Google Zebra a “Merchant” of Doom

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Google Zebra a “Merchant” of Doom

Editor’s update: The Google “Zebra” update is both rumor and an SEO inside-joke. As of today, there is no Google Zebra update. The myth arose after comments Matt Cutts made at a conference regarding merchant quality. It was dubbed “Zebra” because Google seemed to favor black and white animal names for their algorithm updates aka “Panda” and “Penguin” (the recent Hummingbird, not withstanding!). But jokes aside, the recommendations in this article by Michael Campolattano are valid (on a case by case basis). Sorry for any confusion.

Recently, a certain search engine’s algorithm updates have not been so nice to most of the web. These Agents of G.O.O.G.L.E (yes I’m a Marvel fan!) arrive quietly, then tear relentlessly through the fabric of our very SEO souls! And what makes these updates even more frightening (and creepy) is these kill shots come in the form of cute and cuddly animals. I mean who would be afraid of a cute little Penguin…awe…or that cuddly Panda? And when was last time crowds ran screaming “The Hummingbird is coming…run for your lives!”? Never!

Well, the animal pain train is on its way again and this time its newest addition comes directly from the plains of Africa – code named  “Zebra” or as I like to call it “Your eCommerce store is toast…losers”!  Really, G.O.O.G.L.E should stop patronizing us and start giving these updates appropriately scary names like Gargoyle or Dragon, Sabertooth or Piranha! How many people would try to game the system when G.O.O.G.L.E Piranha is on its way? The question is, who will G.O.O.G.L.E Zebra hoof stomp with their so-called “Merchant Quality Update”?

Who is Google Zebra? And What Does it Want?

Google Zebra

Essentially, agent Zebra is G.O.O.G.L.E’s latest algorithm update who’s mission is to clean up the eCommerce community and rid the world of low quality merchant scum! With online shopping growing exponentially each month, it was only a matter of time before G-Men developed plans to capitalize on our online shopping addictions. I know this is labeled a “Merchant Quality Update” but make no mistake, this is the beginning of Google picking off organic results like witnesses in a Gambino trial, hence protecting their paid media empire and forcing everyone to incorporate SEM into their strategies.

G.O.O.G.L.E is speeding towards a system of unintentional SERP results based on relevant, high quality sites that offer value to its given market, abolishing the very thought of keyword focused rankings. Most of us are huge supporters of this idea since 70% of the web is spammy garbage anyway. We are not, however, as oblivious as Daddy-G thinks. Now I understand that things change in any industry and given that ours is very young, I get that the SERPS are bound to be updated.  However, SEO’s have watched organic listings dwindle so much over the past 2 years that today organic real estate makes up only a whopping 13% of a SERP! So you can understand how a lot of us get an uneasy feeling by this benign “Merchant Quality Update”.

Valuable above the of the fold real estate still features the normal 3 paid ads, but now (not surprisingly), it is joined by a plethora of G.O.O.G.L.E paid shopping ads.

Here is a G.O.O.G.L.E search for “Android phones” in 2011

 

 

and here is a search done in 2013:

I am not trying to insinuate that this won’t make shopping easier, I’m just pointing out that it makes my moral compass spin like I’m flying over the Bermuda Triangle.  If I was an eCommerce site owner, I would be very nervous about all of this. Especially since a few of those right side G.O.O.G.L.E shopping ads happened to be “G.O.O.G.L.E Trusted Sites”. I suspect that very soon, eCommerce sites are going to have pay to play. What if you don’t feel like paying the big bad G-man his money and want to get some traffic and sales yourself? Well, that’s a great attitude and I’m gonna tell you what essential items you should packing in your “Merchant of Doom Preparedness Kit”!

 

Merchant of Doom Preparedness Kit Contents

 

Recognize & Utilize the Content You Have       
Besides filling your blog with topically relevant articles (which you need to do), focus on your products and their descriptions. If G.O.O.G.L.E is indexing each product page, make sure you have robust details on each product and give visitors the ability to share and write reviews of their own. Oh, and don’t forget to have at least one internal link in each product description heading to a top level navigation item. And be smart about your content. If you have thousands of URL’s, don’t have the same introductory paragraph on every product page. Mix it up a bit or you will face duplicate content penalties!
Make Design & Accessibility a Priority
If you own a website and haven’t heard about the Americans with Disabilities Act and recent ADA compliance laws that took effect in 2012 you should stop immediately and get up to speed on an issue that is costing brands millions of dollars as we speak. If you currently do not have a responsive website, please for the love of all things big and small start researching it today! Having a responsive site will ensure that your user experience will at least be tolerable on any device and will buy you time to plan and execute a new mobile build. Check out this awesome list of eCommerce sites to get some ideas.

Have a Comparison Engine           
Zebra will be looking for this so make sure you have it! It goes back to the usability thing, giving viewers the ability to do their shopping comparisons while still on your site will have a positive effect on your conversions and will increase the chances of good reviews.

Include Schema.org Markups for Your Products
This one very important to note. If you are unsure as to the nature and implementation of Schema then go and start researching it right away.

Add Google Authorship to Your Website & Claim Your Content
Authorship markup is the method to display authorship information in search results for the content you create. It is a way for G.O.O.G.LE to verify a real individual created the specific content and is claiming it. Although Authorship isn’t labeled as a ranking factor yet, it should be very important to “Author Rank” which is an aspect that Google appears to be implementing in their algorithm.

Add Product Videos
Companies such as Zappos.com have made video a priority in an effort to increase  conversions and in this 2012 article Laurie Williams, of Zappos.com talks about the company’s current and future plans to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to product videos. One item to note is to make sure you create a company YouTube page with all of your product videos. To ensure your get some G.O.O.G.L.E love, transcribe and close caption your videos.

Have a “Live Chat”
Adding an additional level of convenience for the user is never a bad thing. Live chat can add that personal touch to the shopping experience and have positive effects on your conversions and, of course, your bottom line.

Pay Attention to Page Speed & Load Times
Slow load times can cost retailers untold amounts of Benjamins.  A recent KissMetrics Study found that a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. If an eCommerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year! The same study found that 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less while 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Having faster load times should be an underlying priority with anything you do on your website.

Have Clear & Concise Company Policies
One sure thing that G.O.O.G.L.E Zebra will be eyeing for is your company policies, internally and towards consumers. Make sure you have an easy to find Privacy Policy, Terms & Conditions, Shipping & Return, and anything else you think is relevant to the consumer and or the law.

Become a “G.O.O.G.L.E Trusted Store”
This is a convenient little way to ensure some safety when Zebra comes stampeding through in a few months. If you become a “Trusted Store” you will probably survive the initial Zebra onslaught and get through aftermath relatively unscathed. Not to say that this is a get out jail free card or anything but it will sure help.

Pay Attention to Reviews! Yelp Does!
Here is my bold prediction regarding Zebra and reviews. I believe the number of reviews your store receives and the quality of those scores will be a huge factor when Zebra rolls out. G.O.O.G.L.E.’s recent purchase of Zagat after Yelp told them to get lost is a great look into their mindset. Some believe that “quality” of the review has 2 parts. One is the actual rating given by the reviewer, but also the reviewer’s authority and trustworthiness as deemed by G.O.O.G.L.E. Just like the Yelp filter system  I believe that if a reviewer is more active within the Google ecosystem their review will carry more weight, resulting in higher highs and lower lower lows for your store.

Are you an eCommerce store owner? How are you preparing for the Zebra update? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Michael Campolattano

Michael Campolattano

Director of Search Marketing at .Com Marketing
Michael Campolattano
Michael Campolattano

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