Did you know that 70% of people never scroll past the first page of Google results?
30% only ever click on the top three results.
That’s an enormous amount of traffic being eaten up by a small few at the top. So, getting your E-commerce store on the first page of results is the holy grail of digital marketing.
But, it doesn’t help that Google changes their algorithm every year.
The most recent big Google update is playfully named ‘Pigeon’. Although it’s more than a year old now, I’ve been tweaking my sites and measuring the changes along the way. I’ve had chance to understand how it works, and how online store owners can capitalize.
Hold up, what exactly is Google Pigeon?
Google Pigeon is all about two things:
- Improving local search results
- Mobile optimization
In other words Google has tweaked their algorithm to give precedence to local search results and mobile optimized sites.
For example, if you’re searching for ‘plumber’, you’re probably looking for a local plumber, not information about pipes. Google knows this.
If you’re searching for ‘vintage skirts’, you’re going to prefer results from a local fashion boutique, not a factory in China that takes 8 weeks to ship.
Essentially, if you live in New York, Google’s algorithm is now designed to show you results that are relevant to New York.
Why the change?
No-one can say for certain what is going on inside Google HQ. But, here’s the main consensus.
This change is all about mobile use.
Google recently announced that more than 50% of all searches now take place on a mobile device. Which means most people are Googling on the go.
We’re almost always searching for things close to us.
Google’s older algorithms were built around archived information. If you searched for ‘coffee’, you’d get a ton of information about the history of coffee. Not useful when you just want a tasty cappuccino ASAP.
Here’s how Google Pigeon works:
- Google dives into local directories to collect local business information
- Crawlers now actively look for location keywords on your site
- Google is diving into online reviews (Yelp, TripAdvisor etc) to rank the best local services
- Greater connection between results and Google Maps
This is Pigeon in action: showing the closest possible coffee shops to me.
Why should I care about local search? My eCommerce business is global!
I hate to be blunt, but in the world of SEO, you do what Google says.
Google cares about local search. Which means if you don’t, you’re going to get outranked. Big time.
Thanks to the internet, every business can be global. But that doesn’t mean your NY business should always ship to Russia. It’s cheaper, easier, and more effective if your online store focuses on New York. And now, Google will reward you for it.
Not only that, but same-day-delivery is about to become standard. The eCommerce world is about to go ‘local’ in a big way.
So, how exactly do eCommerce businesses work with Google Pigeon, and get high rankings?
1. List your business on online directories
The foundation of Pigeon is learning the location data of all businesses. The algorithm is busy indexing the address and location of businesses around the world.
The first place they look are local directories. Google’s crawlers are scanning these directories to find information about businesses.
As you can expect, Google Maps is its most trusted directory. However, don’t forget about Bing, and Yahoo directories.
You should also update your location information on LinkedIn, FourSquare, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. (There’s a full list of 50 online directories here at HubSpot).
Let’s start with Google. Registering is easy. Head to their business hub, and click ‘Get on Google’.
2. Start using local keywords
If you have a small background in SEO, then you know that keywords are Google’s most important ranking factor.
Google sends out crawlers looking for specific keywords. It does this to categorize your website, and understand exactly what you do.
You can help Google by placing specific keywords in all the right places.
It’s now time to start placing location-based keywords onto your site too. (Ideally, on every single page). Try to include the following info across every page:
- business address
- phone number
- zip code
- where you ship to
- warehouse location
If you operate in a particular city, let’s say New York, then also slot this city keyword into your blogs and general content.
This is a great example of keywords at play: ‘New York’, ‘Manhattan’, ‘Burgers’.
3. Get a Google+ presence
You won’t find many people arguing that Google+ is as powerful as Facebook or Twitter.
However, it is going to help your SEO. Why? Because there’s an undeniable correlation between search ranking and +1s on Google+.
Google+ is also closely linked to Google Maps. In fact, all of Google’s propositions are intricately connected. Deep down in the Pigeon update, the platforms have all been tied closer to Gmaps.
4. Encourage customer reviews
There’s a reason why the #1 rated NY bakery on TripAdvisor also shows up second on Google search results for ‘New York bakeries’.
Google doesn’t just want to show people results close to them. It wants to show them the best results close to them. It wants to show you the best bakery or the best coffee shop.
It’s pretty easy for Google to gather your location data and categorize you. But how does it know how good you are?
Simple: online reviews.
Google dives into TripAdvisor reviews, Yelp reviews, and customer reviews on your own website. It’s relatively difficult to game this system, so Google trusts this data.
By mixing location keywords and positive reviews, it can quickly deduce the best service in the local area.
As an e commerce site, the best thing you can do is encourage positive reviews on your website. Let customers rate every single product using a star system. Give them space to write a small review or leave feedback. You can even prompt them to do this with emails or notifications.
You can also encourage customers to leave you a positive recommendation on Google’s own review system.
5. User-generated location content
It’s all well-and-good creating your own content with SEO keywords. However, Google would rather see real user-generated content. It’s looking for evidence that real people in your location approve of your business.
Take a leaf out of the Queensland Tourism board. They asked people to create a video about why they deserved a dream job in Australia. They quickly received 34,000 submissions. All with the keyword ‘Australia’ in the title. All with links to their website. And all of it brilliant, free content.
