In the past few weeks, the SEO world (and even NPR) has been buzzing about the Google Panda Update. Also known as the Google Farmer Update, Panda was an algorithmic change that impacted a huge number of sites. The main target? Content farms that were clogging search engine results with thin, low quality (i.e. crap) content. While the user experience seems to be much better, there was some collateral damage done.

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The NPR piece, Google’s Search Tweak Puts a Company At Risk, describes the challenge of an online furniture retailer being impacted by the Panda update. Many online businesses live and die by search engine results pages. If they capture a coveted spot on the first page, they have a much better chance of making a sale. Disappear into the first few pages and beyond and it’s really tough to achieve that average 1-2% conversion rate. Yes, 1-2% of all visitors actually make a purchase. This statistic alone should drive a site owner to want to target and attract qualified visitors who actually WANT to make a purchase. Those prospective customers have to be reached authentically and in a space that’s comfortable for them. They have to be persuaded and romanced by striking photos, unique copy, and a design that’s easy to navigate. They also have to like what you sell.

Picture this: you’re on Google looking for oh, I don’t know, let’s say…stainless steel cookware. You like to cook and have been meaning to get a new set, but you haven’t be able to find what you’re looking for in the local stores. After putting in “stainless steel cookware set” in the Google search box, you’ll get a results page that’s filled with people who want nothing more than to get your eyeballs on their page. They tease with catchy meta descriptions that invite you to click that link and find that cookware set you’ve been searching for. The hyperlinked result, the meta title, looks like something you’d be interested in. So you click and….you end up on a page that’s boring. With sucky, uninteresting copy. No product images. Really bland looking design. Spammy links all over the footer. Wow. Huge let down. Browser back button.

Just by taking a look at our own user experience, it’s easy to see why we Google made this change. It’s rewarding sites that take the time to be interesting and valuable to the user. Granted, the chief target of the Panda update was the eliminate content farm clog, but it seems that ecommerce sites are the most widely reported collateral damage. While no one knows the exact reasons why ecommerce sites may have been hit harder (hey, it’s Google, you know that algorithmic change stuff is double secret probation style), there are theories. In general, ecommerce sites tend to have a lot of duplicate or “thin” content issues based on the way they’re structured. Were all ecommerce stores effected? No. Were ecommerce stores with thin content and spammy SEO tactics affected? Darn tootin’. Dr. Pete of SEOmoz gave a really awesome rundown on some “thin” content problems that the Panda update brought attention to. Any ecommerce store owner should take a look at his blog post and start developing strategies on how they’ll make their site stand out from the pack.  The first place to start is with content. I feel very passionate about this. Good SEO-friendly copy is really hard to come by. It takes time, effort, and skill to develop and in a lot of cases, it can reap rewards in the form of increased conversions, longer time on site, more eyeballs, and better search ranking.

As quoted in the NPR article:

“The sites that do put a little bit more individual care and attention and work into the content of their site — whether it be a product description, or a blog post,” says Matt Cutts, Google’s lead engineer on the Panda update, “those are the ones that users tend to prefer a little bit more and appreciate.”

Good copy matters and it’s worth investing in. People like it. You like it. Site owners who surf the internet regularly like it, sometimes without knowing it. We’re all part of the user experience and we give our thumbs up through Facebook likes, click throughs, and scanning multiple pages. Wouldn’t it be worth it to keep us happy? Wouldn’t you want to make your site as useful and engaging as possible?  Just look at Woot! and their amazing copywriting. It paid off.

Yes, it may seem a daunting task to update thousands of unique products with content that actually matters. Sucky descriptions and copy & paste manufacturer’s text just won’t cut it anymore, and actually, I think that’s a good thing. It raises the standard for doing business online. I know it makes things difficult for the store owner and I know it’s a lot of time, effort, and energy expended into writing good copy, but think of it this way: if the Internet could be filled with stuff that was appealing, stuff that actually was valuable and interesting, wouldn’t that be an Internet that you’d want to be a part of?

This is part 1 of several (still working on the other components). Feedback is appreciated! Where would you like to see this series of posts go? What questions do you want answered?

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2 Responses

  1. Great article,
    You brought up a great point that Google actually pays attention to the quality of content and not just key words. It will be interesting to see if one day google is actually able to figure out some algorithms that can take into account the context and mood of an article based on phrasology, syntax, and the author’s previous works.

    I also think it’s funny that people keep making such a big deal about this when it’s basically cutting out a lot of bad content from the web. The people who actually do a good job are befitting.

    Creativity pays.

  2. Indeed! Actually, I think Google is already considering context. SEOmoz had a post about it awhile back. Search engines aren’t just looking at keywords specifically, they’re also considering variations and tangential topics that can relate back. :)

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