Confused Google Bot

How to Handle Google’s Natural Language Processing Changes for eCommerce … on a Budget

January 14, 2020

Creating the content needed to rank – or continue ranking – as Google’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) changes roll out over the coming months could put you back thousands of dollars per page.

If you’re a small business without a hefty budget I’ll show how you can minimize the costs.

What does Google want from you with NLP?

If you’ve read my other recent posts you’ll be getting the gist about NLP. Google is moving away from backlinks as a strong ranking factor and focusing more on the quality of the page content because it now has the computing power to do this.

Bing is moving this way as well but for the sake of simplicity in this article I’ll just reference Google.

So for any given search term Google is increasingly asking “Who has the best, most relevant content to answer this?” rather than “Who has the most backlinks related to this?”. We’ll see this shift continue over the coming months as Google feels its way with what is essentially virgin technology run my Artificial Intelligence.

How I’ll cover this

I’m going to start from the ‘ideal’. What Google considers ‘best content’ and what that means specifically in eCommerce.

It’s going to sound overwhelming but bear with me. I’ll then show you how to identify when and where to implement this. It doesn’t have to be site wide to start with so you can spread out the work over time if you start now.

What is ‘best content’?

Right – the biggest mistake I’ve seen here is webmasters who have hit the panic button, paid some content firm in the Far East to spew out verbal vomit, and then copied and pasted that onto their pages. This doesn’t work.

When Google looks for ‘best content’ it is considering:

  • relevant text – without waffling and padding;
  • accessible content – everything from font size to paragraph size to the use of images, videos, audio and beyond;
  • structured content – not just the good use of headings but potentially simple summaries followed by more complex explanations in easy to navigate spaces (as Wikipedia does);
  • lots of all of the above – the more relevant content you have to the search term a user has carried out the more likely you are to satisfy that user’s needs and that is what Google wants to achieve.

So huge wads of text won’t get you ranking if your competitors are producing beautifully presented, clear, concise and comprehensive content. In fact:

  • if your text is full of waffling and padding its actually going to water down the relevancy of your page and make things worse.
  • if your text is just one huge wall of words Google knows users will struggle with it and you will make things worse.

How come some small webmasters seem to be achieving this right now?

Now you might have noticed on some websites pages are already being updated with huge amounts of content and many of these websites look like they are run by stay-at-home Mums or Dads or the like.

Don’t be fooled by this. Large numbers of these websites were long since bought up by large companies that now own thousands of small sites where they can take advantage of huge economies of scale. They employ teams of writers and content producers who work all day every day on basic information while other teams process their work into beautifully presented pages.

I saw one just the other day while looking for a Red Pepper Pate recipe. I had to scroll down past a bit of spiel entitled ‘What is Pate?’ to get to the recipe!!

Yes, potentially this is another example where Google is rewarding those that can afford but if you are precise with your work there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to defend your rankings or potentially even improve them.

What to add and where to add it?

OK, let’s just consider a single product. Here are some of the things you could add over and above your standard image(s) and description:

  • Multiple images (at least three)
  • Technical Specifications – size (include things like ‘size when closed’, ‘size with accessory’, etc), weight, performance, compatibility, etc.
  • Documentation – safety documents, user manuals, product certification, performance data
  • Videos – if the manufacturer has made one or someone has reviewed the product on YouTube or make one yourself and get some visibility on YouTube.
  • FAQs – what questions do you get asked about this product (or the product category)? Write them and answer them. Ideally add a feature to your website so users can ask and when you answer they are published straight away. There are plugins that do this for most platforms.
  • Reviews – either from customers who have purchased the products from your website if it has that functionality (or you can get a plugin) or even consider quotes from online and offline reviewers, attributing their quotes as film makers do when quoting critics who say positive things.
  • Manufacturer Details – describe the manufacturer and include a bit of history about them
  • Alerts – Age restrictions, shipping restrictions, warning notices
  • A second more comprehensive description – broken up with images (such as close ups of features / characteristics / labels/ etc.) or technical drawings taken from, say, the user manual
  • Features – a list of features that belong to this product such as ‘Fireproof’, ‘Puncture Resistant’, etc. with a one or two sentence explanation of each.
  • Awards – if this product has won awards mention them and describe what the award is about and who gave it
  • Warranties – not just the length but some detail about what is included and under what circumstance.

