Google Panda Change & SEO Impact on Ecommerce Sites

Filed under: News,Search Engine Optimization — Tags: , , , — Brian

Since the Google Panda algorithm change there’s been a lot of discussion in the SEO world about the Panda impact, exactly how the algorithm change was structured, how sites like eHow managed to escape while other article sites (and thousands of non-content farm sites)  burned to the ground. Google has given us some additional insight that demonstrates how the Google Panda algorithm change can have significant impact on SEO of even small sites, especially ecommerce sites:

Our recent update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites, so the key thing for webmasters to do is make sure their sites are the highest quality possible. We looked at a variety of signals to detect low quality sites. Bear in mind that people searching on Google typically don’t want to see shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful. In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole. … Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.

The highlighted text is the really important part for us — if part of your site has what Google considers low quality content, the ranking of the rest of the site could suffer from the Panda impact.

Google Panda Impact on Ecommerce Sites

This insight on the algorithm change could have consequences for many smaller ecommerce sites — or even large ones that haven’t been putting in their SEO time. Unfortunately, far too many ecommerce sites run afoul of things that Google considers low-quality content, especially ecommerce sites with a very large number of products.

Here’s a list of the most common offenders, categorized into Google’s terminology:

  • Shallow Content: ecommerce sites that have many products with little or no product description — such as “Blue Widget 4 x 3 x 2″ — that right there is about the most extreme example of shallow content you could come up with, but even a descriptive sentence is not enough — that’s still shallow content. Ideally you want about 250 words of product description for each product. Failing that, shoot for 100 words at a minimum.
  • Duplicate Content: another common area of concern for the SEO of ecommerce sites is duplicate content. If Google sees content on page after page of your site that is almost identical, Google will pick just one of them to rank. In other words, if you have 10 Widgets on your ecommerce site in different sizes, but otherwise the description is the same, you now have duplicate internal content. This kind of duplicate content won’t hurt your ranking, but only one of those pages will rank. Your description for each product and category (including your meta description) should be substantially different for each product.
  • Copied Duplicate Content: similar to internal duplicate content, but the idea here is that your content is coming from another website entirely. This happens with ecommerce sites in which the site owner is a distributor and is just copying the product description from the manufacturer. This is now copied duplicate content, and what’s worse is there’s likely a bunch of other online stores copying the manufacturer description as well, increasing the odds that Google’s going to notice that it’s copied content. In this case the duplicate content could hurt the rankings of your entire site — even if only a small number of pages on your site are using that copied duplicate content!

Now certainly even if your ecommerce site has a few categories of products that fall into one of these categories, you also have plenty of excellent, high quality SEO’d and original content on your other pages. The concern with this latest info on the Google Panda algorithm change is that we now know that even if only a part of your ecommerce site has what Google considers low quality content, the authority and rankings of the rest of your site can suffer as a result.

In other words, if you have a few categories of products with one sentence descriptions, your entire site could rank lower as a result of the poor SEO. It wont necessarily rank lower, of course, depending on how much original content you have and the authority and quantity of your backlinks.

A site with a bazillion relevant and authoritative backlinks can do a lot of crummy SEO and still rank well. But a site that depends on their SEO to get rankings could easily be crushed by the combination of the Panda algorithm change and chunks of low quality content.

How to Protect Your Ecommerce Site

If you’re concerned about your ecommerce site’s ranking bring impacted by the Google Panda algorithm change, the solution is simple: make sure each page has significant original content (and by content, we mean text).

Make sure the content of each page is substantially different from that of other pages — there can be overlap, certainly, that’s inevitable with ecommerce sites that by nature sell variations of the same product — but do not just copy and paste descriptions changing only the size, or color, or price. At least half the content of each page should be entirely unique to that page. And while you’re at it, take the opportunity to target your keywords with that new content and employ good SEO practices.

Finally, realize that this algorithm change is likely a very good thing for ecommerce sites — at least for those sites that are paying attention to their SEO. After all, we know there’s a lot of ecommerce sites out there that are likely to be impacted by the shallow or duplicate content, and when they drop in the rankings, those of us with good SEO practices are going to rise!

Other Panda-Related Posts:

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10 Comments | Leave a comment

  • Thanks for this information. I do not own an e-commerce site. Does this still apply to me? Do you recommend any SEO books? SEO is something that I lack in my sites.

    Comment by Adam

  • Indeed all of this information will apply to any site — this post is just highlighting elements common to ecommerce sites that could get them in trouble. But any site with duplicate content is in danger of losing ranking.

    You can learn a lot about SEO just by reading up on it on the web (this site is a good place to start, with the SEO Basics articles). SEO books tend to be less helpful, because the search engines change so frequently that by the time a book is printed, much of the information is no longer applicable, or is just plain wrong.

    Comment by Brian

  • Your information about Google Panda, I like it. Thank you.

    Comment by Badaruddin

  • Thanks for sharing very good information about Google Panda algorithm change.after reading this article i can easily understand that low quality content can impact a site’s ranking as well as whole site ranking.

    Comment by Anuj kumar singh

  • I work for rather a large ecommerce website and one of our problems is that I am having hard time pushing them to change our content. Management along with resources are among many issues.

    It is easy to say “lets change product content” but that is not as easily done. Even Amazon does it. I think Google needs to rethink that. If a site has duplicated content that doesn’t mean that site is bad or it should rank well?

    Comment by Sefati

  • If a site (or page) has a significant percentage of its content duplicated from another site, odds are good that you’ll see a rankings hit from that.

    Amazon’s solution to this is to encourage user reviews — which are also indexed by Google — this creates a whole ton of unique content on that page. Even if the product description is duplicated, the majority of the page now has unique content, created by the users.

    Overall, however, I don’t think that most ecommerce sites can get away with stuff that Amazon, as a very reliable site with millions of links pointing to it, can get away with.

    Unique content isn’t just good for the search engines though — it’s also good for your end users. I’d try to explain the potential downsides of duplicate content to your management. And hey, if the potential to lose ranking and search engine traffic is worth the time/cost of generating unique content (something that really should be done anyway) then that’s their call. Best you can do then is try to make sure that new products that go up all have unique and SEO-friendly descriptions.

    Comment by Brian

  • Can you substantiate this for ecommerce sites by way of example? I’m asking that because for years people have said that duplicate content rules apply for ecommerce sites as if they are content sites and my experience tells me ecommerce sites are handled very differently by Google. And I have to say that the ecommerce site we operate have not seen an adverse affect so far.

    Thanks in anticipation.

    Comment by Neil

  • Duplicate content in the algorithm apply regardless of if the site is ecommerce or not; however, it’s the ecommerce sites that are more likely to run afoul of this, particularly when their product descriptions are copied & pasted from the manufacturer (the chances of Google noticing this increase with the more other sites that are also using those manufacturer descriptions).

    Are you referring to internal duplicate content, or content duplicated from other sites on the web? Each is handled differently.

    Comment by Brian

  • Yes I also think only e commerece website effected mostly by Google panda updates. Please try to avoid duplicate content and words spinning etc.

    Comment by Peru

  • E-commerce stores are going to have to use a lot of creative writing on their product pages to avoid duplicate content. I think one of the hardest parts is when it comes to the features of a product in multiple sizes, colors, etc. You have to convey the same features on each one, but use different wording.

    Comment by Thomas Bachmann

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