The 25th February 2011 is a largely meaningless date for many people, however, it was on this day that Google made a major alteration to its search engine, known as Google Panda. The update left many e-commerce websites scratching their heads, after practically overnight they saw their rank on the Google enter free fall. The update, while well intentioned, led to many online stores being bundled in the same category as the link farms which the update sought to combat. The reason for this? The two types of site have something in common- they both have a lot of pages.
Link farms have long been an unfortunate side effect in the battle to make a website reach a desirable page one rank, and Google has long known they more or less exist for the sole reason of raising a site’s page rank through referring links. These sites are nearly always characterised by having a vast array of pages, with little variation or information on any entries. Unfortunately, with many products (often very similar), e-commerce stores have been caught up in along with these link farms and have consequently suffered. Thankfully, there are means to combat this, although you may have to make some drastic alterations…
Bundle together similar product options on a single page
It’s not uncommon for single item to have several variations, be it size, colour or something else. While this does give customers more choice, it does have the undesirable impact of creating a slew of web pages which, besides minor differences, are effectively identical (a common characteristic of link farms). This can be remedied by merging all of these variations onto a single page, which has drop down menu options for such variations. While you may have to delete many pages, users will enjoy a more streamlined experience, and it’s possibly the best way to combat Panda.
Create greater variation between pages
While it may be arduous, unless there is a suitable amount of variation between your product pages, Google will take your site as being nothing more then a link farm. Adding in details such as product information, reviews and pictures helps to distinguish one page from another in Google’s eyes. Furthermore, by taking this measure you’re helping your customers by providing them with more, making them more confident in making a purchase.
Remove unnecessary products/ duplicate pages
Over the course of years, e-commerce stores will likely add more and more products, while failing to remove products with either don’t sell or simply are indefinitely out of stock. If you’re finding that your e-commerce store has many useless product pages, then there simply is no reason to keep them- they only serve to ‘water down’ the rest of your site in Google’s eyes.
Place non-index commands on product pages
A alternative to deleting pages, non-index commands present the benefit of still having the page without making it inaccessible to users. Simply place a ‘noindex, follow’ tag on the relevant page.
One you have completed these steps, just request that Google crawl your site one more time, and with any luck, you should find you site in much better health and traffic.