It’s time for another ecommerce marketing roundup, our curation of all the latest happenings in the industry. September saw a couple of Google algorithm rollouts, including a Penguin update and the new Possum algorithm aimed at improving local search. There were also some new and exciting features for brands on Instagram and Facebook.

Ready. Set. Go!

Google Penguin 4.0

Google’s Penguin algorithm was recently updated, and with that update came a couple of major changes.

First launched in 2012, Penguin aims to catch and penalize sites deemed spammy (think link buying and other shady link building practices aimed at boosting rankings). This is the fourth major release of the algorithm and one of the most notable changes is that Penguin is now real-time. In the past, sites affected by Penguin would remain penalized, even if they made improvements, until the next time the filter ran, which could take months. Now that Penguin has been integrated into Google’s core ranking algorithm, as Google re-crawls and indexes pages, which happens constantly, those pages will be assessed and changes will be visible much faster.

Another notable difference in this latest update is that Penguin has become more granular, or page-specific. Previously, Penguin was a site-wide penalty, but Google has said that “Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.” Now that Penguin is part of Google’s core ranking algorithm, Google will no longer confirm future updates.

Google Algorithm Update Penguin

Google “Possum” Algorithm

Google’s recent local search algorithm update – nicknamed “Possum” – has impacted brick-and-mortar businesses as Google continues to move toward merging local and organic ranking signals. Possum is now applying filters that will reward certain businesses which are not only physically closest to searchers, but are also optimizing their location data and content for search better than others. Additionally, Possum has made it less likely that similar businesses clustered together will dominate location-based searches unless the searcher is conducting the search in close proximity to the actual location of those businesses.

So what does this all mean?

It means that for brick-and-mortar businesses, proximity to the searcher’s location has become a more important ranking signal than ever before. It also means that competition with your neighbors is greater than ever.

Here are a couple of examples of how the Possum algorithm will affect the local search results:

  • Prior to Possum, an unbranded search for Italian restaurants in Portland might return the names of several Italian restaurants scattered around the city. Post-Possum, the search results will return a list of Italian restaurants based on the proximity of the searcher. So if the searcher is located near the city’s east side, they are more likely to be shown local listings for Italian restaurants closest to their current location.
  •  Prior to Possum, someone performs a search for an orthopedic surgeon. An area hospital that publishes location pages for dozens of orthopedic surgeons was likely to dominate the search results. Not necessarily because they have optimized their content better than their competitors, but because it is the largest hospital with strong domain authority. Post-Possum, someone performs the same search for an orthopedic surgeon. Instead of one local area hospital dominating the search results, Google will allocate more real estate to other nearby hospitals based on their location and positive ranking signals from having strongly optimized content and location data.

Showcase Customer Reviews in Local Search Results

You can now display customer reviews from up to three review sites in the local Knowledge Panel.

Google has rolled out this new feature which is available globally on desktop and mobile. By implementing review snippet markup and meeting the criteria, your site’s user-generated reviews and ratings will be eligible for inclusion in the local Knowledge Panel. Adding the Local Business markup will help Google match reviews to the right subject and can help grow the visibility of your site in the search results.

Local search results

Shop the Look on Google

Google is currently testing a new feature called ‘Shop the Look’ on mobile devices in the U.S. to help people discover brands and shop their products directly from curated images on Google.

How it Works:

Let’s say you have an important work event to attend in the near future and perform a search for some fashion and style inspiration. If you search “work party dresses”, you are likely to see an image of a popular fashion blogger wearing a stunning dress, amazing heels and some fabulous accessories to top it all off. With Shop the Look, you can shop those exact or visually similar products featured in the image by tapping through and exploring the relevant products displayed in the form of Shopping ads. Just like current Shopping ads, advertisers will be charged using the cost-per-click model. Impression and click data will be reported within existing Shopping campaigns.

Google's Shop The Look

This feature is currently being tested. For retailers interested in showing your products within the Shop the Look experience, you need to create a Shopping campaign (if you don’t already have one) and make sure you optimize your bids to show on mobile.

Instagram’s Comment Moderation Tool

Last month, rumors swirled that Instagram was working on a new user-defined keyword moderation tool that would allow users to identify keywords, phrases and even emojis to be excluded from the comments in an effort to curb harassment and improve the overall user experience. Well, this feature is now officially live for all users – no longer just brands.

Instagram’s comment moderation tool has been available for brands for a bit of time and enables business profiles to block comments with specific words or phrases often reported as offensive from appearing on posts. From the screenshot below, you can see that there are a couple of options for implementation: use Instagram’s automated keyword detection tool, enter your own keywords into the Custom Keywords section, or you can use a combination of both.

Instagram's Content Moderation Tool

And, according to Tech Crunch:

“The company is also rolling out another change that will show more personalized, relevant comments in the comments preview you see on posts in the feed or on a profile, instead of the two most recent comments. Similar to Facebook, this means you’ll start seeing your friends’ comments before others when browsing.”

Facebook Messenger Updates Aimed at Helping Retailers

Facebook recently announced two new ways for brands and businesses to engage with and sell to customers within its Messenger app.

Buy Now Button

Shoppers can now buy products and services without ever leaving Facebook Messenger with its new “buy now” button. Prior to this new feature being rolled out, if a shopper was ready to buy, they had to leave Messenger in order to complete the purchase on the businesses website. Now, all customers need to do is tap “buy now”. Buy Now Button

After tapping on Messenger’s buy button, customers are taken through a simple checkout process. The customer will be able to see the total cost of their purchase, and contact, shipping and payment information will be automatically pulled from their Messenger profile. After hitting “pay”, customers will see an order confirmation and have the option to view their receipt. Businesses receive payments from purchases via PayPal or a Stripe account.

Messenger is Now a News Feed Ad Destination

A new advertising feature is rolling out on Facebook over the next month or so and will allow advertisers to choose Messenger as an ad destination. It can be found under the ‘website clicks objective’ and can include a call-to-action like Shop Now or Learn More. Messenger Ad Destination

As Facebook stated, “All clicks on these News Feeds ads will directly open up a Messenger thread with a copy of the ad or configurable structured message.” They went on to say that “Similar to existing Facebook ads, developers and businesses will have the option to select their target audiences and delivery times.”

And there you have it folks! Feel free to add anything we may have missed in the comments below, or send over any questions you’ve got about this information. And tune in for next month’s industry update!