eCommerce Insiders

How to Protect an Ecommece Store from Google Updates

99.99% of the time you don’t even think about anything bad happening to your store.

It runs just fine. You get a steady stream of visitors and orders, what else do you need?

And sure, it’s hard work. You promote the store. You manage orders, ship goods, order more stock and do millions of other things. After all, none of this happens by itself. It’s part and parcel of the job.

But then, one morning you realize something’s awfully wrong. You log in to your Analytics only to see that your organic graph is …. flat.

Other traffic is all well, so it’s not a technical problem. Or it is highly unlikely that it is. There is only one thing that might have cause all organic traffic to dissapear – a Google penalty.

For the last 3 years the search engine has been tackling web spam with a fierce force and there are no signs of this stopping in any way. Unfortunately, in the process many good websites have been caught in a cross fire, resulting in huge losses of business for their owners.

Not everything is doom and gloom though. Many sites that didn’t stand a chance to rank high before, due to web spam occupying so many top positions, have now moved closer to the pos. 1 ranking.

With Google penalties and updates far from over, I think it’s important for every ecommerce store owner to realize what they are, what they target and how to protect a store from being hit.

There are two main Google algorithm updates that can affect your site:

Panda

The idea behind the Panda update was to target low quality content in search results and replace it with good quality results that will be useful to users. This update targeted primarily duplicate content (content someone copied from other website and tried to rank as theirs and so on).

Many ecommerce shops that didn’t bother creating their own product descriptions and used generic ones sent by manufacturers were hit by this penalty.

Penguin

Penguin was a more severe penalty, aimed at various low quality or illegal SEO techniques aimed at manipulating the search results. Naturally, the whole idea behind SEO is to try to make the site or page look authoritative enough to Google so that it displays it high in search rankings. The problem with this approach is that you can go a bit too far with this gaming Google, and that’s what the search engine’s spam team targeted with this penalty.

How to Establish If You Weren’t Hit Already

Even though my aim is to show you how to prevent being hit by those penalties, it’s important to know how to spot a penalty on your site. The first sign is obviously a drop in organic traffic. If you noticed anything like that in your Analytics, answer yourself those few questions:

1. Does your drop in site traffic and/or rankings coincide with a Google algorithm update?
If your drop happened a day or two after the announcement of an update, there is a big chance that you may have been hit. If you are unsure when those updates happen, check out this site – http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change. It will show you the exact dates of various updates. You can compare them then with your Analytics to see if they match.

2. Did you receive any warning message in Google Webmaster Tools?
Quite often Google will make an attempt to tell you whether your site got penalized and for what through the GWT system. Check the messages section to see if there’s anything.

3. Is your drop in traffic or rankings consistent?
Has the dropped happen for one day only or the traffic stayed low for longer? This is especially important if the drop does not coincide with any Google update.

4. Are there reasons for a penalty?
Now, this one requires an honest answer but given what I indicated about both penalties above, do you think there is a reason why you might have been hit?

How to Protect an Ecommece Store from Google Updates

Protecting from Panda Update

  • Unique product descriptions – Using the generic ones from a producer is a surefire way to get penalized. Therefore, make sure that you write your own custom product descritpions. It might be a daunting task if you stock a large number of products but it’s a must to do, there is really no other way.
  • Meta titles and descriptions – chances are that you had them set to be generated automatically from product descriptions (like many of your competitors) and as a result they were a duplicate content too. If possible, turn off the automation and create unique titles and descriptions.
  • Check site for duplicate content and fix everything that would even remotely resemble a content that can be found somewhere else.
  • Fix broken links, blank pages, 404 pages and any canonicalization issues
  • Add and entice your users to leave product reviews – they will add another layer of original and unique content to the site.
  • Ensure that your site loads fast – you can use pingdom tools to check what are the best things to fix there.
  • Focus on building a brand – you can use content marketing for that.
  • Ensure that whatever content you have on the site, it delivers value – if you have any pages that contain only a placeholder text or make no sense, dump them or update the content.
  • Lastly, create a good internal linking structure so that pages with higher authority pass some of it to those which have less.

Protecting from Penguin Update

  • Start off with an indepth link analysis to establish if there are any links that might cause you trouble. You can use Ahrefs, SERPs or Majestic SEO to analyze your link profile. You should look for links from questionnable, low quality and spam sites, web directories or links with a heavy anchor text.
  • Try to remove any bad links you found – although it might sound quite easy in theory, it might prove quite difficult. You should contact webmasters behind website that send low quality link to you and ask them to take it down.
  • Disavow any links you can’t take down – Google has offered a tool to help you to remove links which you can’t take down yourself. It’s called the Google Disavow Tool and it basically allows you to list all links you don’t want Google to associate with your website. The tool is quite difficult to use so make sure that you read instructions on how to disavow before using it.
  • Stop building new links – If links can get you penalized, stop building them (even if you build good ones now) and focus on building a brand.
  • Focus on traffic not links – I wrote a post about it here

Conclusion

Will the above be enough to protect your store from Google updates? Unfortunately I can’t tell. However, there is a solid chance that they might and given the recent onslaught of Google, it is better to do whatever you can before anything happens not when the damage is done.

 

Creative commons image by jon_a_ross

Pawel Grabowski

Pawel Grabowski is a copywriter and SEO expert helping SaaS and software companies utilize great copy to boost their growth. He’s also the founder of Smashing Rankings, a SaaS SEO agency.

Find out more about Pawel at smashingcopy.com and connect with him on Linkedin.

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