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e-Commerce SEO: How to avoid eBay’s $200 million Panda mistake

You think you’ve got e-Commerce SEO problems? Well, did you hear how Google’s Panda update is going to cost eBay about $200 million in revenue this year? While $200 million is, ahem, only about 1% of eBay’s annual revenues, it still represents–if you’ll pardon the technical term–a metric crap ton of money. I’ve worked with companies that handled billions of dollars in daily turnover and can honestly tell you that no one treats a couple hundred million like it’s pocket change.

Now, while you might feel a certain schadenfreude at eBay’s struggles, you might also have a nagging worry that you could suffer the same fate. The Panda penalty, that is, if not the $200 million hit.

Here are 8 ways to ensure it doesn’t happen to you.

While the following tips all assume you’ve got an e-commerce site, the basics apply to any site. After all, with the web now influencing more than half of all purchase decisions, every site is an “e-Commerce site,” really. So let’s dive right in:

  1. Focus on creating great content for your customers. eBay’s biggest sin in the eyes of Google’s Panda update was offering lots of extremely thin content pages, frequently with few product details. The lesson: Don’t do that. You can avoid this mistake easily. First, check out Chris Abraham’s great guide to Penguin and Panda for more ideas how to make your content work for your customers and for Google. Then see the next bunch of tips…
  2. Prioritize your most important product pages. You use web analytics, right? And you know which of your product pages are most popular, right? Well, it’s time to put that information to use. Using your analytics and your sales data, determine which product pages are most important to your business. Then begin beefing up the content on those pages. Add descriptions and details, images and alt text to help your customers — and your SEO results.
  3. Explore adding or increasing user-generated content. It’s no secret that ratings, reviews, and other forms of user-generated content help your customers determine whether your product is right for them. They also offer loads of keyword-rich, frequently updated content for Google to digest, indicating to the search engine your site’s importance and relevance.
  4. Handle “out of stock” product pages properly. No less an authority than Matt Cutts himself has said that you should adapt your approach based on the size of your site. Small e-commerce players can simply offer alternative products on the “out of stock” page, while larger sites should consider 404’s on products no longer for sale. If you’re really large, try adding the “unavailable_after” meta tag to time-sensitive products and offers to alert search engine crawlers about expired listings and keep in Google’s good graces.
  5. Make sure your site works well on mobile. According to RKG Digital’s latest quarterly digital marketing report (available here), mobile now accounts from more than one-third of all organic search traffic. Google has made it clear that effective mobile sites rank better than those that make their customers’ lives difficult. Review these best practices for mobile sites to ensure Google sees you as a quality option for increasingly mobile customers.
  6. Diversify your traffic sources. Hey, no one said you have to put all your eggs in Google’s basket, right? In fact, lots of evidence, eBay’s recent penalties included, underscores why you might not want to trust Google in the first place. Yes, you’ll need search. But look to email, social, and other channels to continue the dialogue with existing customers and assist new ones with finding you.
  7. Pay attention to your paid search. Ironically, eBay was planning a bigger investment in paid search before Panda mauled them. Their struggle to gain lost traffic has made that effort increasingly important. Paid search comprises a key part of marketing and can help you over the rough patches both while you beef up your SEO, social, and traffic diversification efforts and with your ongoing customer engagement. Ignore the channel at your own peril.
  8. Make sure your site doesn’t suck. OK, I’ll admit this last one is a bit of a catch-all. But it’s important you review the 5 warning signs that your website sucks and take steps to make it, um… un-suck. Also, you might want to pay attention to the 5 laws of effective e-Commerce sites while you’re at it. Each of these lists will not only help you attract attention to your site — both from Google and from others — they’ll help you turn that attention into revenues and repeat business, which, ultimately, is the point.

eBay learned the hard way what happens when Google decides you’re not the right answer to searchers’ questions. And while there are no guarantees the same couldn’t happen to you, you’re by no means powerless. Take the time to review the tips we’ve just covered and apply them to your site.

Whether you’re actively conducting e-Commerce activities on your site or simply helping customers understand your offerings more fully before they purchase through some other channel, getting hit with a massive search penalty can seriously affect your bottom line. It may not cost you $200 million. But, I promise you, the tips above represent advice you can take to the bank.

Do you want to learn more about how to improve sales, increase conversions, and reduce the costs from your search marketing? Then take a moment to check out our Biznology Jumpstart Workshop: On-site Search Marketing Training. Taught by three Biznology search marketing experts, you’ll learn how to make your search marketing work for your business. Interested in learning more? Check it out.

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Tim Peter

Tim Peter built his first website in 1995 and loves that he still gets to do that every day. Tim has spent almost two decades figuring out where customers are, how they interact with brands online, and delivering those customers to his clients’ front door. These efforts have generated billions of dollars in revenue and reduced costs. Tim works with client organizations to build effective teams focused on converting browsers to buyers and building their brand and business. He helps those companies discover how marketing, technology, and analytics tie together to drive business results. He doesn't get excited because of the toys or tech. He gets excited because of what it all means for the bottom line. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. He is a member of the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO), HSMAI, and the Digital Analytics Association. Tim Peter’s recent client work covers a wide range of digital marketing activities including developing digital and mobile marketing strategies, creating digital product roadmaps, assessing organizational capabilities, and conducting vendor evaluations for diverse clients including major hospitality companies, real estate brands, SaaS providers, and marketing agencies. Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm, and a major financial services firm, developing various award-winning products and services for his customers. Tim can be reached at tim@timpeter.com or by phone at 201-305-0055.

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