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Evolution on Planet Google

Etailers must beware the search engine’s Panda and Penguin updates if they aren’t to lose out in SEO.

Google has a more than 90% share of the UK online search market, which equates to about two billion searches a month. It has effectively become the new high street for a broad range of products, including the latest fashions. So where do the Pandas and Penguins fit in?

Panda, which first reared its head in 2011, and Penguin, which waddled our way earlier this year, are just a couple of the updates that Google regularly launches with the express purpose of improving the quality of search results.

Panda and Penguin were, broadly speaking, all about penalising poor-quality content and attempts to spam (cheat) the search engine indexes. So what does this mean for fashion brands and retailers?

In short, businesses that focus solely on reacting to the latest algorithmic changes as their ‘Google strategy’ are missing the point. Those businesses that deliver relevant and recommendable content will have the best chance of ranking highly on Google regardless of the search engine’s updates.

Businesses need to focus on understanding what people want/need to know and earn recommendation on the basis that they provide this information, rather than tweaking pages and link-building policies that fall foul of Google rules. 

There are successful fashion retailers that have been, and in some cases still are, using online marketing techniques that represented good practice a few years ago but that now, at best, deliver very little value and at worst could be perceived as an attempt to simulate relevance.

Many businesses remain comfortable paying for coverage and links and continue to do this because it is relatively easy to achieve (although increasingly expensive). There are others that seem completely dependent on basic techniques such as directory submissions and the use of syndicated press releases.

Now more than ever it’s important to do things right – to earn the right to lead a market rather than pay your way to the top. For example, you shouldn’t be paying fashion bloggers to write nice things about you and link to your site. You should be listening to them and collaborating with them – hopefully securing positive coverage in the process. If they write about you because you’re worth writing about it’s much more likely to be trusted by other people than if it’s obviously an advertorial piece.

As Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts points out: “One piece of advice I give to search engine optimisation masters is, don’t chase after Google’s algorithm, chase after your best interpretation of what users want, because that’s what Google’s chasing after.”

Businesses using tactics that don’t help Google deliver against this will be in danger of seeing those tactics increasingly ignored or even, in certain cases, penalised. And to be ignored is to run the risk of turning invisible on that Google High Street.

  • Stefan Hull Insight director at search engine optimisation specialist Propellernet

What happens when you upset Google - JC Penney’s vanishing act

US department store chain JC Penney was effectively rendered invisible for quite some time in early 2011 when users searched for a broad range of keywords, after Google took what it called a “manual action” against its site.

The effect of this action on the business was that it went from occupying position one for ‘Samsonite carry on luggage’ at 7pm to position 71 two hours later.

The action was taken by Google because the site had a large number of what were suspected to be paid links. JC Penney was a particularly high-profile example but there’s no doubt it won’t be the last site to be hit by manual action or general updates.

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