This past week there was big news from SXSW of great interest to etailers: First, Google’s latest Panda Update will roll out in just a few days. Second, Google is further tweaking its anti-spam algorithm to further prune the ranks of “unreliable” ecommerce sites.
Of course, Google has been working to create an algorithmic way of determining merchant quality for some time. Much of the impetus for its initial work came from a 2010 investigative report in the New York Times recounting -- in horrifying detail -- the success of a shady Brooklyn sunglass merchant that leveraged negative business reviews to gain additional traffic and business for his fly-by-night operation.
Google’s 2010 tweak provided a temporary fix that successfully countered the bad PR from the Times piece, but the company didn’t stop work on the problem. Today it’s clear that Google is proactively seeking to further prune marginal e-tailers from its SERPs. So it’s very important for etail sites -- especially small ones -- take steps to prove to Google that they aren’t fly-by-nights.
So what should you do if you have a small ecommerce site and want to prove to Google that you are a bona fide, “true” merchant? Google’s Search Quality Ratings Guidelines, Version 1,0 – a document published in November of 2012 to assist Google’s army of human “raters” in assessing website quality – has some revealing tips about the features that should be incorporated into e-commerce sites.
Here are the “signals” that Google looks for when attempting to judge whether a site is a “true merchant”:
1. An active Shopping Cart that updates when a user adds items to it, and a “view your shopping cart” link that persists across the site as shoppers browse it.
2. A Return Policy with an active physical address.
3. A functioning Shipping Charge Calculator.
4. A “Wish List” link or a link that let a user postpone a purchase until a later time.
5. A functioning Gift Registry.
6. A User Forum with active conversations.
7. A way for users to log in and/or register.
8. A way for users to track Federal Express orders.
Google notes that a site “does not need to have all of these features to be considered a true merchant,” acknowledging that “some true smaller merchants take users to another site to complete the transaction because they use a third party.” Obviously, the items cited above cannot in themselves prove to Google that your e-commerce site is a good one; after all, Google’s algorithms incorporate multiple factors, many or most of which are not published by Google.
But it’s equally clear that etailers who have items 1-8 on their sites will have a much easier time proving to Google that their sites are bona fide centers of commerce that shouldn’t be dismissed as “thin affiliate” sites offering no real value to shoppers or searchers.
Want to know more about what Google thinks of your site? I highly recommend you download, read and pass onto your Web visibility team Google’s Search Quality Ratings Guidelines Version 1.0.