Last week Google’s Webmaster Central blog, which exists as an information channel for website owners, published a post entitled Affiliate programs and added value.
Whenever Google posts some information (usually a nicely-couched edict) about web quality, search optimization, or their beloved “guidelines” it’s natural for many in the SEO community to react with skepticism. However, as much as there are times when Google appears to be running their own FUD (Fear Uncertainty & Doubt) campaigns, there are also times when Google speaks clearly and the message needs to be read and understood at face value.
At first glance most florists are likely to disregard the article entirely. After all, affiliate programs are primarily the realm of OGs and big-budget marketers, not smaller local florists. In order to see the relevance here we need to examine the two paragraphs that Google published in the context of a local florist’s website and business. To do this I’m going to address each important phrase on its own.
Our quality guidelines warn against running a site with thin or scraped content without adding substantial added value to the user. Recently, we’ve seen this behavior on many video sites, particularly in the adult industry, but also elsewhere. These sites display content provided by an affiliate program—the same content that is available across hundreds or even thousands of other sites.
- “Quality guidelines”: The rules Google publishes, and updates at will, that justify any penalties or actions taken against a website. Also, a clear indication as to what Google wants to see from your site.
- “Thin / Scraped Content”: Scraped Content is any text or images published on your website that were originally published on another site. Thin content refers to minimal text, whether original or scraped, that adds little or no value to the reader.
- “Affiliate Program”: An arrangement where a manufacturer or service provider agrees to pay a 3rd party (Affiliate) a set commission for each sale or lead generated by that Affiliate on behalf of the original company. This is effectively outsourcing the sales aspect of a business, either to complement or replace in-house sales. The is provided product images, descriptions, and other marketing materials produced by the original company.
Google is very clearly saying: “We do not want to see lots of websites with the same content, same products, same images, same product descriptions.” They view affiliate programs as a key contributor to the problem.
While you may not be involved in an affiliate program, consider how your website looks from an outside perspective:
- Do you have the same products as thousands of other websites?
- Do you have any unique content on your site?
- Would a non-florist look at your site and reasonably assume that you are part of an affiliate program, selling the same products as everyone else?
Did you catch that bit about “particularly in the adult industry”? Congratulations – your flower shop just got lumped in with the worst of the porn sites. Anyone feeling proud right now? (I think I need a shower!)
The post by Google is only two paragraphs long, but the news gets worse for florists!
If your site syndicates content that’s available elsewhere, a good question to ask is: “Does this site provide significant added benefits that would make a user want to visit this site in search results instead of the original source of the content?” If the answer is “No,” the site may frustrate searchers and violate our quality guidelines. As with any violation of our quality guidelines, we may take action, including removal from our index, in order to maintain the quality of our users’ search results. If you have any questions about our guidelines, you can ask them in our Webmaster Help Forum.
Be honest and ask yourself: Does slapping my logo on a template website with a standard product catalogue really add any value to the world? Remember, answer honestly.
Don’t miss Google’s repeated use of the term “violation”. Google’s #1 priority has to be search quality, otherwise people will switch to another search engine that gives better answers. Having 18 florists in the same city with the same website (yes, I’m looking at you, Houston) is not adding value, and truly is frustrating to the customer.
The Worst News of All
If you don’t believe me, consider the examples in this recent post from Florists For Change: Are you local? Then look local!. Every florist needs to read this! The post discusses a message from a customer looking for a local florist in New York.
I have come across [florist name] I am pretty sure that this is a legit brick and mortar local florist however when I joined the site I received a welcome email from a Teleflora email address. Looking further [florist] on their website indicates that they are a member of Teleflora.
And later on:
That is what confused me. In addition several of the seemingly brick and mortar florists … have almost identical websites that appear to have used the same template … That’s confusing to the consumer in my opinion.
These comments are from a reasonably educated customer looking for a local florist, local phone number, and actively trying to avoid the 800s. Even she wound up taking the time to contact FFC to verify the legitimacy of the florist in question.
We spend so much time talking about educating the customers, and yet we give them so little to work with! Shame on us as an industry for driving away the too most important resources we need to survive: The search engine that sends real customers our way, and the customers themselves when they see our boring, cookie-cutter web stores.
If Google and real customers are expressing their frustration can we really wait any longer to take action? The time has long past to take ownership of your online storefront, to make it as personal online as your retail store is in person, and to give customers confidence – not fear – when they deal with real florists.