It’s everything Google loves: fresh content, keyword heavy, social proof, user engagement.
6. Optimize the hell out of your mobile site
Google is slowly shifting its entire focus to the mobile world.
As I said before, more than 50% of all Google searches now take place on a mobile. That means Google is sending half its traffic to mobile websites.
Obviously, Google is only going to rank you high if your mobile site kicks ass.
If your site doesn’t work well on a mobile device, Pigeon is going to shut you down.
Your first priority is upgrading to a responsive design. (This is Google’s preferred option) In other words, your website ‘snaps’ and adapts to whatever device opens it. It will look just as beautiful on a laptop as an iPad or smartphone.
You’ll also want to dig down deeper and make some changes. Optimize for the ‘fat thumb!’ In other words, make your buttons easy to push, and simplify everything to squeeze onto a smaller screen.
With ecommerce it’s tricky because there’s a lot to squeeze in. If you want my advice, be ruthless! Loose anything that isn’t helping your customer buy something.
7. Write unique product descriptions
How’s that for a product description?
Another thing Google is cracking down on is duplicate content. If the same wording appears all over the internet, Google can tell it’s been copy and pasted, which it associates with lazy, low-quality websites.
eCommerce sites are especially guilty of this. It’s so easy to copy and paste the manufacturer’s product descriptions. Especially, when there are hundreds of products to upload.
Unfortunately, this is going to end badly. Instead, take the time and effort to write unique and creative product descriptions. I can hear you moaning, but think of it as an opportunity! It’s another chance to establish your keywords, and get Google to take notice.
More importantly, it’s a brilliant opportunity to unleash your unique tone of voice, and create a brand identity.
8. Show off your SSL certificate. Google loves security
Google has announced that it gives a ‘lightweight boost’ to online stores with an SSL certificate.
To be honest, all eCommerce owners should get an SSL certificate. It’s the best $50 you’ll ever spend. It’s a promise to your customers that your payment gateway is secure and trustworthy.
It gives you that trusty little yellow padlock, which gives your customers peace of mind.
And it gives Google the confidence to rank you a little bit higher. Every little helps.
9. Improve your eCommerce usability
With every update, Google wraps up a ton of tweaks and upgrades with the roll-out, and Pigeon is no difference. Each time, Google tightens the screws, and gets a little bit smarter.
Recently, those tweaks have all been about UX and usability.
Think about it. Google wants to send searchers to simple, intuitive websites. So, Google have created smarter crawlers that assess how usable your website is.
For e commerce sites that means making your checkout process as simple and fast as possible (something that makes good sense anyway).
It doesn’t get any simpler than Amazon’s 1-click checkout.
Google are also interested in your bounce rates, time-on-site, and site map. Spend some time tightening up the usability of your online store. Simplify your navigation, and get rid of any unnecessary aspects of your website.
It’s quickly becoming one of Google’s most reliable ranking factors.
10. Create a spider web of internal links
eCommerce business owners are in the unique position to build a huge link architecture underneath their site. In other words, start building internal links all over your website.
Google loves a strong internal link architecture, because it helps it understand your site better.
As an eCommerce store, you can link directly to product pages from your homepage. Flood the site with ‘related product’ links. (Great for internal linking and keeping people on your site).
A ‘categories’ drop-down is another great trick. It puts your category keywords in plain site for Google crawlers, and it’s another internal link. Easy.
Look at how North Face squeeze in some long-tail keywords (hiking, mountaineering, snowboard) into their category drop-down.
It’s really easy for Google to understand (and categorise) your site when you use lots of internal links on your keywords.
11. Increase your site speed
You’d expect me to say this, since we run a website designed to test website server speed! But, trust me, website speed is crucial.
Google expects your server to respond within 200ms. It classes this as acceptable usability. If your server is slower than this, you can expect Google to rank your website lower than others.
Test your server speed now, and see how you measure up.
You can also work on reducing your site speed by cleaning up your website code, compressing your images, and allowing caching on your website.
12. Use high quality videos and images
More and more, shoppers are starting to use Google image search, Pinterest, and Instagram to find their favourite goods. It’s no longer enough to think about SEO on Google’s general results page.
Always make sure you use unique and high quality images. Insert keywords into the metadata and image tags, so Google picks them up too. Lastly, post them on Instagram and Pinterest with targeted hashtags.
Again, this is all about creating unique, high-quality content. Exactly what Google is looking for.
13. Don’t forget the Penguin and Panda in the room
The two major algorithm updates that predate Pigeon haven’t just vanished. In fact, they are arguably still the most important Google updates.
Panda is all about rewarding quality. It ranks the most authoritative and respected websites highly. And it penalises those that have cheated the game. In other words, stick to creating good content. Be a good person!
The Penguin update cracked down on spammy links that tried to game the system. Google ranks websites based on the quality of links that lead to it.
(In other words, if tons of cool websites are linking to your products, Google knows you’re worth ranking higher).
But, if you buy fake/spammy links or use link farms, Google will punish you. Just don’t do it. Look for natural, organic links from bloggers and review sites.
Panda, Penguin, and now Pigeon all work in harmony to create a great search engine.
As an eCommerce business owner, it helps to know how it all works, so you can optimize and rise to the top!
Let me know if any particular techniques have worked for you.