Grow Profits From the Farmer Update - Ecommerce Express

When Google talks, the rest of the Web has no choice but to listen.

While the Farmer Update in late February was primarily intended to disrupt the SEO tactics of content farms, nearly 12 percent of all Google search queries in the U.S. were affected by the changes to the ranking algorithm. At the rate of about half a billion U.S. searches per day, that's a significant amount of traffic at stake for countless online businesses - including retailers.

Google's changes demand that every online business reassess its own content - and merchants should step to the head of the line. Many ecommerce sites have seen their rankings slip since the update, and not necessarily because they were knowingly practicing shady SEO tactics.

In fact, the Farmer Update will force merchants to start implementing some of our favorite ecommerce strategies; such as social media engagement, user-generated reviews and video. The goal is to create original content that has the greatest practical use for online consumers and, by doing so, ensure that they can easily find your business and your products on Google.

Here are the steps to take:


Audit your content

A bigger task for some than others, but it will maximize the benefits when it comes to search rankings. Many merchants who thought they were "in the clear" upon learning about the update were surprised to see that their rankings dropped anyway. The cause in most cases was poorly crafted or unoriginal content camping out on pages somewhere on their sites.

It is important to review all of the existing content from recent blog posts to long-forgotten product descriptions and clean up or remove anything that has errors, is copied from another site or both. The Farmer Update was designed to reward content that benefits users and to penalize that which is poorly produced or found elsewhere on the Web, so eliminate all that applies.

On the flip side, you may have already produced content that is so clean and original that others have copied it from your site, which may also have a negative effect on your search rankings. A good way to investigate this during your audit is to use Copy- Scape, a URL-finder that will track down any instances of your pages appearing elsewhere on the Web.


Check your links

This is a good time to remind you that nobody said the process would be easy, but it is vitally important. Your audit may prove that your own content is up to par, but the search rankings your ecommerce site receives from Google will also rely heavily on the quality of your links.

These may number in the hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands for many retailers, but linking to poor content will hurt your rankings and ultimately your business. A good resource to start with is the data from Searchmetrics (see chart on page 8) or SISTRIX (, which provides helpful statistics and analysis of which sites were impacted the most by the Farmer Update.

The data also indicates what sites in a niche or category have benefitted the most from the algorithm update, making them good targets for building better links as you move forward. The goal is to eliminate or avoid links to websites and content that does not offer significant value to your visitors, and to add links to those resources that do provide value.

Both sites mentioned above report that shopping indexes TheFind and MerchantCircle were among the top 25 losers calculated from traffic on keywords, ranking and clickthrough rates immediately following the update. One of the biggest hurdles specifically for merchants will be the duplication of product data feeds appearing all over the Web, which is why it is so essential to produce great content whenever and wherever possible.


Produce great content

So, what makes for great content in Google's eyes?

1) Quality: Avoid misspellings, factual errors and outdated information.
2) Originality: Don't copy what users can find elsewhere without adding some value.
3) Authoritativeness: Try to lend some expertise.
4) Presentation: Make it easy to consume, visually pleasing and engaging for users.
5) Value: The sum of the first four parts should equal content that your website visitors will find useful and want to share.

Fortunately, there are some guidelines that ecommerce professionals can follow to produce great content. The success of your business is most likely driven by your product, so stick to high-quality, original and authoritative content about your product or niche. It should provide value for your visitors and be presented in an uncomplicated but engaging way.

The process should involve finely crafted blog posts about new releases and the latest news from your industry, and give users the opportunity to add comments and share with friends. It should also include unique, accurate and highly detailed descriptions of every product in your inventory, presented in such a way that it stands out from the crowd.

Merchants should also take full advantage of social media channels and deploy user-generated ratings and reviews of their businesses and products. Creative implementation of instructional product videos and customer testimonials should also be part of the content package.

To reap the greatest rewards from the Farmer Update, ecommerce retailers' new content strategy should include not some but all of these essential elements moving forward.

About the Author: Linc Wonham is the Associate Editor at Website Magazine. A 20-year veteran of the publishing industry, he has covered business and technology topics for every medium and edited numerous best-selling books.