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Is ‘Google Zebra’ the Next Major Algorithm Update?

Google Zebra [1]

There hasn’t been an official announcement from Google, but the interwebs have been abuzz with speculation around the next major algorithm update ever since Matt Cutts’ announcement [2] at SXSW in March.

“We have a potential launch later this year, maybe a little bit sooner, looking at the quality of merchants and whether we can do a better job on that, because we don’t want low quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results,” Cutts said at SXSW.

Cutts clarified they are looking for signals to “spot whether someone is not a great merchant” and will use those signals if “they are not all that spammable.”

And thus, rumors around the impending “Merchant Quality Update” started spreading and it has been dubbed “Google Zebra.”

Will Google stick with the black and white animal theme? Will it be named Google Zebra? Google Orca? Google Skunk? Google Charlie Chaplin? Well, maybe not the last one but you have to agree that guy was a beast before the talkies.

One thing we know for sure is Google aggregates reviews about merchants from across the Web and through its own Google Checkout system. Merchants have an overall review page through Google Product Search and the seller ratings are displayed in paid search ads.

Zebra1 [3]

How much these ratings will weigh in to the next algorithm change remains to be seen. It could be that Google is already using the ratings as part of its ranking algorithm, thought it hasn’t been explicitly stated.

In late November 2010, the New York Times [4] reported a sunglasses merchant called DecorMyEyes was ranking well despite terrible reviews. Google made an update [5] within days that penalized bad merchants like DecorMyEyes but never explained what signals were used and didn’t confirm if the impact came from poor quality reviews.

We’re at four months since Cutts’ announcement at SXSW. That could mean the merchant quality update could be more impactful, or it could just mean that they’re still determining how to determine a true review within the algorithm. Those at The Search Agency such as Project Manager David Garcia speculate the update could come around November 20th when Google Checkout will no longer be supported [6] and fully transitions over to Google Wallet.

To prepare for this potential update, we suggest following Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines [7]. Here’s the abridged version to be recognized as a true merchant, which also helps with being listed in Google’s Trusted Stores program [8]:

What do you think of these rumors and what Matt Cutts foreshadowed at SXSW? Do you think there will be more significant changes with this update? And, just for fun, what do you think the next Google algorithm change will be called?

About Matt McKinley

Matt McKinley is an SEO Creative Editor at The Search Agency. Upon graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2009, he worked as an SEO content writer and editor for a social networking site. Before joining The Search Agency, he wrote for AllFacebook.com. Matt’s interests outside of online marketing include sports, technology, movies and everything pop culture.

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