Pandas and penguins: An e-commerce entrepreneur’s lesson in SEO

In the wake of the latest Google update that could be potentially damaging to page rankings, Ben Wilson discusses the SEO tactics for small businesses to be mindful of.

Do you know your black hat from your grey or white hat? Or the difference between a panda and a penguin? Of course you do, but many people don’t when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and this results in businesses doing nothing or naturally carrying out related activity whilst not fully understanding it.

Worse still, other business owners simply hire an SEO agency without understanding what they’re paying for. I’ve personally hired three in the past and spent around £45,000 over the years and learnt a harsh lesson with my site being delisted and unavailable in key word search results by receiving a Google penalty.

I lost a lot of money in potential sales as the site’s monthly unique visitors dropped by 7,500 a month. After much hard work internally the ban was lifted and we’re now receiving more traffic (and revenue) than before the ban; it was certainly an important business lesson. This article aims to give you a basic understanding of SEO and make you question whether you are using the right SEO company.

Content is key

Late on the 20th of May, the panda began to stir once again. Google’s latest algorithm update, so-called because of it being Google developer’s Navneet Panda’s creation, focusses on your website content’s quality. Introduced originally in February 2011, the algorith crawls (scans) your website analysing key terms and phrases as well as the relevance of the content included on there.

This programme has become more and more efficient with head of Google’s Webspam team Matt Cutts stating this about your site content: ‘first and foremost, you need to explain it well, and then if you can manage to do that while talking about the science or being scientific, that’s great’. Essentially, your web content needs to be easy to understand. If your product or service is complex then you can use jargon as long as it is explained in a way that the everyday man or woman on the street can understand. To back this up, support this with images and video content. Using images and video in the right way can help your SEO ranking, and keep your site visitors on the page for a longer period of time.

Links from external sites

This can be carried out in a number of ways. But one that you should definitely not carry out is black hat linking. This strategy is an old technique that used to work extremely well. It was simple; the more links you had, the higher your page ranked. For example, links could be posted on article comments or in forums and on sites which were not relevant in terms of content to the linked site. That’s how my company received its Google penalty. This Google algorithm was called Penguin, and an update for this came into effect in May 2013.

Our site was penalised due to two SEO agencies placing hundreds of Black Hat links. I began to research SEO and now I know a reasonable amount about it. I had to email website owners to remove the links which took literally days of my time away from the core business. Thankfully, with it being lifted over six months ago, we now rank on page one for a number of key terms.

Grey hat SEO is paying for links which can be done in the form of sponsored posts which is something that we have carried out in the past, linking with high quality sites. However, this is something Google has become wise to and is not as good a strategy as it used to be. The best form of linking strategy is white hat where you gain links for free or organically. This could be via public relations activity where coverage on a website includes a link to your homepage or if a piece of your content is shared online and links back to your site – with linked content going viral being the holy grail every brand strives for in terms of SEO. 

There’s not a simple way to become the number one search result on Google for your keywords or phrases. After all, you’re not the only company after the number one spot and you all have varying budgets to invest in web content, public relations activity and SEO agencies (a well-respected one). But having a basic understanding can enable you to make educated decisions and doing some further research, whilst keeping up to date on Google SEO news, means that you can avoid a Google penalty and stay one step ahead of your competition.

Further reading on SEO


Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson is founder and managing director of Freshcig, an e-cigarette company.

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