About Google Panda
As a search engine, Google aims to provide the best quality results in response to its users’ queries. Panda was an update to Google’s search results ranking algorithm.
When the algorithm changed (think of it as having a different “person” doing the ranking, with a different “personality” and different “preferences”), it was inevitable that some sites’ PageRank suffered collateral damage. (Check out the epic hit that HubPages took. Ouch!)
How do you avoid (or repair) that sort of damage? Let’s address the issues you might face, and what you can do to correct them.
1. DUPLICATE CONTENT: Panda hates it, so get rid of it.
Many retailers simply copy and paste data feeds from their suppliers or vendors into their database or CMS, and leave it at that.
Here’s the problem: If Google detects that large portions of your website are duplicated across the web, it will most likely think of your site as a “copycat” site rather than a source of good, original content. This will hurt your rankings.
Ultra high-profile websites might get away with this, but it’s a losing game for the mediuM and little fish.
2. “Let’s Rewrite Everything!” is a tad unrealistic. Use the 80/20 approach.
Ideally, you’d rewrite every single product name and description to make them all unique. That’s the “perfect solution”. It’s also highly impractical. You’d almost certainly have better things to do with your time.
Start by focusing on what you consider to be your best products. (You’re measuring that, aren’t you? Sales volume? Profit?) A fun rule of thumb – if you were only allowed to sell two or three products and you had to ditch everything else, what would you pick? Focus on those. Make those products shine.
3. Hire a professional if you have to.
There are many different copywriting services available even for those on a tight budget, including ODesk, TextBroker, MadContent, ELance, and MTurk. (If you don’t have the budget to create unique content for your “best” products, you may have to get a little existential: Is there something wrong with your business model?)
4. In the meantime, cover up with noindex/follow meta tags.
Even if you can afford to have all your content rewritten, it’s going to take some time. What do you do between now and then?
If something isn’t being rewritten, “hide” it using the noindex/follow meta tags. (Google approves of this, which isn’t the case for unethical practices like cloaking.)
By doing this, you avoid accumulating “negative points” in Google’s eyes – which is ultimately better for your overall SEO. A few highly ranked pages will get you far more mileage than many poorly ranked ones.
5. Make your pages unique by adding customer reviews.
The best reviews are usually those submitted by actual customers. A good time to ask for it is a few days after you know the product has been delivered. Otherwise, simply reach out to your customers through email or social media, whichever they’re most receptive to.
How do you get a good response rate? Use incentives! (Free shipping, discount on future orders, a chance to win a gift certificate… be creative. You know your target audience best.) This small outlay will be outweighed by the additional legitimacy it adds to your business. If you have a large email database of existing customers, fans on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, you can use these methods to get customer reviews as well.
It’s worth taking the trouble to use Schema.org review markup in your formatting, so that search engines give you rich snippet listings.
6. Add reviews directly to product pages, NOT on separate pages.
If you use separate pages for your reviews, you won’t for “<product name>”- instead, you’ll rank for “<product name> reviews”.
If you only have a few reviews, put them on your product page.
If you have lots of reviews, you can have your cake and eat it too. Display the 5 -10 most recent or most helpful reviews on the product page, and create a separate page with all of the archived reviews. That way, you’ll rank for both the product name and the review searches.
Each situation is different, so you’ll have to decide which works best for you depending on how many reviews you have.
7. Kill disused and discontinued pages.
Some retailers grow rather attached to their discontinued products, and “bury” them deep on the website. Some might even think that it benefits them – a larger site with more pages can seem “more impressive”.
Here’s the problem: Each website has a finite number of links, and those links each pass along a little strength to the website they link to. If you take a finite amount of link equity or “link juice” and divide it up among an “infinite” number of pages, you’ll end up with a bunch of pages that aren’t “strong” enough to rank for anything.
So when you have products that you don’t carry anymore and aren’t coming back, remove them. In the meantime, you could set up a 301 redirect to a similar product or category. In the long run, cull them completely. Keep your site elegant, not bloated.
- Kill The Clones. You want your product titles and descriptions to be unique. If they’re duplicated, start rewriting them, with your best products receiving top priority.
- Use noindex/follow meta tags to avoid being unnecessarily punished by search engines while you’re cleaning house.
- Use customer & expert reviews to make your product pages unique. If you’re overwhelmed with reviews (a happy problem), keep the best on the product page and archive the rest on a separate “reviews” page.
- Remove discontinued or under-sold products. They dilute the value of your site, and consequently, your SEO. Both customers and search engines prefer lean, elegant sites.
Image credit: Photospin