Google Zebra Update Rumours - Fact or Fiction?

By | April 25, 2013
Close up of zebra stripesIf you count yourself among the tens of thousands of website owners that felt the effects of the Google Panda and Penguin updates over the last 16 months or so, then chances are you're already shaking in your boots about the prospect of the so-called Google Zebra update that's rumored to roll out later this year. So what is Google Zebra all about and why the heck does Google have a weird fascination with monochromatic animals?
That's what we'll talk about in this post.

The Google Zebra Update - Fact or Fiction?

While Google has stated that they're going to be less up front when it comes to revealing when their updates are coming, it's pretty safe to say that whatever Google Zebra is going to be - hasn't actually happened yet. Beyond that - all bets are off.
Why is it called "Zebra"? Well - chances are it isn't, but since the previous updates featured black and white animals (the Penguin and Panda updates) the more astute Google watchers are guessing that the next update will also feature a black and white animal.
Having said that - while Zebra seems to be the leading contender for what the update will be called, "Orca" is yet another black and white animal out there that is up for grabs.
Basically, at this point Google Zebra is just a name so that we can all talk about the planned update that Google is making, so let's just leave it at that - what Google ultimately names the update is largely irrelevant.

What will the Google Zebra Update Target?

Judging from comments that Matt Cutts has made at the recent SXSW Austin event, it would seem that Google has online merchants in their cross-hairs for the next major update.
Online store owners should already be creating original content whenever possible for their product offerings by re-writing descriptions from their supplier and using original photos with relevant file names and meta data - so else will Zebra crack down on?
Here are some of the best guesses being posited by the industry at the moment:
User Reviews: Merchants with bad reviews (or perhaps even worse - no reviews) are going to have to clean up their act. Google wants to present trusted sites first and foremost in their rankings. Bad reviews are an indication that something needs to be addressed to meet customer expectations; this is something that any good online merchant would do. If you don't, Google will penalize your site accordingly.
Physical Location: It's no secret that most people feel safer buying from a company with a physical address, a legit phone number and regular business hours Monday to Friday. This is another factor that Google will use when determining which stores are trust worthy enough to rank higher in the search results.
Google's Trusted Stores Program: Is your store registered with Google's Trusted Stores Program? It would seem logical that Google would trust stores more that are enrolled.
Meeting or Exceeding Google's Search Quality Guidelines: Google took the time to put together their guidelines and share them with us, so again - it's only logical that they would reward those who actually pay attention and get into compliance.
Many of the guidelines are pretty much common sense:
  • A "view my shopping cart" link that works
  • A shopping cart that automatically updates when you add a new item
  • A working shipping calculator link
  • Having a public return policy along with a physical store address

Google Zebra: Business as usual or time to panic?

Much of what has been surmised to be the Google Zebra update comes down to common sense. For many legitimate online businesses it will be business as usual when the update finally rolls out. There's no real need to panic unless you're a merchant that has been pushing the threshold on the absolute bare minimum necessary to do eCommerce transactions online.
If that does indeed happen to describe you, it's not too late to make the updates you need to get into compliance with Google before it's too late. Otherwise, maybe it's time to consider getting out of the business on your own terms before Google gives you no other choice.
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