

  • Jerrick says:

    I love the new panda lot
    It provide the hope that SEO is survive back . It provide new opportunities to new website and pull down those no quality website which on top the page rank.
    A website without a good quality of content should not stay on top of the PR which is not fair.
    That why i see the hope which you still able to overtake them once you work more hard in content.

    • Jerrick, thanks for the opinion. I definitely like how it got rid of a lot of junk sites. I don’t think Google got it 100% right, of course, but it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully the legit sites can weather the storm.

  • Heff says:

    We are a auto parts distributor with over a million part number. We are 1 retailer selling these parts and do not manufacture them. Many of the parts fit several vehicles but the description is the same. Example a water pump is a water pump and the description can not be written at 100 words and be unique for every year make and model car and truck made. This change has all but put us out of business. After 8 years of selling via the web one algorithmic change and we are out of business.

    • Heff,
      What if you were to change your site so that the water pump in question was only one product, and the user had to choose the year, make, and model in order to put the right product into the basket? I know that would be a lot of work with a million parts, but it should help with the fact that the descriptions can’t be unique. Another idea would be to have all these products linked on a page that has the description, and no-follow the links to the individual pages? Some ideas… lots of work but I’d hate to see you lose your business over a Google algo change.

  • A lot of people seem to get affected by the most recent Google algorithm change. Then again, if you have good quality content, I don’t think there’s really to worry about. When you have unique and valuable content, Google rewards you with a better page ranking. Consequently, this means that you can observe a significant increase in traffic. Ultimately, that means increase in sales and more money in your pocket.

    • The biggest concern I’ve been reading lately is websites that have some of both – and whether they need to block the poorly-written content. I’m curious what others think about that.

  • I’m wondering now how exactly Google judge quality? Quality is a very subjective matter, in my opinion. However, I really don’t think Google judges quality. Its just impossible to determine that. I believe they are wise enough to know not to tell consumers what to like and what not to like.

  • Meital Levi says:

    I’m working on improving my SEO these days, and I started by reading everything the web has to offer about this subject. I ran upon your post and got some great helpful tips from it. I’ll keep it mind, thanks so much!