I find Husqvarna’s product pages are great examples: https://www.husqvarna.com/uk/products/robotic-lawn-mowers/automower-450x/967853003/

And their category pages are even better. Have a look at this one: https://www.husqvarna.com/uk/products/robotic-lawn-mowers/

Here are the take aways:

  • They are easy to read (large fonts, no huge blocks of text)
  • The content is broken up with images, videos and icons
  • The content is broken up into sections
  • There are links to further (related) information
  • Features are clearly presented with text and images
  • Prizes and Awards are included
  • Technical data is organized and broken up with icons
  • Customer Reviews and FAQs are used on the category page
  • Key operating information and warranty details are included in the content

There is a lot of information here but at no point do you feel bogged down in it or turned off by it. There is plenty for Google to get its teeth into without the content overwhelming us humans.

They don’t cover everything in my list above but the pages are set up so further information could easily be added in the future.

Product Pages or Category Pages?

What you’ve probably noticed from the Husqvarna example is that they put a whole lot more effort in their category pages compared to their product pages.

That makes sense for them. They are the manufacturer so they are very likely to rank for the product pages as long as they are half decent. However their category page is aimed at people searching ‘robotic lawn mowers‘ where they face stiff competition so … it needs more content.

However if you are not the manufacturer chances are you are in competition with others searching specific makes or models which means you might end up needing to do far more work on product pages than categories. Basically don’t treat Husqvarna’s content balance between products and categories as a blue print.

Identifying the pages you need to work on

If you sell more than a few dozen products then trying to create this kind of content for all of them on your own or with a limited budget is going to be near impossible. You’ll end up doing a lot of pages badly rather than a few pages properly.

You might even end up watering down the relevancy of current pages and ultimately being the reason you lose your rankings.

So I’ll walk you through how to work out which pages you should work on first. We’re going to begin by identifying the pages you rank well for and which are key to your business so you can protect these against future rankings loss.

FIRST: Identify the pages of your website that currently rank well

  1. Open up your Google Search Console
  2. Click ‘Performance’ in the left hand menu. If your site has heavy traffic this might be called ‘Search results’.
  3. At the top of the page there is a button which says “Date: Last 3 months”. If you get less than 2,000 visitors a month I would change this to “Last 6 months” otherwise you will have limited data to work on.
  4. Above the graph click the option ‘Average position’
  5. Below the graph click ‘PAGES’
  6. Now sort the table below this by average position (by clicking on that table heading ‘Position) and then clicking it again so the ordering is ascending with your top ranking pages first.

You want to see all of the pages which have a ranking position of 10 or less (i.e. they are often shown on the first page of Google’s search results) so at the bottom of the page you might want to change the “Rows per page” to a higher number like 50 or 100.

They won’t all need work. Just because a page ranks well doesn’t mean it is doing your business any good. We’ll sort this out in a minute.

At the top of the table on the right there is an upside down stripped triangle and next to that a downward pointing arrow. You want the downward pointing arrow – click on it and download the data as a csv and open it in Excel or Open Office Calc.

Now you’ll need to sort this data by Impressions and remove any pages that got less than 30 impressions. We’re basically stripping out pages that show very rarely in Google even though, when they do, they rank well.

We can work on these pages later but they’re not our absolute priority right now as they produce very little in the way of visitor numbers.

OK – save that work and put it on the back burner because now we need to understand which of these pages are vital to your bottom line.

