Have Recent Google Algorithm Updates Hurt Your Ecommerce Website Traffic?

March of the Penguins May be Slowing Traffic

When Google Product Search morphed into Google Shopping and did away with free shopping search results, ecommerce merchants were forced to focus their attention on Product Listing Ads and CPC AdWords campaigns. With the constant changes happening in Google’s comparison shopping engine, it was (and still is) easy to overlook the adverse effects of the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates on an ecommerce website’s organic positioning.

Granted, the Panda update in the spring of 2012 did get some attention from online stores that saw their rankings drop dramatically. This was in large part because of duplicate page content penalties, which is common in ecommerce because of small variations in product pages or the use of manufacturer product descriptions. Creating unique content on every page can help address this issue.

What has become clear to us as we analyze website traffic and rankings for various ecommerce websites is that the Penguin updates have also impacted the flow of traffic to ecommerce websites via organic search. At the time of the Penguin release in April 2012, Google explained that Penguin was designed to help address web spam and target sites that were utilizing link building schemes.

Since then we have seen firsthand how the linking structure of ecommerce websites may unintentionally cause problems related to the Penguin algorithm. For example, links in navigation bars and footers to websites with unrelated content are getting dinged because Google bots are reading these links as irrelevant. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands of pages on an ecommerce website, and your website can lose domain authority and page authority. The upshot is a ranking drop in organic search, which can lead to reduced transactions and lost revenue.

This is where SEO for ecommerce can be a real game changer. A strong ecommerce SEO program impacts all of your ecommerce marketing efforts. This includes organic search listings, comparison shopping engines, social sites and remarketing—essentially any path that leads directly to a company’s website.

With the recent announcement of another major Penguin update by Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, now is a better time than ever for ecommerce companies to take a closer look at how past algorithms have affected them and consider new ways to enhance their SEO efforts.

How to Tell If Your Organic Search Traffic Has Taken a Hit

Google Analytics provides a quick way to check on your organic search traffic. Log into your account and select Traffic Sources. From there, choose Sources, Search and then Organic. Check the boxes for Google, Bing and Yahoo and plot the rows. Take a look at the past 12 months (or longer). If your statistics are anything like those shown in the accompanying image, which reveal an almost parallel trajectory between organic search results and those coming from Google, there’s a good chance you are seeing impacts of Google algorithm updates.

A graph showing the effects of Google's Penguin and Panda Updates on organic traffic.

Next, go to your Google Webmaster Tools and select the Health section. A review of your Crawl Errors will give you information on errors that may prevent Google bots from accessing your website or specific URLs on your site. It will tell you the type of error and when the error was detected. You will also want to review your Crawl Stats and see what has been happening over the past 90 days. Essentially, anything that is a barrier to access to your website should be addressed.

Finally, check the Traffic section for information on the amount of organic search and paid search coming to your website. While the Crawl tools only look at the previous 90 days, here you look at a much broader time period. You might want to review the past 12 months to see if you notice any big changes in organic search. How many of the queries resulted in impressions and clicks? If your organic traffic has dropped dramatically, it is time to look at on page content, inbound links and internal link sculpting and make some changes. Also check out how your primary keywords are doing at pulling traffic to your website. Consider reviewing how your keywords appear on your pages and their relevance to the specific content of each page and think about your anchor text.

Time to Take Action

If you see a decline in organic search, there’s a good chance that you are experiencing the impacts of Google algorithm changes, which may have gone unnoticed in the shadow of the Google Shopping overhaul. Whether or not you want to draw a direct correlation, the fact is that losing organic search traffic will have an impact on all of your online marketing endeavors and your business.

Staying on top of the ever-changing flow of ecommerce is like riding the river rapids. It takes a lot more than just holding on tight and staying in the raft. You have to navigate the rough and rocky currents and keep a constant eye out for hidden rocks. If your business is taking a hit in organic search and you want to do more than just stay afloat, it would be well worth your time and money to seek professional assistance in developing tactics and strategies to enhance your SEO and regain some of that lost traffic. It takes time to rebuild what may have been lost, but the effort will be well worth it.

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