So, last Friday, Amit Singhal, (Googles head of Search) published a post to the Google webmaster central blog.
In this post titled – “More guidance on building High- Quality Sites” Amit laid out a few bullet points offering us some guidance on the recent Panda update and what Google is necessarily looking for in terms of offering its users a quality experience.
Now, not all of the 23 points that were referenced relate to Ecommerce, as you know, much of the Panda update was aimed at taking down content farms, and other low quality content sites.
However, as usual, we need to read between the lines here and take what we can from the Google team in times such as these.
Now looking at the list of bullet points that were given to us. The most obvious one we as ecommerce centric SEO’s should consider is
“Would you feel safe giving your credit card number to this site?”
The fact that google is looking at metrics on and or off your site to determine if the typical shopper would be confident shopping with you should definitely raise a few questions if you are an Ecommerce business owner. For one, what factors could they be looking at to determine trust?
My first thought immediately gravitated towards the look and feel of a site. In my own experience, I have been reluctant to trust sites that look outdated an in need of a redesign. However, there really is no way for Google to algorithmically judge the quality of a sites design from a freshness perspective.
- What may seen as a “good” design may be different to different people. Furthermore, it would be extremely hard for an algorithm to determine something as qualitative as “ a nice looking design.”
Site design freshness can be a poor metric at determining the trust of a site ( example: there are just as many newly designed sites hit by panda as poorly designed, and also a brand new website with a fresh design is less trusted algorithmically due to its age and inherent low PR)
Despite how hard it would be for the algorithm to determine the quality of a sites design, Google has admitted to running focus groups pre-panda to determine qualitative factors of sites. Perhaps one of these focus groups was centered on determining the usability qualities of a trusted site. By doing this they could in some ways reverse engineer the design quality portion of the algorithmic update bringing in the input that they learned from their focus groups. Therefore giving a boost to website that utilize better persuasion architecture and calls to action.
- Customer Reviews and User generated content is something to take into consideration. Back in November of 2010 Vitaly Borker’s website, Decormyeyes.com began emerging in the rankings for quite competitive keywords. His secret was his acquiring of links from customer review sites . However, the caveat was that all of these links coming in were from bad reviews and discussion boards complaining about the website owners bad practices. The owner even was brash enough to claim it was his business model to acquire these bad reviews because it was helping his rankings. Google vowed to fix that flaw in their algorithm. This update could be just that fix. Upon further inspection Décor My Eyes no longer ranks for competitive keywords and upon even further research of the 86 reviews Mr. Borkers website has garnered over the past several years, he has accumulated only a 1 star reseller rating. Coincidence, I think not.
- The social aspect has been something google has been looking to bring into the algorithm for sometime. Just look at their recent birth of the Google +1 button which is a clear carbon copy of the facebook like. By incorporating social aspects into the algorithm, google can more accurately determine how the masses feel about a certain website, page or product by looking into the amount of likes,tweets, or +1’s acquired. This can be appealing to google for several reasons, for one, social media profiles are typically real people. They usually aren’t pen names, or personas of people who may have a secondary M.O. Therefore the authenticity of a like on facebook can carry a lot of weight when determining if a site is trustworthy. On a side note we are looking into the use of brand names in social media posts not just likes as a factor in determining the popularity/trust of a site.
So in conclusion, there is no question that the algo was tweaked for panda to include site trustworthiness for Ecommerce sites. We do not know exactly what metrics are being factored in. However, a good strategy moving forward would be to start with these 3 areas:
- Do your best to satisfy each customer to the best of your ability. Remember someone who had a bad experience is much more likely to tell about their experience than someone who had a standard transaction experience. ( Most importantly bad reviews can hurt your site)
- Social Media – start getting your site more socially involved if you are not already doing so already. If Google has not yet they certainly will be looking at this more in the future
- Site usability – Consider your shoppers when laying your site out. Minimize clicks from category pages to products, help your shoppers find what they are looking for easier, consider making prominent calls to action and make sure that users are able to leave their feedback where possible. Not only is user generated content free, but it is unique and possibly can boost the amount of positive signals your site is sending to the search engines that your site is indeed trusted and of high quality.