google_panda

Today we welcome back Jordi Ordóñez, a PrestaShop Community member (jordiob) and owner of Barcelona-based website http://jordiob.com/. As an ecommerce consultant, he advises merchants on ecommerce practices, web development and search engine optimization. Today he shares his advice for SEO on ecommerce websites.

Jordi Ordóñez

After a long break from writing on PrestaShop’s blog, I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk about PrestaShop and SEO again. Today we’re going to focus on Google Panda penalizations and how to avoid them.

Google initially released the Panda algorithm in February 2011. The goal of this algorithm was to penalize and kill low quality sites (websites with copy-pasted, low quality content and thin content) and drop their search engine rankings.

How do I know if my site is affected by Panda?

I call Panda “the silent killer.” Unlike Google Penguin’s dramatic and instant traffic drop, Panda drops your organic traffic slowly. It’s why you need to closely monitor your organic traffic if you think it might be affecting you. Let’s take a look at a how Google’s Penguin and Panda penalties drop your web traffic:

Google panda vs Google penguin

As you can see, Penguin is an instant-killer, while Panda is a mid to long term traffic killer. You won’t notice a Panda penalty as quickly as a Penguin one, and by then it might be too late.

Because your traffic doesn’t dramatically drop from one day to another (only in extreme cases), you’ll need daily reports on organic traffic from Google Analytics (or another tool). From an ecommerce standpoint, Penguin force you to close your online business faster than Panda might. Also, recovering from a Penguin hit is more complicated than recovering from a Panda penalization.

So, how can you tell if your site is affected? Watch out for drops in organic traffic, even small ones. It may be hard to detect because your organic traffic will show a slow down over several weeks.

My good friend and SEO consultant MJ Cachon has introduced me to some great free tools that you can use too: Panguin, Website Penalty Indicator or SearchMetrics.

Another powerful free tool is Google Analytics alert function. Set daily alerts to know at what rate your organic traffic is dropping each day.

So, what’s wrong with my PrestaShop store?

Well, let’s see what baby Panda likes to eat (besides grass):

  • Thin content
  • Poor content
  • Duplicated content
  • Massive 404 errors
  • Low quality links
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Content for search engines, not people
  • Page speed

This is what’s at the core of Panda’s algorithm. But, in case you want to investigate in-depth how it works, Bill Slawski at SEO by the sea gives an explanation of the patents developed and acquired by Google make Panda what it is.

How can I rebound from the Panda Penalty?

Find out how to fix your problems by asking and answering the questions below. Be honest: your traffic depends on it.

Do I have poor or thin content on my site?

This is especially important on product and category pages as well as your blog (if you don’t have one, you should!). Keep in mind that search engines value content above all, so always create original, meaningful and useful content. Never copy-paste text provided by your distributor, wholesaler or manufacturer. Siteliner is great tool to help you visualize overall content quality on your ecommerce site; it displays the percentage of duplicated, common and original content on your site.

If you need to fix large amounts of poor content and you’re already selling, with little time to spare, consider hiring someone to do it. Never–let me be clear here–NEVER trust cheap services for your content curation. If you’ve been hit by Panda, hiring someone that DOES NOT write useful and original stuff can lead you to a worst hit.

Do I have massive 404 errors on my site?

Crawl your site using Screamingfrog or Xenu to check how many 404 errors you have and fix them. And, of course, use Google Webmaster Tools to keep track of the 404 errors and use Google guidelines to create useful 404 pages. Be careful when deleting or deactivating products and categories on your shop. Always redirect expired products (with 301 redirects) to the parent category or to a similar product. Do the same with category pages.

Do I have low-quality links pointing to my website?

Fixing this issue is more complicated, and finding a free tool to intensely evaluate backlink quality is difficult. I suggest using Majestic, Ahrefs or Moz’s Open Site Explorer to make a first assessment and determine if your links are good or bad. If you think you have a serious problem, take action using the best tools: Link Detox and the Disavow Tool in Google Webmaster Tools. Two quick tips:

  • If more than 5% of the links have the same exact keyword (let’s say: buy ebooks online) in the anchor text, you’ve been exposed! (Use Majestic’s free anchor text report to see if this is your case)
  • Avoid low-quality links like link farms and networks, footer links, blogrolls, link blocks, site-wide links, blog comments, forum comments, forum profile links and signatures, web directories and article directories.

Have I been keyword-stuffing my ecommerce website?

Well, that’s an easy one. Have you been over-optimizing your PrestaShop pages by filling them with repeated keywords? If the answer is “yes” or “well… maybe,” then you did.

Start rewriting your pages with proper content. Do not repeat the same keyword more than 3 times per page, especially if your content is short. Google knows what you’re doing, so no more funny business!

Have I been writing content for search engines, not people?

Another easy one. Have you been writing stuff for humans or robots? Again, if the answer is “yes” or “well… maybe,” then yes. Or do what I call the “mama test” – if your mama can’t understand what you’re writing about or what you’re selling, you’re better off rewriting that content. Remember, real people are buying your stuff, not Google.

And last but not least: Is my page speed slower than a love song?

If so, you need to improve it. Use the performance options under the preferences tab on your back office to speed up PrestaShop store. Next try reducing image sizes, moving your shop to a dedicated server, assessing your web server with the TTFB (Time to First Byte) metric, using Content Delivery Networks to reduce the average load time of images, CSS and JavaScript or even purchasing a caching module from PrestaShop’s Addons Store.

Bonus: Tips for PrestaShop websites

Yes, I’m a proud PrestaShop user, and have been for the last 4 years. So I have hands on knowledge of how PrestaShop works. Here are some additional tips that might help you avoid an instant SEO death:

  • Keep your robots.txt healthy. Avoid EVERY non useful parameter, especially the ones created by the layered navigation module.
  • Check your sitemap regularly and do not include non-useful pages such as cart, order, login, address, addresses, voucher, etc.
  • Be careful when importing CSV files. Include the product creation date, otherwise products can be created in 1.969, which generates errors on Google Webmaster Tools’ sitemap.
  • Be careful when creating CDN subdomains. Sometimes (when not created properly), they duplicate the content, so double and triple check it.
  • Always speed up your site once it’s live, use the Google Page Speed tool and GTMetrix.com to create useful reports about what can be improved.

Is your website recovering from a Google penalty? Share how you overcame them in the comments below. Just starting your recovery? Tell us which tip you’re going to try first.

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We've hand-picked a selection of contributors from our puffin community to share expert tips and advice on ecommerce-related topics. Learn more about the author at the end of each article.


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