October 17, 2013, 9:07 AM

How Paper Style got in step with Google’s Panda and Penguin

PaperStyle.com suffered a serious drop in its natural search rankings.

Paul Demery

Managing Editor, B2B E-commerce

Lead Photo

David Grocer, president, PaperStyle.com

For customized invitations and stationery retailer PaperStyle.com, natural search is the primary revenue driver thanks to usually high rankings for terms like “baby shower invitations” and “bridal shower invitations.” But after Google Inc. updated its Panda and Penguin search algorithms last year, the retailer’s natural search rankings dived, David Grocer, the retailer’s president, says.

“Organic search traffic is our No. 1 source of traffic and revenue,” he says. But throughout the first half of this year, he adds, Paper Style’s Google natural rankings fell steadily, erasing much of the 40% year-over-year growth in traffic and sales it had experienced in 2012. Google accounted for 66.9% of search traffic in the United States last month, according to a report released today by Internet measurement firm comScore Inc.

“Our natural search rankings tumbled as the Google algorithms changed,” Grocer says. “The search term ‘bridal shower invitations’ tumbled from one to eight, ‘baby shower invitations’ from six to twelve, and ‘sweet sixteen invitations’ from one to three.”

Google Inc. issued several updates last year to its Panda and Penguin algorithms, which determine how Google figures the relevancy of web content and ranks web pages in natural search results. “In my 13 years in search engine marketing, the past 12 months have been the most active I’ve seen in terms of Google tweaking its algorithms,” says Ryan Woolley, senior vice president of digital marketing services at Response Mine Interactive, Paper Style’s search marketing agency.

The Panda algorithm is for content within a marketer’s own web site; Penguin deals with how external web sites link to content on a marketer’s site. How each algorithm determines the relevancy of internal and external web site content directly impacts a web site’s natural search rankings. Natural search results, also known as organic search, are comprised of the unpaid search listings that appear in the center of search results pages, with paid search ads above and on the side.

PaperStyle.com, No. 870 in the Internet Retailer Second 500, attributes its 40% growth in natural search traffic and sales last year in good part to the retailer’s work with Response Mine Interactive to optimize its web site for natural search, Grocer says. Paper Style started working with Response Mine Interactive in the first half of 2011, replacing what had been in-house efforts in search engine optimization.

But by early in January 2013, Grocer adds, Paper Style noticed that its growth rates for both natural search and sales were starting to slow. Natural search rankings continued to fall throughout the first half.

To address the problem, Response Mine identified areas where the retailer needed to update its links from external sites and improve its own site’s internal content. Under the Panda updates, Google had taken steps such as de-valuing web site content that included too many of the keywords used in searches, Woolley says. For example, Paper Style had web pages with too many copies of the word “invitations.” And under the new rules of the Penguin algorithm, PaperStyle.com had links from external sites that also used too many copies of the same word, he adds.

“From Google’s standpoint, if you’re using too many keywords on a page, it’s like you’re trying too hard just to rank high in search,” Woolley says. Although Google doesn’t say exactly how web content should be optimized for its algorithms, Woolley says a good rule of thumb is to limit content directly related to a search term to within 1% or 2% of total content on any single web page.

To readjust Paper Style’s content on its own site, Response Mine advised the retailer on deleting excessively repeated terms, and on how to use a Google “disavow” tool to remove from Google’s profile of PaperStyle.com particular page URLs that were not contributing to good natural search rankings. And because Google also ranks a site higher in natural search when its site navigation clearly lays out a site’s overall content, Woolley says, Response Mine helped the retailer to restructure the software code behind its site navigation to make it more easily crawled by Google’s search spiders. Response Mine typically charges fees for search engine optimization that run about several thousand dollars per month, Woolley says.

In addition, Response Mine worked with external sites to adjust links to PaperStyle.com, resulting in more links to the retail site from external web content found to be more relevant by Google spiders, Grocer says. “Quality links are more important that quantity of links,” he says.

Since July, Grocer adds, Paper Style has seen its natural search rankings steadily improve to where they are now “about 95%” back to the performance the retailer was experiencing last year before the Panda and Penguin updates. “We’ve seen in almost every product category an increase in organic rankings, which has translated into revenue increases,” he says.

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