June 14, 2011, 4:03 PM

IRCE 2011 Report: Think like a Google engineer

Retailers need to understand how to adapt their sites to the search giant’s changing algorithm.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

Lead Photo

Kevin Lee urged retailers to boost search rankings with original content.

Google Inc. tweaks its algorithm almost daily, said Kevin Lee, CEO of search marketing firm Didit, today at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011 in San Diego. And once or twice a year the search engine makes a major shift that receives a name.  For instance, in February the search engine launched an update it called Panda that sought to reduce rankings from low-quality sites.

“The search engines have a direct interest in making sure that you are not at the top of the rankings unless you belong there,” he said. “That’s the reality. They want to be relevant because that’s the key to their business.”

That means that merchants need to understand not just the current logic behind Google’s algorithms, but also where how the search engine will adapt that formula in the future, Lee said.  

“The more you think like a Google engineer, the better you are,” said Lee. “If you do that you can think about what changes they may make rather than being reactive to the changes that they do make.”

Google engineers have a number of tools that can help them determine whether a site offers valuable content, he said. For instance, they can look to mentions of a retailer—or retailer’s content—in either Gmail or social media, examine whether consumers are blocking the site on its Chrome browser, gauge how many consumers are clicking Google’s +1 recommendation button, as well as delve into metrics such as page load times and visitor’s time on site.

“It really comes down to the basics—how can you provide the best possible user experience in every way,” said Lee. Featuring a slew of original articles, for instance, will likely result in high rankings, regardless of whether they fit the popular take on Google’s formula at a given moment.

For instance, online pet pharmacy retailer PetcareRX focuses on personalizing its online experience, said Blake Brossman, the retailer’s chief operating officer.

“We go through our 2.5 million customers’ data to develop insights that allow us to use real-time results,” he said. “We look at their locations, what else they are looking for on the site, do they have a prescription, do they checkout? We put that together in real time to build actionable data that improves the web page and actually helps us serve our customer information that is relevant to the user.”

The result is messaging that varies based on the individual user. For instance, a consumer in Los Angeles who is buying flea medication for her 25-pound Tibetan terrier might receive an offer of “free shipping,” while a shopper in Toledo, OH buying a tick medication for his bull mastiff might receive an offer for 112 pet points.

“Personalization is the key to serving our customers better,” he said.


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