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:
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 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.
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?
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