Google recently made two important updates to its search algorithm, known 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:
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
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:
- The site’s webmaster. If no webmaster is listed, try firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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.
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
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.