If you attended WebiMax’s recent webinar, you heard Michael share the essential strategies that help online retailers like yourself not only survive, but thrive – even as Google continually changes the playing field.
How do online retailers prepare for the impact of Google’s latest changes to SEO?
How can you be sure that your pages and your products will still be seen as Google’s vision for SERPs continually changes?
We felt like we all could benefit from hearing even more from Michael, so AspDotNetStorefront’s Jon Humberstone sat down with Michael to dive even deeper into three of Michael’s biggest areas of focus for SEO success: Freshness, Duplication, & Usefulness.
Here are some excerpts of what Michael had to say in his exclusive interview with AspDotNetStorefront. You can read the full interview transcript here.
Jon: “During the webinar you mentioned that Google gauges a site’s value, in part, based on uniqueness. We offer a Multi-Store e-commerce platform. Many of our merchants have MoreStores with at least some shared products or content. So, duplicate content is a real concern for our users. Can you tell us more about how to manage multiple sites without losing value in Google’s eyes?“
Michael: “There is very little value that Google perceives to creating multiple copies of the same store or catalog. If we think of this from Google’s point of view we say okay “Hi, I’m Google, I’m crawling his site, wow, this looks just like that other site, has [the] same product, why should I show this site in place of any other?” So am I really going to achieve a high rank for a site that’s a virtual duplicate of your own websites much less others? Probably not. We know that Google … continually harps on the need for useful, fresh content that is unique.
The issue becomes “how do I suit the additional site to a particular audience so that I can provide a framework that proves its usefulness to Google, that it’s actually friendly to a particular audience and show some marketing acumen”?
For those points we might look at targeting a different audience. You can target a lot of different ways and it depends on your product. When you know who you are talking to you’re going to find it easier to address their wants and needs. Your market is also going to affect your content, it’s going to affect the pitch or tone of your particular content, it’s going to change the way you try to sell to them because different audiences have different vulnerabilities if you will. It’s going to change your presentation and its going to change your price sometimes. So there are lots of reasons why you want to look at your markets, divide and conquer.
Jon: So, if we’re doing a good job of targeting a different audience, using a tailored message on each MoreStore, your content is going to automatically be more unique, and Google is going to see that site as more valuable, too.
Michael: Certainly. It’s … a balance or alignment between what you do for users and your own revenue stream and what you do for the Google bot. And the better you bring the two into alignment, the better your going to suit Google’s quality guidelines, the better your ranking is going to be and the less likely you’re going to be penalized.
Jon: What if the product itself is actually identical? Do I really need to have a separate product description? And if so, how different does the product description have to be? Some of the product details, like color, size, fabric type, etc., are not going to change regardless of my target demographic.
Michael: What we would be looking for on individual pages is, rather than the five bullets provided by the distributor, can you give even more details? It sounds a little nuts but anyone that deals with apparel knows that there’s a huge return rate on items. So is there any better way of describing the colors, or is there some way of talking about the stitches or the fit for this particular manufacturer tends to be larger or something that provides real useful information for the customer may actually save you some returns and provides crawl-able evidence for Google that your content is richer than somebody else’s.
We could look to a huge model for this with the Amazon who is the absolute zenith of leveraging user generated content by gaining people’s reviews, creating communities for reviewers and giving them their moment of fame, inviting their photographs, inviting their actual reviews of products and such and rebuttals, they have a whole system for word of mouth. They get free content from users, yes they have to moderate and make sure it is legitimate but what better way to get content on your page then to let an interested party write it for you?
Michael: Some of the measures of usefulness are largely content based. In link parlance, you [look] for relevance as a demonstration that where you arrived, following a particular link, [was] meaningful. Turns out, being meaningful does not mean being useful – and this becoming clear in light of these recent Google updates. Their update said that even though your site uses particular key words and uses them frequently and uses them in links, that doesn’t prove that you’re useful for people interested in that topic.
There are two discovery methods that Google is using presently to make this determination of usefulness. Looking for an entirely new range of keyword information that has more to do with related or associated keywords. We can look for accessories when it comes to fashion we can look for other designer names, look for references to particular fashion shows and dates. There are all kinds of information that Google starts to regard as part of the context for this particular keyword and if you don’t have that context than your content is probably thin, shallow and not useful.
There’s a second dimension to this that’s been brought by Google is the point of fact, that Google employs, now, hundreds or perhaps even thousands of human raters. These are people who are given keywords, a url and a set of questions to consider. They arrive at your site; look at your site, look at your key words and they’re asked, “would this be useful for people interested in this keyword”? These raters are trained a bit and they know how to crawl the site themselves, go through the site themselves, try the navigation, look at the information and they’ll find out for instance if your site has information, if you go back to the hat model, about how to size your head for a hat or has this been missed completely? What kinds of hats are appropriate for what season? Or is your content just really about “here’s our hats, here’s our colors, lets have at it, give us your credit card number.” As if it wasn’t enough that we were advising e-commerce sites to create additional content for users and the bot, now we have to think about raters who may not be real familiar with the topic but are still being asked to find out if your website is useful.
Jon: What I think our users would want to know is, “how much effort and thought should I put into this? How do I weight this among all my other priorities? How much content should I add around each of my products or should I add a content management systems and a blog? Is that absolutely necessary? Where do I draw the line?
Michael: We look at how important content is in Google’s own quality guidelines and as it turns out content is still king. So if you think of yourself as a catalog site and [think] all you need to be is everything in the sears catalog from page 4o and back, that’s not a good model.
I wouldn’t skip content on the home page. When we get to the category pages, you could have 300-400, or more, words of text about that category, about how you select the products to be in this catalog, why this is important to shoppers and customers, what’s different about you, customer service, how rapidly you ship things – and all those great things that make people want to do business with you.
