Jon Humberstone: On the webinar you mentioned three interesting ways in which Google gauges a sites value. Can you recap these and perhaps offer more detail?
The first one you mentioned was duplicate content. The real issue for our customers with respect to duplicate content is that we are a multi site platform and many of our merchants have MoreStores. And they add a second or third store and may be too busy as merchants and business owners and may not want to initially take the time to change the product descriptions if they share products between stores for example or change the text on their category pages if they even have text on their category pages. So I wanted to recap the value of actually taking the time to do this in their MoreStores and give them some of the top strategies for varying the product content from one store to another as they are sharing products.
Michael Stricker: We have worked with a number of e-commerce retailers of all sizes including major National Franchises to niche oriented sites. One of the things we caution against is pushing a button to create an entirely new store for a site and it’s a virtual duplication of the first one, all the same products, all the same descriptions, maybe a different landing page or home page but often turns out that the principal differences have to do with some slight layout changes, color changes and maybe a different logo- which is an image that Google doesn’t really read in the first place. There is very little value that Google perceives to creating multiple versions of the same store or catalog. If we think of this from Google’s point of view we say ok “Hi, I’m Google, I’m crawling his site, wow, this looks just like that other site, has every other 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 again and again, especially back to their quality guidelines, continually harps on the need for useful, fresh content that is unique. And we can’t emphasize unique enough, to people who are stressed for time, pressing for revenue very hard and would like for nothing better than to create an entirely new site with not much investment or content. 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. But principally, you could take your demographics, and you could say “based on what I know about my customers, prospects and people who stumble on my site, what are their ages? Is there a wide spread of ages? For instance there was a Gentleman at the AspDotNetStorefront Conference who sold hats. Well selling a hat to a 20-something based on style is a very different proposition then selling it to a duffer who has been wherein the same jiff cap for 80 years. It’s a completely different mindset, requires a completely different set of images. Young guys might prefer a reference to pop culture icons and images of them wearing these caps whereas the old guy wants to know his golfing buddies won’t make fun of him on the links for wearing that hat.
Those are just some simplified ways of regarding your market. 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. When you think about your market, you can affect your content style. Rather than duplicating the same descriptions you may choose to address a younger audience with a more flip, hip approach or you may be dealing with conservative people and you may want to be very button down and give lots of detail. You have to think about how audiences will be receptive to different styles and that gives you a springboard for just what you should be writing so you’re not just writing into a vacuum, you know who you’re writing to. There other way of bring additional content online for different presentations. For instance you might find a younger audience is fully prepared to watch videos, listen to sound files, partake in additional rich media maybe more so than a more conservative, older or senior audience. You may also find that access method, for instance you might have different content aimed at a mobile presentation. Mobile marketing is growing leaps and bounds. To prepare for that you should be thinking about your mobile presentation but you should also be thinking about how the content would vary, how you may have to streamline the content, because there is not going to be a lot of reading taking place and that the content that you deliver through the mobile method can actually suit certain audiences, for instance Pew Internet Trust did a study showing African Americans, 55%, preferred access to broadband internet via their Smartphone’s. That’s great to know if you have a way of dividing your audience by race or ethnicity, you can work that content to suit that audience and their best way of accepting your information.
Jon: Well it sounds really like the reasons we are doing this from an SEO perspective are similar to the reasons we’re doing this from a marketing perspective. If you’re really doing what you need to be doing to reach your particular target audience, your content isn’t necessarily going to be different.
Michael: Certainly, it’s an alignment. We look for this all the time, 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? Obviously some of the details, regardless of the age and ethnicity are going to be the same about that product. Same color, same size, same material, fabric, whatever.
Michael: Rather than taking a feed from a manufacturer or distributor and using the same exact language from another site, we would want to come up with a more robust, descriptive style, based on some the things that we did for instance for Red Cats for Aeropostale, looked at their catalogs online and we discovered for instance, category pages, the ways of breaking down their products into different sections, usually had a landing page at the head of that catalog category and that page is one of the first places we would looked to enrich. It’s also a great place to canonicalize and this becomes important as part of a page retirement scheme as well. If you change products frequently then you can canonicalize and you can retain the value that your site has built up over time, drive that back to a category page and try stock pile for the future. If you have the same products on the site as everybody else, you should think about some way, of how you can fit into your budget and your time, some way to enrich your page in way that can be perceived by users and would help you gain the conversions there as well as thinking about how this will look to the crawler. 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?
