Managing an online retailer store can certainly have its ups and its downs. The most recent down in the world of eCommerce has come in the form of Penguin 2.0, a Google algorithm update in May, not the cute cuddly flightless animals indigenous to colder climates. Many eCommerce sites were impacted and likely to have also been impacted by prior Penguin updates as well as Panda refreshes. So how can you discover if you were hit and then how can you fix it?
How Did Panda & Penguin Effect eCommerce Sites?
Unique and thin content was the overall focus of the Panda algorithm updates and subsequent refreshes. eCommerce sites that have neglected to create product pages with unique product descriptions have almost always been limited in their success. This was even more so true post-Panda. Using manufacturers product descriptions, often used by other distributors, created huge duplicate content issues for eCommerce sites across the web. Taking the time to write unique descriptions, meaty enough to occupy a page no less, is a huge endeavor of time and expense. Low quality content on part of your site can affect the entire site as a whole. Unpopular products and low trafficked categories are usually the last on the to-do list to fix and improve. While it’s understandable many retailers neglected this task, it unfortunately could be to blame for their demise as well.
Canonical issues are ever prevalent on eCommerce sites. With product pages you can naturally end up with multiple versions displaying product IDs, different pages for sizes/color, different currency used and many other variations as described in Moz’s post “Which Page is Canonical?”. Some eCommerce sites that didn’t take the time to set up proper canonical tags were also victims of the dreaded Panda.
If you’ve ever tried to attract natural links to your eCommerce site you know how difficult this can be. Links to hundreds of category pages or thousands of internal product pages can be quite difficult to come by. In the most recent past, acquiring links has often involved some money exchanging hands, products being reviewed, paid sponsorships or implementing often overused tactics such as blog and article marketing to obtain your links to deep pages.
eCommerce sites seem to have been hit hard with Penguin, and as always hindsight is 20/20. All those exact match anchor text links pointing to internal pages with the slight chance of a natural link here or there created an over-saturated situation. Do-follow paid placement and sponsorship links were devalued. All those spun articles are now not valuable either. In the end you’re left with a site in need of some link TLC. Additionally, the usual structure of an eCommerce site with navigation links and footer links throughout the site across thousands of pages can set off warning bells with Penguin.
Identify Panda & Penguin Problems for eCommerce Sites
In order to truly identify whether or not you’ve been affected by Penguin or Panda you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions:
- Does a drop in site traffic and/or rankings coincide with a Google algorithm update?
- Was a warning received in Google Webmaster Tools?
- Has a drop in revenue from organic traffic been observed?
- Is the drop in traffic/revenue/rankings consistent?
- Is thin content an issue throughout the site?
The answers to each of these questions can help you determine 1) if you’ve been affected and 2) which update really hammered you. Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History page will give you specific dates to help answer the first question above, after you review your historical traffic and rankings data. Search Engine New’s video tutorial will assist in determining what warning you received if you answered yes to question number two. Asking the right people within your organization is likely required to review #3, or your website’s analytics program if set up properly.
Determining if your drops are consistent, #4, may require a bit of patience. Rankings and traffic fluctuate naturally and aren’t always because of a penalty by Google. Cyclicality in your industry, changes within the industry, analytics code not being updated on certain pages, etc… A number of causes can be associated with a drop, don’t automatically assume it’s because of Google. Sometimes the best thing to do is a wait a couple days and see if the problem fixes itself.
The last question to ask yourself is if you notice “thin” content on your site. Product pages that serve a very “utilitarian purpose” as described by Arnie Kuenn in his post from last year “6 Ways to Thicken Your Content”, are likely to have very few links to them, social signals and in general aren’t weighty enough for search engines. If you answer yes to having thin content, then you’ve just identified a possible Panda issue.
Recovery Best Practice Tips for eCommerce Sites
So now that you’ve identified possible Panda or Penguin issues, what should you do? The next steps aren’t easy and can be quite an uphill battle, not to mention no guarantee of immediate success. It’s best to identify the exact problem, prioritize it, plan to fix it and execute on your plans. With the myriad of issues that could be to blame it’s important to really spend time identifying the true cause, troubleshooting and researching. Some things we suggest you consider are listed below as best practices for eCommerce sites.
- Spend the time to create unique product descriptions, meta titles and meta descriptions. Get away from using boilerplates.
- Fix onsite duplicate content, dead/blank pages, 404 pages and canonicalization issues.
- Consider adding product reviews to your product pages as well as social buttons.
- Address page-load speed and identify the technical issues with load times.
- Think about developing your brand and maintaining your reputation online in all your marketing efforts.
- Ensure ALL your content provides value.
- Reduce excessive advertising in visible areas.
- Develop a good internal linking structure for your site that passes authority effectively, and can be good for users too
- Conduct a back link analysis and work on link pruning, and reclamation.
- Consider disavowing links that webmasters won’t take down and submitting a formal re-inclusion request to Google.
- Naturalize anchor text, avoid over-optimized anchor text including internal links.
- Start focusing on traffic not links.
- Don’t just receive links, link out too! Outbound links are an important part of Penguin 2.0.
- Diversify the types of links coming into your site, don’t “over-niche” your backlinks.
- Have a content strategy which works at leveraging content for links, attracts links and is evergreen.
Avoid Panda & Penguin in the Future
How might you avoid Panda & Penguin all together in the future? Simple: Develop valuable content and become an authority in your industry. This will require a long-term content strategy and your trust that slow but steady wins the race. No more overnight success from a few tactically placed links. No more quick fixes. Content strategy first then resource planning, consistently work on becoming a content focused company in ALL departments and then start testing and developing enticing content. That’s the recipe for success today Post-Panda and Penguin. Finally, follow a few of these tips for future success.
- Attract valuable links through the use of content marketing, reputation management, building a community and social media.
- Utilize rel=author, have a face for your brand that can become an advocate for your products and utilize authorship to occupy placements in search engines that occupy more real estate.
- Take proper accounting of your backlinks on a quarterly basis and cleanup as necessary.
- Stop dictating anchor text, allow natural anchors to drive traffic and authority to your site.
- Start linking out, stop being shy!
Have you been through Panda and Penguin and made it out the other side unscathed or are you still feeling the effects of a penalty? We have handled many Google penalty recoveries for our clients. Need our help? Contact us now.