Search Engine Optimization and Marketing for E-commerce

setting up

by Andrew Kagan 30. May 2016 12:32

The migration is happening...


Google's new Hummingbird algorithm...shall we dance?

by Andrew Kagan 27. September 2013 05:04

Forget about Penguin, Panda, Caffeine and all other tweaks to the 200+ ranking factors Google used in it's search results algorithms...they are all dead. Google announced that it had quietly rolled out Hummingbird, a complete redesign of its core ranking algorithm, affirming what SEOs had already seen...shifts in search results across many categories.

Google typically has not revealed much about Hummingbird, except to say it was more adept at teasing out the meaning of entire sentences in search queries, instead of just splitting them into keywords and weighting each word to provide search results. Much in the way Apple's Siri has attempted to interpret spoken commands, Hummingbird will attempt to contextualize keywords within a complete sentence, to better estimate intent. The result should be to find specific pages within a website instead of retargeting a website's home page in the results. The interim result is the infuriating shuffling of page rankings that is referred to as the "Google Dance."

While SEOs will be busy for the next couple of months measuring changes in SERPs and trying to interpret the weighting of various ranking factors, the core message is the same: focus on developing unique and relevant content, which will always be well-ranked no matter the algorithm.

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Google's next index update will have big impact on SEO

by Andrew Kagan 15. May 2013 08:14

Google's Matt Cutts revealed Monday (May 13) that the search engine is close to releasing it's first major revision to its webspam filter internally referred to as "Penguin" (to differentiate it from the previous "Panda" updates that primarily targeted content farms). "We're relatively close to deploying the next generation of Penguin" he said in a Webmaster Video, referring to it as "Penguin 2.0".

The new version which would target "black hat web spam" is said to be "more comprehensive" and "go a little bit deeper and have a little more impact" than the previous release. "Advertorials" are also a target of new "enforcement" of quality guidelines, which was a major target of Panda. 

Cutts mentioned that Google would also be trying to better filter "spammy" keywords (keywords traditionally targeted by spammers, such as "payday loans" and salacious terms targeted by pornography spam), and by preventing link juice from "flowing upstream" back to the websites seeking the traffic.

All of the updates above were referred to as being rolled out "in the next few months" (he also mentioned "Summer"), but some SEOs are already reporting changes in search rank as of today.

Cutts also mentioned development was underway of a "completely different system" that would analyze links with an eye to negating the benefit of linkspam.

Dialing Back Panda's Impact on Content Aggregators

One of the significant impacts of the Panda updates, which were rolled out about 18 months ago, was to severely cripple the ranking of content aggregators...websites that pulled content from other websites and tried to organize it topically. Many of these websites lost 90% or more of their traffic, in effect shutting them down. Cutts said Google was trying to separate legitimate aggregators from content farms, but acknowledged that those sitting on the "grey line" dividing the two camps was difficult.



Pinterest adds “Secret Boards” for private lists

by akagan 9. November 2012 07:43

In an effort to increase the usefulness of it’s link-sharing services, Pinterest announced it would allow users to add private message boards whose content remains hidden from other Pinterest users. Members would be able to create up to three “secret” boards per profile, for use as private birthday lists, gift ideas or other information that a user would not want to advertise in advance of their use.

Pinterest removes core functionality to increase engagement?

Pinterest_The move comes at the request of users, but works counter to the main purpose of the service, which encourages the open sharing of products and links within its community. These new “secret” boards may increase engagement with individual users, but would limit sharing between users, so the company is restricting use of private boards at first by limiting it to three boards per user, and minimizing the functionality by placing links to it at the bottom of a user’s profile.

Pinterest relies on user engagement and sharing of images and links through visual lists, organized by “pinning” them to “pinboards”, and has become a popular social media tool since it’s launch in 2010. With more than 10 million users, it is especially popular among women (80% of Pinterest users), the DIY crowd, young families and collectors.

Companies have already leapt to Pinterest to organize and promote marketing efforts, increasing buzz about products and creating call-to-action promotions. It is this activity that Pinterest will likely focus it’s own revenue generation efforts on when it runs out of investment capital. Private pinboards obstruct this functionality, but will probably have a positive impact on engagement, as users share their private pins after the event they’re planning for occurs.

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Social Media creates UPS customer-for-life

by akagan 1. November 2012 11:16

The use of social media to improve customer service and branding was highlighted in a story published Oct. 17 in the Huffington Post contributed by Andy Jankowski of Jankowski relates how on a bicyle ride through Indianapolis he almost was hit by a UPS truck that failed to stop at a stop sign.

Jankowski waited until after he had completed his ride and then tweeted about the near-accident:

@AndyJankowski: Near miss with @UPS driver while #cycling today. No worries - nobody's perfect - but did make me think about going @Fedex ;-)

upslogoTo his surprise, several minutes later UPS’s “Corporate Social Media Team” responded by Twitter asking Jankowski to contact their customer service email with information about the incident, and within 20 minutes got an email response and then a followup phone call, reassuring him that they were able to identify the driver and would inform the supervisor about the incident.

