Follow-up on "Google penalizes Erol stores"

Background: these three posts on Google penalizing e-commerce sites.

Erol has contacted me and we will discuss the technical issues within the next days or maybe weeks or so. I understand this as a positive signal, especially because previously my impression was that Erol is not willing to listen constructive criticism, regardless Googles shot across the bow (more on that later). We agreed that before we come to the real (SEO) issues it’s a good idea to render a few points made in my previous posts more precisely. In the following I quote parts of Erol’s emails with permission:

Your blog has made for interesting reading but the first point I would like to raise with you is about the tone of your comments, not necessarily the comments themselves.

Question of personal style, point taken.

Your article entitled ‘Why eCommerce Systems Suck‘, dated March 12th, includes specific reference to EROL and your opinion of its SEO capability. Under such a generic title for an article, readers should expect to read about other shopping cart systems and any opinion you may care to share about them. In particular, the points you raise about other elements of SEO in the same article, (’Google doesn’t crawl search results’, navigation being ‘POST created results not crawlable’) are cited as examples of ways other shopping carts work badly in reference to SEO - importantly, this is NOT the way EROL stores work. Yet, because you do not include any other cart references by name or exclude EROL from these specific points, the whole article reads as if it is entirely aimed at EROL software and none others.

Indeed, that’s not fair. Navigation solely based on uncrawlable search results without crawler shortcuts or sheer POST results are definitely not issues I’ve stumbled upon while investigating penalized Erol driven online stores. Google’s problem with Erol driven stores is client sided cloaking without malicious intent. I’ve updated the post to make that clear.

Your comment in another article, ‘Beware of the narrow-minded coders‘ dated 26 March where you state: “I’ve used the case [EROL] as an example of a nice shopping cart coming with destructive SEO.” So by this I understand that your opinion is EROL is actually ‘a nice shopping cart’ but it’s SEO capabilities could be better. Yet your articles read through as EROL is generally bad all round. Your original article should surely be titled “Why eCommerce Systems Suck at SEO” and take a more rounded approach to shopping cart SEO capabilities, not merely “Why eCommerce Systems Suck”? This may seem a trivial point to you, but how it reflects overall on our product and clouds it’s capability to perform its main function (provide an online ecommerce solution) is really what concerns me.

Indeed, I meant that Erol is a nice shopping cart lacking SEO capabilities as long as not the major SEO issues get addressed asap. And I mean in the current version, which clearly violates Google’s quality guidelines. From what I’ve read in the meantime, the next version to be released in 6 months or so should eleminate the two major flaws with regard to search engine compatibility. I’ve changed the post’s title, the suggestion makes sense for me too.

I do not enjoy the Google.co.uk traffic from search terms like “Erol sucks” or “Erol is crap” because that’s simply not true. As I said before I think that Erol is a well rounded software nicely supporting the business processes its designed for, and the many store owners using Erol I’ve communicated with recently all tell me that too.

I noted with interest that your original article ‘Why eCommerce Systems Suck’ was dated 12th March. Coincidentally, this was the date Google began to re-index EROL stores following the Google update, so I presume that your article was originally written following the threads on the Google webmaster forums etc. prior to the 12th March where you had, no doubt, been answering questions for some of our customers about their de-listing during the update. You appear to add extra updates and information in your blogs but, disappointingly, you have not seen fit to include the fact that EROL stores are being re-listed in any update to your blog so, once again, the article reads as though all EROL stores have been de-listed completely, never to be seen again.

With all respect, nope. Google did not reindex Erol driven pages, Google had just lifted a “yellow card” penalty for a few sites. That is not a carte blanque but in the opposite Google’s last warning before the site in question gets the “red card”, that is a full ban lasting at least a couple of months or even longer. As said before it means absolutely nothing when Google crawls penalized sites or when a couple of pages reappear on the SERPs. Here is the official statement: “Google might also choose to give a site a ‘yellow card’ so that the site can not be found in the index for a short time. However, if a webmaster ignores this signal, then a ‘red card’ with a longer-lasting effect might follow.”
(Yellow / red cards: soccer terminology, yellow is a warning and red the sending-off.)

I found your comments about our business preferring “a few fast bucks”, suggesting we are driven by “greed” and calling our customers “victims” particularly distasteful. Especially the latter, because you infer that we have deliberately set out to create software that is not capable of performing its function and/or not capable of being listed in the search engines and that we have deliberately done this in pursuit of monetary gain at the expense of reputation and our customers. These remarks I really do find offensive and politely ask that they be removed or changed. In your article “Google deindexing Erol driven ecommerce sites” on March 23rd, you actually state that “the standard Erol content presentation is just amateurish, not caused by deceitful intent”. So which is it to be - are we deceitful, greedy, victimising capitalists, or just amateurish and without deceitful intent? I support your rights to your opinions on the technical proficiency of our product for SEO, but I certainly do not support your rights to your opinions of our company and its ethics which border on slander and, at the very least, are completely unprofessional from someone who is positioning themselves as just that - an SEO professional.

To summarise, your points of view are not the problem, but the tone and language with which they are presented and I sincerely hope you will see fit to moderate these entries.

C’mon, now you’re getting polemic;) In this post I’ve admitted to be polemic to bring my point home, and in the very first post on the topic I clearly stated that my intention was not slandering Erol. However, since you’ve agreed to an open discussion of the SEO flaws I think it’s no longer suitable to call your customers victims, so I’ve changed that. Also in my previous post I’ll insert a link near “greed” and “fast bucks” pointing to this paragraph to make it absolutely clear that I did not meant what you insinuate when I wrote:

Ignorance is no excuse […] Well, it seems to me that Erol prefers a few fast bucks over satisfied customers, thus I fear they will not tell their cutomers the truth. Actually, they simply don’t get it. However, I don’t care whether their intention to prevaricate is greed or ignorance, I really don’t know, but all the store operators suffering from Google’s penalties deserve the information.

Actually, I still stand by my provoking comments because at this time they perfectly described the impression you’ve created with your actions respectively lack of fitly activities in the public.

  1. Critical customers asking whether the loss of Google traffic might be caused by the way your software handles HTML outputs in your support forums were downtrodden and censored.
  2. Your public answers to worried customers were plain wrong, SEO-wise. Instead of “we take your hints seriously and will examine whether JavaScript redirects may cause Google penalties or not” you said that search engines do index cloaking pages just fine, that Googlebot crawling penalized sites is a good sign, and all the mess is kinda Google hiccup. At this point the truth was out long enough, so your most probably unintended disinformation has worried a number of your customers, and gave folks like me the impression that you’re not willing to undertake the necessary steps.
  3. Offering SEO services yourself as well as forum talks praising Erol’s SEO experts don’t put you in a “we just make great shopping cart software and are not responsible for search engine weaknesses” position. Frankly that’s not conceivable as responsible management of customer expectations. It’s great that your next version will dump frames and JavaScript redirects, but that’s a bit too late in the eyes of your customers, and way too late from a SEO perspective, because Google never permitted the use of JavaScript redirects and all the disadvantages of frames were public knowledge since the glory days of Altavista, Excite and Infoseek, long before Google overtook search.

To set the record straight: I don’t think and never thought that you’ve greedily or deliberately put your customers at risk in pursuit of monetary gain. You’ve just ignored Google’s guidelines and best practices of Web development too long, but –as the sub-title of my previous post hints– ignorance is no excuse.

Now that we’ve handled the public relation stuff, I’ll look into the remaining information Erol sent over hoping that I’ll be able to provide some reasonable input in the best interest of Erol’s customers.

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