SECOND: Identify the pages of your website that deliver revenue

  1. Open up Google Analytics and select ‘Behavior’ > ‘Site Content’ > ‘All Pages’ from the left hand menu.
  2. Change the date in the top right to show the last 3 months (or 6 months if that’s what you used in the Search Console)
  3. At the very top of the page where you see a blue circle and ‘All Users’ click on the ‘Choose segment from list’ box to the right.
  4. Deselect ‘All Users’ and select ‘Organic Traffic’ from the list that appears and then the blue ‘Apply’ button.
  5. Sort the table below the graph by ‘Page Value’

Page Value basically means if you can get someone onto that page you will make that much revenue. So if one your pages is https://mysite.com/mygreatproduct/ and it has a Page Value of $10 that means for every person who visits that page you make, on average $10.

And just a quick explainer about why we selected ‘Organic Traffic’. Some of your pages might perform very well for you but not because they rank. It might be because of some paid advertising that you do or because of referrals so we don’t want to end up spending a lot of time working on these as we might not see any benefit.

Now you’ll find some of your best performers are your home page and your pages related to the checkout area. Naturally visitors who pass through checkout are far more likely to contribute to your revenue than some individual product pages or category pages.

We’re going to ignore these because they are not idea places to add content. The checkout area is obviously pointless and the homepage would need vague information which wouldn’t help it anyway.

THIRD: Connect the best ranking pages to the best performing pages

Unless you’re a real wizz with Excel or Calc this bit is the hard grind.

You want to add the ‘Page value’ and  ‘Unique Pageviews’  of each page to your spreadsheet. At the top of the table in analytics there is a search box to help you find the pages faster.

FOURTH: Prioritize your pages

So now on your spreadsheet you have the pages you rank highly for, how many Pageviews they got in the last 3 (or 6 months) and what each Pageview adds to your revenue.

Depending on your set up and the products you sell you might notice a number of the pages on your site which deliver good revenue but only got 1 Pageview. I call these ‘lucky breaks’.

Don’t get me wrong, I manage websites which rely on tens of thousands of “lucky breaks” for their revenue every month but working on any one of these individual pages is a bit like buying shares in all the stocks that went up yesterday.

We’re really looking for the pages that got 20 to 30+ Unique Page Views and a good Page Value.

These are pages which are delivering solid traffic and solid revenue on a consistent basis and these are the ones you want to sure up for the future.

Now what you’ll probably find is that you have a real mixed bag:

  • Product pages
  • Category Pages
  • Articles
  • etc.

This is why when people ask me “Should we optimize our product pages or our category pages” I have to reply that we won’t know until we crunch the numbers but it will probably be some of both.

FIFTH: Find out what these key pages rank for

Key pages are referred to as Cornerstone Content so I’ll use that term from here. By now in your spreadsheet it should be very clear to you the 20 or 30 pages which are delivering a large chunk of your revenue.

We can’t produce more content for these pages until we know what keywords or phrases they rank for. If we did we might risk diluting them and actually weakening their relevance for those keywords or phrases and basically shooting ourselves in the foot. We could end up playing a proactive role in killing off our own rankings!

So back to where we were in Google Search Console and this time we’ll click on the upside down stripped arrow (beside the one you used to download the data) to find the pages in the console.

  • Choose ‘Page’ and then paste in a URL from your spreadsheet to quickly isolate it.
  • Now click on ‘QUERIES’ below the graph
  • If you have a lot of queries click on the table heading Position to sort once and Position to sort again
  • Ignore any with less than 20 or 30 impressions – if these happened once in a blue moon in the past they will happen once in a blue moon in the future.
  • Ignore any where you are outside the top 10 or where they produced 0 clicks – these aren’t going to be the search terms which are getting you your best customers
  • Add the others to your spreadsheet beside the URL.

SIXTH: What/Who is your competition for these keywords.