The power of real-time customer service

Jankowski was “blown away” by the customer service team’s professionalism and concern, and claims he is “now a UPS customer and brand advocate for life”. Two weeks later, UPS followed up by sending him a replica UPS truck and several toy trucks for his children.

While it seems that UPS’s customer service was the exception that proved the rule, it does reveal both the power of positive customer experiences, as well as the importance of using all available channels, including social media, when providing customer service.

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Cleaning up bad links with Google’s Disavow Tool

by akagan 30. October 2012 11:05

Google’s announcement and release of it’s new link-disavow tool October 16 is a welcome addition to your webmaster’s arsenal, allowing you to clean out inbound links (“backlinks”) from poorly ranked or negatively ranked websites. The disavow-links tool joins a similar tool released by Bing earlier in the year.

webmasterblogiconInbound links (links from other websites to pages on your website) are normally a good thing, helping Google and other search engines gauge how much interest there is in your webpages. Widespread abuse of this metric, however, primarily through the use of link-farms and paid-link schemes, has led to significant and frequent changes in Google’s ranking algorithms, creating churn in search engine results, especially for webpages with thousands of inbound links. The problem has been compounded by “grey hat” SEOs manipulating search results by deliberately pointing negatively weighted links at their competitors, also known as “link spam.”

Google already alerts webmasters (through it’s Webmaster Tools website) when there are questionable/negative or “unnatural” links pointing at their website, which would potentially (probably) negatively impact the webpage’s search rank. Until now, however, there wasn’t anything you could do to remove the links, assuming you weren’t responsible for them.

Google’s new disavow-link tool is an effort to address negative links, by allowing users of Webmaster Tools to upload a text file with a list of links to ignore. As most SEOs will realize, if Google is alerting you to “unnatural” links on your website, then you’re already likely being penalized for those links. The best defense is to aggressively monitor inbound links using Webmaster Tools, and actively keep track of and disavow links using the new tool. It should be noted that Google does not guarantee it will take disavow requests into consideration in all situations.

Google’s Spam Czar Matt Cutts posted a video explaining the process in detail. The text file has a simple format of one URL per line:

Fortunately, you can also list entire websites using the shorthand format:


Each time you add to this list, you must upload all the links again. Cutts cautions that extra care should be used with the disavow tool, to prevent inadvertently removing valuable links from their web page rankings.

Unsure about how or when to use this tool? Then don’t…Google has provided it as an advanced method of correcting problems with backlinks, and it is designed for SEO professionals.

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Google Ends Free Ride on Shopping Listings

by akagan 11. July 2012 07:33

Google is monetizing one of its last free commercial services later this year when it ends free listings on its new Google Commerce platform (formerly known as Google Base, and before that Froogle). The move will likely create a drastic decrease in the number of products listed, while at the same time ferreting out dubious resellers and fly-by-night scam artists that tried to leverage the free listing service, much in the same way Craigslist has been usurped by questionable businesses.

Starting September 1 or sooner, the new Google Shopping search engine will integrate product listings into search results using the same mechanism for text advertising, Google AdWords. Google claims that ad placement will be based on a combination of maximum cost-per-click as well as ad quality.

Google is offering incentives to existing and new merchants in the form of a 10% rebate on ad spend through the end of the year, and a $100 credit to use towards product listing ads.

Google has simplified the process somewhat by using your existing products in your data feed to base the ads upon, however you must still create ads on a product-by-product basis.

Linking AdWords to Merchant Center

To create product ads, you must link your Merchant Account product listings to an AdWords account, then create a new campaign and extend it to include the Merchant account. This allows you to bind ads to specific products and control how and when the ads appear. Google has instructions here, but we will follow up with more details as they become available.


Implementing Google Trusted Stores

by akagan 10. June 2012 12:45

trustedstoreGoogle announced this week it’s new “Trusted Stores” program, which validates online merchants and monitors their websites for shipping reliability and customer service, is up and running. It seems likely that for participating merchants, having the “Google Trusted Store” badge appear on their website will increase conversions. Google is provided “free purchase protection” for customers that purchase from trusted stores.

Opting into the Trusted Stores program is relatively simple, and made easier if you already publish a product feed through Google’s Merchant program (formerly known as “Froogle” and later on “Google Base”). From it’s merchant sign-up page, merchants are prompted to enter some basic business information, as well as links to their website and various customer-service and privacy-policy pages. Once configured, you can link the trusted stores account to a Google Merchant Center product feed, or upload a product feed in xml format. Linking to an existing merchant account reduces this process to a couple of clicks, and is only one of many reasons to set up a merchant account with Google.

After configuring the account, you need to add the provided javascript code to your website pages, and a second tracking script to your order confirmation page, similar to Google AdWords’ conversion code. Google requires this information so that it can respond to customer service inquiries as part of the “purchase protection” it provides consumers.