Jon: Yes, that’s a great idea, especially for the time pressed merchant.
Michael: As they all are.
Michael: Some of the measures of usefulness are largely content based in link parlance; you would be looking for relevance as a demonstration that where you arrived following a particular link to be meaningful. Turns out be meaningful is not mean being useful and this becoming clear in light of these recent Google updates, we’ve seen as many as 80,000 or more blogs for instance being absolutely removed from Google’s index for lack of usefulness and lack of quality content. These blogs turns out were great sources of authority, or page rank, which were being delivered by links on those blogs to a lot of e-commerce sites. A lot of e-commerce sites may be suffering now as part of this domino effect. But what was Google getting at here? What did they do in their update? 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, which is funny because I think a lot of SEO and a lot of e-commerce people are used to thinking of Google as a bot. It’s a search bot it comes, it crawls my site algorithmically, it calculates some numbers, it ranks me and this all happens in some giant machine somewhere. The point of fact, Google employees, 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 their 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 are hats, here’s are colors, let 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. That doesn’t really say what exactly what usefulness is but it gets at how Google finds out whether your site is useful or not.
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 the other priority?” “I have an ecommerce site that’s product driven, that while I try to have content there, it’s not a content based site. How much time and energy should I put into this? 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: Right off the top, we know that Google latest updates are looking at the quality of inbound links; it’s a link profiling issue. If you have links from poor domains or paid links, you could suffer but if you have a high quality domain with sufficient content on it you’re less vulnerable. How do we figure this? 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 all you need to be is everything in the sears catalog from page 4o and back, that’s not a good model. Again you’ll have the same content as everybody else, and after Google reads that content on 40 other sites, it’s just not impressed.
We often talk about content on the home page, we often see slideshows and sometimes flash presentations, not very useful for Google, no real information there; we need live text that can be crawled. 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 but 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 when it comes to content at the product level, we are going to go to a product page and 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 because you’ll provide context and you’ll also have the ability then to interlink this page to others on your site which again 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: Freshness is a formula, prorogated 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, so that 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 the. The factor was freshness. So they came up with a term that SEO‘s have adopted, the term quality deserves freshness or of query deserves freshness. These became a factor that Google started applying for instance for news, for pricing, new products, fashion oriented products, automobiles, shoes, clothing, we would also say its applied to events, for instance sports where we have to know the most recent score and that’s what gives a you a better quality result. 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. There’s different methods of bring freshness. Does a blog enter into this? You have to scope the amount of effort. Once you get up to the weekly blog post level you will be able to site actual conversion sites on your blog. If you blog daily, you’re going to get to the point where 92% of those merchants see conversion rights. Can you as a merchant blog daily? Weekly? Which gives you a better chance of you converting? The point is this; don’t start the blog unless you can make a serious commitment to doing persistent levels of posting some good quality information.
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: 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 I can think of is to think in 30 or 60 day cycles and revisiting 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. Say you have your line of hats and you know the new line is coming out in December, its only April, but there’s nothing keeping you from saying “hey come back in December to get a look at our new line the manufacturer says there coming out with some great stuff. Another way to deal with this is to build some feeds into your pages. If you were to pull in some events related to the industry for example, such as fashion events so now you have introduced a feed, the crawler will come and find the changed content and it will give you this freshness mark. There are other ways of getting feed in there and we also mentioned before the value of user generated content if you can pull in through reviews. There are tools available to do this. 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: A good fit for WebiMax has less to do with scale then the kinds of challenges you face. If you find that you are frequently 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, you may be thinking about some practices you enacted in the past; for example the 100,000 back links you created last year may actually now count against you rather than for you. 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. Organic rank is important; we have to focus on other traffic methods and we have to leverage everything you have. Whether its email program other methods of outbound or inbound marketing, and tying this together with events you attend, or print ads, or working with your partners, especially bring in social media into play. 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: 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. Transition points are in flux, there’s a lot at risk, you may not realize it and we can assist with that. 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. We get contacts all the time here from merchants that appreciate the in-depth, up-front analysis that goes into the initial contact and follow-up before we even arrive at a proposal we want to make sure we understand thoroughly before we go and wildly throw formulaic proposals at people. That’s crazy, especially in light of what’s happening today. 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: I feel like hallelujah Jon! Thank you for your time.
Jon: I’ll make sure that gets into the transcript. Thank you.