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Google Action Against eBay SEO Practices Hurts Traffic

Search-engine experts say eBay has taken a serious hit in search results due to Google’s latest changes to its search algorithm, leading to a drop in traffic for eBay. This is a phenomenon eBay sellers understand very well since they try to optimize for eBay’s own Best Match search algorithm and can suffer in rankings and traffic when eBay makes changes.

However, a source familiar with the matter believes the action was not due to Panda, but rather, a manual action to address what Google believed were practices that violated its guidelines. Google explains on its website that it takes manual action “on sites that use spammy techniques, such as demoting them or even removing them from our search results altogether.”

In such cases, Google notifies webmasters. eBay did not respond to our request for comment.

eBay Traffic Declines
The discussion among search engine optimizers about eBay’s traffic decline began on Wednesday with a blog post on Moz written by Dr. Peter J. Meyers in which he reported the drop in eBay rankings. “Over the course of about three days, eBay fell from #6 in our Big 10 to #25.” Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed the Panda rollout through a tweet, leading people to associate the two as cause and effect.

Given that only Google and eBay itself know eBay’s traffic numbers, many people are turning to a report by Searchmetrics, a vendor that provides SEO services and analysis, that estimates eBay traffic is down 33%.

eBay SEO Practices to Blame?
A site called Refugeeks says Google’s Panda 4.0 update penalized eBay’s category pages that it had created especially for search-engines, and said some of eBay’s category pages weren’t “real” category pages, but rather, pages created solely for search engines. While Refugeeks didn’t use the term, it appears it’s referring to a practice known as “link bait,” generally prohibited by Google.

On this Google Help page under “Quality guidelines – basic principles,” it says, “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.” And this page explains keyword stuffing.

In discussing eBay’s category pages that it believes eBay designed specifically for search engines, which contains the letters BHP in the URL, Refugeeks writes, “you can actually see that of the 120K plus pages that lost rankings, nearly 90K were those with “BHP” in the URLs.”

Larry Kim, founder and CTO of Internet marketing software company Wordstream, agrees that poor SEO practices contributed to the hit eBay is taking. He wrote about the issue on his blog on Wednesday – he too made the association between changes to eBay’s traffic and the Panda 4.0 rollout.

Kim told EcommerceBytes that the eBay SEO/SEM team is still operating like it’s 2004. “Thin content, doorway pages, etc. I’m surprised that Google has turned a blind eye on this spam for so long.” In his blog post, he showed an example of a poor SEO practice: Anchor text containing many long-tail keyword terms that point to internal pages.

How big a hit is eBay taking? Kim said a random sampling of long tail keywords eBay had been targeting showed 80% of them are no longer on the first page of Google search results “despite relatively low competition for these highly targeted keywords.”

What eBay Sellers Can Do
Kim told us the change in eBay rankings on Google would most certainly and unquestionably impact eBay sellers in the form of dramatically less organic traffic and sales driven by organic traffic. How should eBay sellers cope? “I’d suggest that sellers look into Google Shopping to close the gap,” he said.

However, conventional wisdom states marketplace sellers use paid advertising to drive traffic to their own website rather than to their listings on eBay, Amazon or other marketplaces – especially now that eBay drives shoppers to view listings from competing sellers – on or off eBay – while they’re visiting a seller’s product listings.

Logically, if eBay finds its traffic down – whether it’s a result of Panda 4.0 or a manual action – it should/would be the one to pay for Google Product Listing Ads, just as retailers must do.

Some observers, including a commentor on Refugeeks, wondered if Google was purposefully targeting eBay after it pulled back on its Adwords spending – “The cynic in me wonders what impact it will have on eBay and their Adwords spend. After all, eBay losing rankings soon after announcing “Adwords is ineffective” would have looked a bit dodgy, but a year on? Sure!” She’s referring to eBay’s report last year questioning the effectiveness of the ad programs of its rival Google and other ad platforms.

But Larry Kim had this to say: “It would be easy to say that profit is the sole motive here, but this is actually good for users too. eBay’s “strategy” of pushing out millions of doorway and internal site search pages was spam by anyone’s definition. For commercial queries, Google shopping ads offer the most useful customer experience.”

Google Responds
Google provided the following information in response to our inquiry about Panda 4.0 and eBay:

“It’s an update on an announcement we made in 2011 (link). Panda 4.0 affects different languages to different degrees. In English for example, the impact is about 7.5% of queries that are affected to a degree that a regular user might notice. As always, we offer webmasters and businesses free help and advice on best practices at (link).”

eBay has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.