What do Google's latest algorithm updates like Pigeon and Penguin 3.0 mean for your online store? Our SEO Manager explains what has changed and how your strategy should change.

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If you’ve been paying attention to Google lately, you’re probably fully aware of some major changes over the past few months. If you’ve been too busy, don’t worry I’ll get you caught up. It’s important to pay attention to the search giant, especially if you depend on organic search visibility and SEO to drive business. Here’s a breakdown of the important things your ecommerce business should know:

July 24, 2014 - Pigeon update

This ongoing local search update has been important to brick-and-mortar retailers who depend on local search queries and search results to drive increases in foot traffic to their stores. According to Google, this update looks to align ranking signals for local results that traditionally put more weight on certain local signals with the hundreds of ranking signals for general search results. What does this mean?

Well it should mean more authoritative domains in general are able to outrank local websites. Authoritative domains in this case include major local directories like www.yelp.com.

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But as many businesses have observed since July 24, this is not always the case. Some have seen rankings improve while others have seen them decline.

This is what I recommend.

  1. For online retailers with physical store locations, it could mean there’s more value in developing location-specific directories on a main domain rather than developing separate location-specific domains e.g. skateboradshop.com/san-francisco and skateboradshop.com/denver as opposed to skateboardshopsanfrancisco.com and skateboardshopdenver.com. However, say you already have established separate, authoritative location-based domains. I would not try to change your strategy unless you are seeing lost rankings, traffic and sales since July 24.
  2. This update could also mean that long term, more authoritative domains in general could out-rank local business results in situations where users are not using local qualifiers such as city, neighborhood or zip code i.e. Denver skateboard shop. Local retailers should ensure they are claiming their listings in important directory sites and make sure their listing information is accurate.
  3. Continue to write optimized content important to the local market and make sure you are enticing customers to write reviews for your business on sites like Yelp as improving your listings here could drive increases in targeted traffic to your site.

August 6, 2014 - HTTPS/SSL Update

Google announced they are starting to use HTTPS as a “lightweight” ranking signal. This is important for ecommerce businesses in particular as it’s already imperative to have a secure checkout process. Taking this a step further to ensure your entire website is encrypted could give you a slight edge, for now. If Google does in fact change this to a more important ranking signal, we will likely see most webmasters pushing to encrypt their sites and any sort of competitive advantage could disappear. Not to downplay the importance of having a secure website. I believe a more secure web in general is important. However, the fact is most of your customers will probably not see the value outside of the shopping cart checkout process. If you do want to move your site to HTTPS, please consider Google’s recommendations to ensure your traffic does not suffer.

October 17, 2014 - Penguin 3.0

Google announced a Penguin algorithm “refresh”. So this was not a new algorithm, but likely a data update to their previous Penguin 2.1, which occurred over a year ago on October 4, 2013, and which I covered through our Google algorithm changes guide.

If you recall, Penguin impacts link spam and in particular any website intentionally manipulating their incoming links in order to rank for particular keywords. In this case, some online business owners have been reporting recovery from Penguin 2.1 and their efforts to clean their incoming link profile from manipulative practices – not to mention stop performing these actions all together.

Other business owners not previously impacted are now faced with lost rankings. To-date I’ve personally interacted with countless ecommerce business owners affected by Penguin updates. It’s critically important for site owners to be in compliance with Google’s link guidelines.

Understand that if you’ve been impacted with this round you are not only going to have to remove offending links and submit disavow requests, but you may also have to wait for a new Penguin update to see any lift in rankings for these keywords - that's assuming you can show increases in natural links passing “natural” link equity for these keywords. With this latest Penguin 3.0 update coming in over a year since the last update, this could be a very trying time for some.

We understand very well at Volusion the confusion and frustration that can develop from a Penguin update. Please reach out to our SEO services team if you’re seeking expert help.

Please share your questions and concerns below. I’m very happy to help!