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The Best Ways to Optimize Your Ecommerce Store for Google

Google made news when an executive disclosed plans to push over-optimized websites to the bottom of its prized rankings. As all await the expected changes, here’s practical advice for optimizing your business’s site so the Great Algorithm in the Sky doesn’t ding it. By Deborah L. Asbrand

Search is one of those topics that’s geeky but must-know for anyone managing an online store. Even if you have the best products, the best prices, and the best service, your customers still must find you. And you can’t do that without Google on your side.

So while The Wall Street Journal’s report that search leader Google will revamp its search engine to beef up its results pages with direct answers and facts was interesting, a stray comment by a Google honcho at a recent conference tantalized observers with its indication that the company is still serious about punishing “over-optimized” web sites by awarding them lower ranked search results.

What makes a site over-optimized? Let’s take a step back. Optimization is knowing the keywords you want your ecommerce company and products to be associated with, and then incorporating them into your website. Simple enough. But Google’s famed algorithm has, despite some high-profile exceptions, sometimes prized the number of mentions over the quality of the mentioning. The result is over-optimization, those websites that plaster keywords across their pages, context-free and with maddening frequency, in the hopes of scoring high in search results. They have all the right words arranged in the right way for search engines, even though no human would want to spend time on those sites. Turns out search algorithms don’t want to be there anymore either.

Google is being explicit: Over-optimization is out; legitimate content and context are in. Search experts have been debating what the details of that shift might be ever since Google’s search guru, Matt Cutts, disclosed the efforts in response to a question at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in March. According to Cutts, Google is focusing on increasing search relevance and sending over-optimizers to the bottom of the search-result list. (Listen to the audio clip on Search Engine Land.)

What does the prospective change mean for legit websites? Elements that could be considered over optimization are templatized content across multiple pages (not catalog templates, which are still fine), excessive repetition of the same keywords, excessive use of the bigger headline tags, and keyword anchor text stuffing, according to Search Engine Journal. Websites genuinely created to inform and sell transparently rather than game Google should go largely unaffected.

Here are a few tactics to follow to ensure your ecommerce website stays in step with any changes that Google puts into practice.

  • Remember your site images. Jackson points out that videos are often overlooked ways to notch additional mentions in search engine results pages. People want to see pictures of your products; so do search engines.
  • Become an SEO geek. Search engine optimization tools are surprisingly available (even directly from Google) and, with a little patience, easy to learn.  Mastering a few tactical methods (1, 2) can help drive more qualified traffic to your web site.
  • Good website design pleases the algorithm. A search engine is a stand-in for your customers. Anything you do to improve the experience for customers – clear organization, smart keywords deployed but not so frequently that pages look absurd and unreadable, taut code – will signal to Google’s spiders that your site is a formidable one. If a human would find your site over-optimized and, hence, not particularly useful, so will Google.

The upshot? With common sense a few nods to technology, your content is still king. Who’d have guessed that a tenet of old media would hold sway over digital search?

About the author

Deborah L. Asbrand is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Industry Standard, Forrester, MIT Technology Review, and many other publications.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FedEx.