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Google Panda 4.0 – What eCommerce Businesses Need To Know

James Challis

by James Challis on 6th June 2014

Colours-Shopping-BagsPanda 4.0 has arrived. The update follows on the same theme of punishing websites with very little content, duplication or auto generated content. But what does actually mean to a business running an eCommerce website relying on search engines to supply them with customers and ultimately money?

There are several detailed reviews of how this change has impacted larger websites, such as this one from CognitiveSEO, but the key is to understand how to avoid the impact and help a website capitalise on the changes.

Brief History

Panda was originally created in 2011 by Google to penalise websites that had low quality or thin content. These types of content had become a huge problem as they were being used by spammers that created barely readable articles purely to increase their rankings within the search engines. The update was very influential on English language organic search results although due to the initial scale there were initial problems where content that had been copied or scraped from other websites was able to rank above the original source.

Nowadays these updates are drip fed in the Algorithm so that the impact is less severe and is constantly ongoing. Panda 4.0 was release at the end of May 2014 and is a partial exception to this rule as there is growing evidence that this latest update has impacted a number of established websites.

The reason that these updates are important to everyone online is that they can essentially determine the difference between being found by new customers online or not. The update can even cause issues for businesses that have always stuck to Google’s guidelines. It is important to resolve the issues as soon as possible as traffic levels across a website can be brought down with only a small proportion of pages with poor quality or duplicate content.

Which Sites May Have Been Penalised

The sites that appear to have been really hurt by Panda are primarily press release websites, such as PRWeb and PRLog. This fits in with the overall aim of Google to rank sites that provide useful and unique content above other websites.

Another type of site that has reportedly lost rankings are automated and template based websites. This is where eCommerce should be particularly concerned because many online stores selling products that are available elsewhere often use product descriptions from the manufacturer or supplier, and this creates a huge amount of duplication.

One major site that fits this mould is eBay and it has been claimed that the site lost a huge amount of search visibility over the last few weeks. It is possible that the site also received a manual penalty, however the overall indications from Panda 4.0 suggest that the site would have been negatively hit regardless.

Which Sites Have Benefited

Where there are losers…

Search Rankings are no different, where there is bad news for the well-known brands that have lost search visibility, it has opened up the search playing field for smaller more specialised businesses. The websites that seem to have really benefited from the latest Panda update include websites that target a specific topic or niche. These specialist authority sites are becoming increasingly important with the continual evolution of search engines and should be seen as an opportunity to grow using expert industry knowledge.

Preparing For A Panda Attack In The Future

Unless you have access to a multimillion pound marketing budget to take on the global players of online shopping, it’s important to take the idea of “working smarter” to develop a digital marketing strategy.

  • Specialised Stores

Instead of trying to sell thousands of products from one website, it has become necessary to develop a digital outlet that can not only sell, but also educate users about a product. As well as increasing traffic from search engines, education also helps the user better understand the product being sold and has been shown to increase conversion rates.

  • Content Plans

A strong content plan can help turn generic product descriptions into unique and insightful information that users and search engines regard as valuable content and this can be achieved by creating semi-professional video demonstrations, personal insights and detailed reviews of the most profitable products on sale. Better content will also help drive brand mentions and content references from websites that are relevant to your industry.

  • Resolve Duplication

Fishes in group leadership concept

Try to avoid using the manufacturer’s product description. If your CMS automatically creates multiple pages for each product, make sure you use canonical tags to indicate the primary source and if possible add a no-index tag to the head of each of the additional pages.

  • User Engagement

Social media icons on smartphone

User engagement is now an important metric for gauging how useful the page has been to a user and is a quality indicator for search engines. You can encourage greater user engagement from visitors to a website by providing the opportunity for users to leave their own reviews and to share your unique content across social platforms using social buttons.


Image Credits:

Colours Shopping Bags via Bigstock

Social Media Icons via Bigstock

Fishes In Group Leadership Concept via Bigstock

James Challis

James Challis

James Challis has experience in Digital Marketing for the Construction, E-Retail and Event Industries backed up by a degree in Business and Marketing. James provides Digital Marketing expertise underpinned by traditional marketing principles.

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  • Jennifer 9th June 2014

    This must be so difficult for companies out there who sell brands that you can get in many different places, such as televisions. The specific information for one tv is no doubt going to be the same for every company selling that same tv so how could you get around that without duplication of information?

    Reply to this comment

    • James Challis

      James Challis 9th June 2014

      Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment. It’s a good point and important for any online store that sells branded goods.

      Many generic product descriptions include information that is necessary for the user to know such as image quality and dimensions. It’s not possible to completely eliminate duplication however if you are able to reduce the level of duplication compared to rival sites, you will be able to achieve a competitive advantage. These sites should at least start to look at adding customer reviews and giving their own unique reviews of top selling products.

      It is also the case that search engines are trying to encourage these types of websites to use Pay Per Click advertising with the addition of the Google shopping snippet in search results.

      Reply to this comment

      • cheryl 12th June 2014

        this article helped. thank you.

  • Rosie 9th June 2014

    Excellent blog and very interesting. We all have to keep on top of Panda.

    Reply to this comment

  • NIGCWORLD 11th June 2014

    I saw a site’s page contents copied from another website’s pages. But it links to the same site’s other pages. The page ranks high on Google results for its keyword. What’s behind it about duplicate content? Can you tell me?

    Reply to this comment

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