Its worth at this point seeing who ranks alongside you for the search terms you’ve just identified for a few reasons:

  • You can see who is and who isn’t preparing for Google’s Natural Language Processing changes – remember many pages still rank highly because of backlinks. Backlinks have not disappeared as a ranking signal yet and may not for some time to come.
  • For those who are adding content you can gleam some inspiration. That’s not another word for ‘copy’, it just might inspire you as to what you could include and perhaps think about how you could do it better – better graphics, better layout, using video, etc.
  • You can start to build a list of related words and phrases.

This last point is crucial. You know what search terms your pages rank for but this is not about using those words or phrases over and over again. That’s not natural and as Google’s Language Processing is natural  it would just be another way to shoot yourself in the foot rankings wise.

One of the critical ways Google’s NLP works is to build a library of words and phrases it would ‘expect’ to find on a particular page that support the idea that the page is relevant. While Google AI is learning this you should be to!

SEVENTH: Start building a library of words

So if we consider a product page for a Robotic Lawn Mower we would expect references to:

  • Grass
  • Grass clippings
  • Backyard (or Lawn in the UK)
  • Automatic
  • Clippings
  • Boundary Wires
  • Cutting/Mowing
  • Green
  • Rain
  • … and a whole lot more

Then we would be looking for words which set the tone:

  • Amazing
  • Efficient
  • Time saver
  • Perfect
  • Ideal
  • etc.

Google knows how to see all of these in context. This isn’t a case of dropping words in here and there but using them in well written text and to describe images, videos and other content that you present. They should also be in videos and audio (because Google can hear these).

Now I’ve said this a million times – so saying it once more won’t hurt – it is also about keeping your content relevant. Every sentence, every graphic and every piece of content should count. Waffle and padding just weaken your page.

EIGHTH: Start building your content carefully

Focus on the first 5 most important pages of your website first and start searching out what you need for each:

  • Are there videos on YouTube which you could embed?
  • Does the manufacturer provide more photos or other content which you could use?
  • Create a list of icons or small graphics that might be useful to express key features – just sketch these for the moment.
  • Find positive quotes from around the web about the product (or product category) from reputable websites and save them somewhere to reference in your content – e.g. “A PC Mag 2020 Top Ten SSD Hard Drive”.
  • Find out more about the manufacturer’s back story, especially if this product is one of their leading sellers.
  • Find images you can use (legally) which could break up the text but are perhaps not completely specific to the product. A family playing on a lawn is related to Robotic Lawn Mowers.
  • Revisit my list of content ideas way up at the top of this article for more ideas on what to look for.

Sketch out how you think the page should look so that key functionality is not lost (I have seen some people add so much content it is hard to find the ‘Buy’ button!).

From here you have two choices.

  • Create the content yourself using professionals like graphic designers where you don’t have the skills.
  • Call me!

Why you’ll save money

A huge amount of fees from agents like mine is due to the research stage.

If you have pulled together the information and resources (images, videos, etc.) and made a draft text and layout then my job is just to polish it up, perhaps source some improvements like icons but cleaning up is far less work than building from scratch.

Initial analysis isn’t too costly either so if all that talk about downloading and creating spreadsheets has you feeling a little queezy we can take care of that.

Ultimately however, you are best placed for researching more content for your pages because you know your products best and you know where to look to find out more.

When it comes to implementation I have the programmers so we can look at, for example, ways to insert certain features across ranges of products rather than inputting them on each product page. This will then start to strengthen up far more pages than the one’s you have identified.

Of course we do carry out the full A-Z here at link2light so if you would prefer to just get on with running your business while we take care of the NLP preparations just let me know.

Longer term thinking

Remember in this post I’ve just talked about sorting out the pages where you want to protect your rankings. Obviously you’ll have pages that aren’t ranking at the moment but which you want to rank.

That’s pretty much going to be a case of ‘Rinse and Repeat’ when it comes to the content creation I’ve talked about here.

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