How Small Businesses Can Survive the Latest Google Shopping Changes

by on February 28th, 2011
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The internet changed my industry forever as it has many industries. Originally getting to the top of a search engine was relatively simple, all you needed were key words and lots of pages. Then you started getting people who manipulated the system so search engines started to change their algorithms to stay one step ahead of the cheats. My retail site has always performed well in industry keyword searches, I’ve had competitors call me and ask me how I always come up in the #1 spot. I tell them that I do it through hard work.

Over time the hundreds of search engines dwindled down, there were too many search engines and not enough money going around to support them all. So you started to see search engines sub-contracting their search database to someone else, usually Google, MSN or Yahoo. Over time internet searchers realized that their search results were coming from one of the big 3 and only went to those 3 sites. Does anyone even remember Lycos or WebCrawler?

Each time Google has changed their search algorithms we’ve experienced a serious upset in our web site traffic, and sales. I can go back and show you on a graph exactly the month and year of each major Google change. This year Google hit us with a double-whammy. In March they rolled out their Panda update, designed to weed out low quality “content farms”, web sites created just for the purpose of selling ads. Then in April they made a major update to Google Shopping, and we nearly went out of business.

Google Shopping is Vital to my Online Store

Google shopping is a site which specifically showcases products for sale. But there were so many items coming up multiple times up that Google decided to reduce the excess by having like-items appear together in a “comparison shopping” view. They would do this by grouping items by their Universal Product Code (UPC), that bar code that is on everything we buy. Since no two items have the same UPC listing items by UPC will group all like-items together. I had no idea how dependant my web site traffic was on the Google Shopping search engine.

Google had been threatening to require items listed on Google Shopping to have UPC’s, but they dropped the hammer in April. Traffic to our site died as did our sales. So I set up my laptop next to my inventory and began to enter the UPC for all 7,000 items into our web site. One at a time. I had lots of free time since I didn’t have any orders to process. I worked for 16 hours a day for 3 weeks. I not only had to enter the UPC for each item but I had to make sure that each item had a Manufacturer Name.

Once we had updated our entire inventory database I spent every day evaluating the changes to see how we were performing. There were a lot of bugs in the Google Shopping system that they had to work out. I did start to notice that within about a month things leveled out a bit and several of my competitors actually disappeared from searches in Google Shopping. Of course I still had plenty of other competition and I watched them daily to see why their products came up before mine.

Google Shopping still gives preference to Big Box retail Sites

It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve seen the word “Beta” dropped from the Google Shopping web site, and it still isn’t perfect. Google had been announcing that on September 22nd they would begin “strict enforcement” of the Google Products guidelines which meant that the items you list on their web site must have all the information they require. Then on September 23rd their web site stated that on September 22nd they began “gradual enforcement” of the Google Products guidelines.

I don’t have any hard evidence so I can only speculate that the reason for this “gradual enforcement” of the rules is that while smaller businesses were flexible enough to adapt to these changes, the big box online stores like Amazon, Ebay, Buy.com and others still have not met the requirements. I am hopeful that in the coming months (probably not until after Christmas unfortunately) Google will tighten up their enforcement and some of these big-box stores will be thinned out search results for my products.

Tips for getting your products to display well on Google

· Description – Google is looking for the “value” that you add to the product listing. Anyone can offer a product for sale but if you are an expert about that product your expertise will show in your product description. Google is looking for your expertise. · Pictures – Every item you list MUST have a picture. If you have multiple pictures then list the multiples. · Eliminate Duplication – Google hates duplicate content. They don’t like to see the same content twice on your own site, and they especially don’t like to see the identical content on different web sites. Even if your information is identical to the manufacturers web site it is still considered duplicate content and Google considers that to be spam. It takes a lot of work but make sure that every item has a uniquely written description. · Product Details – This includes things like UPC, Part Number, Manufacturer Name, color, size, weight, etc. The more information you have the better. · Avoid Sales Pitch – Do NOT under any circumstances include your company or web site name in your product description. Nor should you have anything in your description that is in any way a sales pitch. Information about free shipping, discounts, etc. must never be included in the Google Products description. Any item that does will be deactivated in their search results. Too many such listings and they might just turn off all your products. Only put product information in the product description. · Price – This is a real down side to comparison shopping. When you are selling the same products as everyone else and your items are listed right next to those of your competitors, the only thing left to compete on is price. You are going to have to take a serious look at your pricing structure and decide if there are some products you can’t afford to sell. If you have too many items on Google Shopping with high prices shoppers may stop looking at any of your listings. There are some items that I stopped selling because I just could not compete on price. · Keywords – Before this year I hadn’t used the keyword field of my inventory database because the search feature on my web site used all the other fields to search, I felt it was a waste of time. But Google Shopping uses the keywords field so you want to use it. Make sure that any keyword you put in the keywords field is included in the title and/or description of your item. If you don’t do this your keywords will be considered spam and your listing will be excluded. · Account Information – Details such as your phone, address and shipping rates need to be kept up to date. Google Shopping will deactivate your listings if this information is not correct. · Keep it Fresh – Google Shopping listings expire after 30 days but your listings can be deactivated if they do not match your web site. In the future this will become an issue for Google and merchants will almost surely have to invest in technology that will automatically update Google Shopping every time you make a change to your site. Google is making threats now but likely will only be using a complaint system to monitor freshness. · Customer Reviews – There was a time when customer review web sites were little more than an annoyance, but Google has found a whole new way for them to annoy you. Google Shopping links online reviews of your company directly to your product listings. Retailers with 5-Star ratings are given higher rankings than those with poor reviews. It is not clear how much weight is given to your review rankings but they do play a role.

There are many other tips for getting your products to come up at the top in Google Shopping, but I save those for my clients. If your web site depends on clicks from Google Shopping then you need to pay attention to your web site listings and follow these rules. In the end the only thing that Google has done is to have created one more thing for small business owners to have to worry about.


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