You should have enough to say about the products themselves that makes it clear to users that your experts in this particular product and you only represent the best or the cheapest or whatever your niche happens to be.
We would go beyond this and say … in addition to the content you have from the manufacturer or distributors feed (it may only total about 100- 150 words if you’re lucky) bring it up. Because, by the time you have about 150-200 words of content on your product page, you now have a good springboard for including maybe several instances of keywords or keywords variances. You can get in these additional related or associated keywords Google is looking for. You’ll provide context and you’ll also have the ability then to interlink this page to others on your site, which brings emphasis to keywords and also gives users a way to follow their interests to a logical conclusion, which we hope is a transaction.
Jon: Let’s move onto the freshness, number three here, can you remind our readers, what is freshness exactly?
Michael Stricker: Freshness is a formula, promulgated by Google and other major search engines, found early on as Google scoped out results, crawled sites and pasted those listings in their search engine results pages. [An] article could be very, very relevant for a particular topic, but a few months later there’s more material that has been written and fresher material, more timely material, that really now needs to rank higher than the original article. So without regards for the original keyword relevance and the SEO value of an article, there had to be other factors in play. How current was the article? How fresh was the information? Google then would look at various categories of information that they rank on their algorithm and they decided, yes, there are certain categories that needed to have this factor applied to them. The factor was freshness.
So how this all comes back to merchants are that there has to be a certain level of freshness that Google is going to detect and this also affects the feeds that the merchants generates that might go into for instance Bing Merchant or Google Products. They have to have the latest prices, in some instances the latest products; they may have to have evidence that on their site itself, this is the new product for the season etc.
Jon: How much change is enough change is enough to count as fresh? If I update my price or my picture or my inventory level, is that doing anything for me in terms of freshness?
Michael Stricker: The only place that will have any kind of effect is in your feeds is your feeding out. On the site itself, the best advice .. is to think in 30 or 60 day cycles and revisit products and categories that generate the most traffic, have the highest conversion rates, have the most challenge or the ones that you could receive the most margin. Taking those as guides, you could visit a limited number of pages and start to re-write the content in such a way that you’re bringing new information. Sometimes new information hasn’t even occurred yet. These are great ways to get some changed content with as little effort as possible.
Jon: At what point should a merchant consider using an outside service such as WebiMax?
Michael Stricker: [This] has less to do with scale then the kinds of challenges you face and the frequency you find yourself scratching your head over methods to create additional traffic flow – or if you have been challenged by the Google updates such as the most recently applied updates. If you get the willies from some of this stuff you’re going to need an SEO and you’re going to need somebody with experience in e-commerce from development and design right through content, promotion, link building, content marketing and all those things that a good SEO and a full agency can bring to bear for you.
Let’s face it, staffing may still be an issue for you, you may find for instance that your developers or designers, who told you they could do SEO, may not be the best practitioners and may be relying on outdated methods. We have even seen people with very elaborate multi-site networks, satellite sites, feeder sites, affiliates – all of these things working for them and were at the top for 14-15 years. They came to WebiMax because they started sliding. Some of this had to do with Panda or subsequent updates but in a short time we were able to identify what their particular challenges were and in most cases work out a plan that can fit into a merchant’s budget and that can be applied in a measured way over time and still achieve what they want. We’ve got staff we can be your in house, SEO staff just a phone call or an email away.
Jon: We appreciate that you’ve given us some things in this interview that anyone can actually handle and sit down and do on their website but at the same time we realize that SEO is really quite complicated and you really do need an expert. So if you find yourself not finding the time or not feeling confident in what you’re doing and the impact it’s going to have or facing a huge overhaul like you say, it’s probably a good idea to look to some expert help.
Michael Stricker: You may be taking something for granted or not considering at all what happens for instance during a transition of your website or your database and in the end will cost you the SEO value that you have patiently built up over time.
It should be easy to talk to SEO’s, to determine that they’re ethical, that they can really do what they say they can do. If you have somebody who is willing to talk to you as an SEO who doesn’t beat you to death with jargon and takes the time o understand what it is that you’re trying to do then your that much closer to having a win-win situation.
Jon: Great, I think were good. You feel good?
Michael Stricker: I feel like, “hallelujah,” Jon! Thank you for your time.
Jon: Ha! ’ll make sure that gets into the transcript. Thank you.
WebiMax is a recognized leader in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and online marketing. Vast experience gains substantial online visibility for clients from the largest Enterprise E-Commerce retailers and Media giants to Localized SMBs and Start-ups. 10+ years of hands-on online marketing experience and a “no-nonsense” approach sets them apart from the competition. WebiMax values operational transparency in support of clients and employs best practices and methods with integrity to maintain our customers’ best possible profile.
WebiMax focuses effort on being a true strategic partner to clients to achieve optimal success from their online marketing. WebiMax manages effective campaigns for clients within SEO, PPC, SEM, Social Media and Reputation Management. WebiMax is also a leading web design agency and a licensed AspDotNetStorefront developer.
Michael Stricker has been part of the WebiMax Team since April, 2010. Michael’s clients may draw from his experience in some of Philadelphia’s largest agencies and studios working on accounts from Fortune 500 to SMB. The perspective of a former business owner makes him a valuable asset as a WebiMax Project Manager. Recipient of the Best of the Web, PDMA Benny Award and John Caples Creative Award, Michael is Certified Internet Web Professional and Net+. This combination of experience, creativity and technical training informs his incisive analytics, insightful consulting and successful campaigns of SEO, reputation management and social media.