Hurry Up and Wait

Once configured, Google places your website in “monitoring mode” until it’s collected enough data to validate your store. During this time the tracking codes are active but the Trusted Store logo will not appear…and it could be some period of time depending on how many orders you process a month. Says Google:

Once you've finished integrating, we will test and validate the data passed via the JavaScript and feeds for a period of time (minimum 28 days and 1,000 orders) and inform you of any integration issues.

During this test period, your site will remain in “monitoring mode,” meaning that the Google Trusted Store badge will not be visible on your site; however, the program may display a module to customers who purchase from your site with an option to opt-in for a survey about their order experience with your store.

It appears that in this initial rollout of Trusted Stores, Google wants to be very careful about validating stores and not damaging their own reputation by backing fly-by-night or black-hat ventures that log thousands of quick sales then shut down. For many small online vendors, reaching these minimum order levels could take months, so Trusted Stores may not be beneficial for every online merchant.

trustedpopOnce clear of the monitoring period, the logo will appear with a mouseover that will pop up a merchant “quick view” ranking their Shipping and Customer Service using a letter rank from “A” to “F”, as well as the number of on-time orders, average shipping days to deliver, and number of customer-service issues resolved and in what timeframe.

On checkout, customers will be provided with the option to opt-in for Google’s “Purchase Protection”, which will share the store’s order information with Google, and allow the customer to communicate with Google about the specific order and have Google intercede with the merchant. Merchants can monitor and these issues and mark them as resolved through their Stores account, although they must work directly with the consumer to resolve the issue.

Google polls each customer opting in for Purchase Protection in the same way Amazon asks customers to rate sellers, with a short survey on delivery time, shipping costs and customer service issues. Customer survey responses are used for the ratings system.

Google provides some simple merchant guidelines for responding to customer service complaints, but it’s the merchant’s responsibility to manage the entire customer service process. Having policies in place to handle customer inquiries is an important step to reducing negative ratings and costs.

Search Partner Pro recommends joining Google’s Trusted Stores Merchant program, as it may provide a valuable tool in increasing conversions, and it’s implementation costs are minimal. One can expect that there will be an added benefit in Google’s shopping rankings for stores already publishing product feeds to Google. We have already set up several clients in the program, and hope to have real-world data soon.

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Fighting back against black-hat SEO techniques

by akagan 24. May 2012 17:03

Matt Cutts of Google acknowledges that Google can’t stop every black hat SEO technique to prevent your competitors from spamming Google’s search results, and in the course of your optimization you will often find bogus search results above your website for certain keywords.

Google relies on crowdsourcing to keep things honest, and spamming is no exception to this rule. Google relies on SEOs and website admins to identify search result spam and report it to Google using Webmaster Tools, and Cutts suggests using the Webmaster Forum to raise awareness of new black hat techniques and hacks.

Title Spam is still happening

A good example of crowdsourced reporting occurred last year with the Wordpress Title Hack. Unwitting Wordpress users allowed their .htaccess file to be edited, changing the title tag seen by Google’s bot, but not affecting the page itself. This led to title tags in search results being hijacked:


As seen from this screencap taken a year later, many site owners are unaware that they’ve been hacked. What’s interesting is that Google is not actively searching for title tag spam, or if they are, they haven’t been able to catch up to this particular hack.

“We’re happy to get spam reports” notes Cutts, and he mentioned that there is a “human” team of anti-spammers at the Googleplex that process spam reports.

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Google Analytics to add Real-Time Updating

by akagan 17. November 2011 14:09

Over the next few weeks, Google announced it will be rolling out real-time updating to Analytics users along with more sophisticated analysis tools. The new reporting and analytics tools will be rolled out to all users as “v5” of the popular free web analytics tool.

The new features had been in beta for the past several months and include a revised reporting interface as well as several new tools. Perhaps most important is the new “Real-Time” reporting, which claims to update analytics data within seconds of the page being viewed.

Traditionally, Analytics users had to wait up to several hours to see traffic on their websites reflected in the Analytics data…akin to having stock market delayed when trying to make investment decisions. This delay had been the greatest complaint amongst Analytics users, leading many to move “up” to more powerful, fee-based analytics tools with lower latency in their reporting. Real-time reporting should bring more users back to Google, which relies on Analytics data for much of its paid-advertising metrics.

Better conversion tracking

The new reporting tools include “Multi-Channel Funnels”, which Google claims will improve conversion tracking by displaying user site-activity up to 30 days prior to purchasing or conversion activity. Website owners will be able to better visualize which marketing channels are contributing to a conversion, whereas prior to this update they could only credit the last marketing interaction with the conversion.

Analytics also has new visualization tools to better capture visitors’ interactions with your website. The new “Flow Visualization” tool overlays multiple user paths simultaneously, providing better analysis of paths through the website ending or starting from the same point.

Mobile Mania with better device tracking

Google beefed up Mobile Reporting with more detailed information on mobile visitors, including which devices and mobile platforms they’re using. This information will be very valuable to website owners developing mobile versions of their websites, as well as planning and targeting advertising at specific mobile devices.

Users will be able to revert to the previous version of the Analytics interface for several months, allowing users time to migrate custom reports to the new interface.



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