BigCommerce Stores between SOPA Strike, Google Penalties and SEO gibberish

Manuel C. Published on 18 January, 2012

In this weekly blog post about SEO tips and news I publish any relevant information that could help BigCommerce store owners and other ecommerce sites by responding to pressing questions and debunking some myths.

Yes, it seems that SEO "gurus" out there use the terms related to optimization in such a way that they make you point your attention in any other way than the real issue. How do they do this? Simply by using gibberish terms in contexts without explaining what they really are.

But more on that in the last part of this post. Right now, let's rejoice because it's January 18th, 2012, named Blackout Day, when the biggest Internet protest is taking place.

The fight against SOPA/PIPA led to the biggest internet protest ever

Yes, during this event, unified under the name of #SOPAStrike, big sites like Wikipedia, Boingboing, Google, Reddit, WordPress, Vimeo, Tumblr, Flickr, Mozilla, Wired and thousands of other sites participate in the protest against the unpopular SOPA and PIPA bills.

To understand why so many people are participating in this protest you need to see the video guys at American Censorship have created for us:

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

I like the ironical way TechCrunch Europe has outlined the most important things about SOPA. Get a coffee and read here. It's well worth it.

This bill would help the Government fight piracy by using DNS blocking. That won't work at all. The sites will be accessible via the IP Address, so the bill has failed even before has been approved. The worst thing about it is that it will hinder free speech and will give corporations the power to shut down competitors.

Why would this interest any BigCommerce store owner? Let me put it bluntly: if you happen to have a copyrighted image from a site and they use SOPA provisions, then your online store is out of business. If any reviewer inserts a link to an infringing site, and you do not know that the given site is infringing in any way, then you might have to close your store. Copyblogger has created a nice summary of what SOPA means.

Thing are serious for each one of us. Enter American Censorship and participate in any way you can. We have gone dark with our personal blogs and have sent our petition to the United States Congress.

What Google penalties are and how to avoid them

For bloggers it is much easier to avoid a drop in ranking, or worse, penalties from Google due to their style of writing. Ecommerce stores, and BigCommerce stores among them, face one of the biggest threats there is: duplicate content.

No, there is no excuse in the fact that you sell 30,000 products and can't simply afford to pay for a nice clean text in each product. "It is insane", you say and maybe you are right, but Google sees your site as it sees any other sites.

So, what is a penalty? How do you see that you have been penalized? A Google penalty is a punishment in which you suddenly lose rankings. In one of the worst cases you won't show up in the index at all. Nothing, nada.

You won't be able to foresee it, but you'll know it when it happens.

The simple fact that you lost some ranks or even been pushed to page four does not mean that you have been penalized. Usually, when your pages are dropped off Google Search completely you get a notice in your Webmasters Tools about the fact that you do not comply with Google Guidelines.

I will list here some of the most obvious facts that will surely lead to a penalty. Additional details can be found on Growler.com:

  • hidden text and links
  • cloaking or sneaky redirects
  • automated queries to Google
  • pages full of keywords, but not actual content
  • duplicate content
  • doorway pages or scrapers

You can see that the duplicate content issue shows up each and every time.

Another list of 33 things to do to get penalized gets more in detail about the various techniques you think are good to be used, but you do not know that Google is clever than you. Yes, they employ some of the best minds in computational engineering and machine learning so it can be hard to trick them. But this thing still happens.

To the awe of many some spam sites still rank higher. Do not look at them and simply try to stay on the good side. Their time will come.

Why am I so convinced of this fact? Well, I spend my fair share of late night hours reading through the hundreds of replies in the Google Webmaster Forum and it's interesting to see the soap opera that unfolds before my eyes. It is really entertaining to read through the posts about penalties, Google Panda and drops in ranking only to discover that some spammer, who had more than 3000 sites used as doorway pages, was caught in the act and all his sites simply disappeared from the index. Precious.

From the list of 33 things to do to get penalized I will outline only some, so please read the entire post to get the whole picture:

  • buying hundreds or even thousand of links for a small amount won't help, but
  • gaining too many links in a short period of time
  • links to bad neighborhoods
  • unreadable content represented by a broken English text nor easy to understand
  • too many ads
  • new domain - if you're new in town you better stay but in regards to over optimizing your content
  • keywords stuffing - some BigCommerce store owners insert simply too many times a given keyword on the page
  • multiple h1 on the page

As you can see, there is a thin line you need to walk in order not to be penalized. And, from time to time, even though you are a good guy you could be found off guard by an algorithm change. Things will get better if you watch the SEO trends from week to week.

Panda is not a nice Asian bear...

...and many BigCommerce store owners have felt his wrath in its fullest extent when they were thrown in pages 5 or below after they have been ranking #1 for a number of years even.

Panda updates target especially duplicate content and ecommerce stores are among the first to be hit because many do not bother to insert additional content to their product and simply insert manufacturer specifications. Wrong, and you know it.

A very good post to read about internal and external duplicates has been written on Search Engine Journal as they explain what there types of duplicates are. Bigcommerce has some duplicate content issues when it displays related products (uses parameter "product"- store.com/home-printer/?product=Product-Name), products in a given currency (uses parameter "setCurrencyId" - store.com/home-printer/?setCurrencyId=1). Just use Robots.txt to block google from crawling those links and do not forget to use the rel=canonical meta tag.

Moving forward we now know that we live in a mobile world. If we have a mobile version of the site which is located even at the same URL of the main store will this be seen as duplicate content? No. BigCommerce has the mobile version which can be enabled by going to Design - Mobile. Do not select iPAD in that list because it has a big enough screen to show your store in its fullest, in the web version. Matt Cutts exaplined why it is good to have a mobile version and why it is not see as duplicate in this video.

Also, it is good to know that you should only publish a small number of pages at once, since it may be seen as a way to impersonate big brands if you publish thousand of pages/products at once. See here why. Be careful and stay safe.

Given the fact that Panda Updates already have one year of existence I think it is a good opportunity to see what it teaches us. SEOMoz has a very good video about the changes brought to SEO world by these updates. BigCommerce SEO just got a LOT more difficult.


SEO gibberish explained - PageRank equals to NULL in regards to ranking

Many speak about PageRank as the be all, end all of the SEO world. Well, that was perfectly valid in... 2001. Things have changed a lot since then for search engine optimization and this is why you need to keep a close eye on everything in this line of work.

I think it's hilarious how some SEO guys come to me and ask how much would I request to write a blog post and insert a link to them. When I ask why they chose me they say: "You have PR4, that will help with rankings". Yes, PR4 for a blog is not a big thing at all, but I know that it won't help their ranking, but for indexing - a totally different thing altogether. Do I accept their request? No, I do not trust SEO guys who do not know basic things about their work or they are willfully misleading people. So, NO.

Please see the video from below and try to understand that the PageRank era is long gone. PageRank is only for pages. There is no: "PageRank 4 domain". The given domain has a PR or 4 for its home page. A totally different thing. Matt Cutts still mentions it, but we do not have to forget the context. Happy myth debunking:


Manuel C. Published on 18 January, 2012