Google takes on eBay: Will other big brands follow suit?

In mid-May a lot of site owners noticed some big changes in the SERPs and traffic back to their sites. There was a lot of speculation as to why that was happening, and a few days later Matt Cutts officially announced that Panda 4.0 was rolled out.

Less than an hour earlier, Search Engine Land confirmed that a  Payday Loan 2.0 update was also rolled out at the same time. “Over the weekend we began rolling out a new algorithmic update,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Watch. “The update was neither Panda nor Penguin – it was the next generation of an algorithm that originally rolled out last summer for very spammy queries.”

Many site owners have complained that smaller websites get hit harder by these updates, while bigger brands get to ride out the changes even if they have been violating the same Webmaster Guidelines. “Too big to fail” is often discussed.

After all, Google is in the business of serving the needs of their searchers. If you were searching for a new swimsuit (using rather generic terms) and didn’t see sites like Amazon, Macy’s, or Target you’d be surprised, right? Maybe you wouldn’t notice it right away but if big sites vanished from the SERPs for long enough you’d notice and wonder what happened. Many speculate that because of this Google only softly penalizes big brands, while smaller sites feel the full fury of the algorithm updates.

But all is not well in the land of big brands. Here is what Dr. Pete at Moz reported on May 21,

Digging into the May 19th data (and before Google confirmed anything), I noticed that a few keywords seemed to show losses for eBay, and the main eBay sub-domain fell completely out of the ” Big 10” (our metric of the ten domains with the most “real estate” in the top 10)… Over the course of about three days, eBay fell from #6 in our Big 10 to #25.

Change is the norm for Google’s SERPs, but this particular change is clearly out of place, historically speaking. eBay has been #6 in our Big 10 since March 1st, and prior to that primarily competed with for either the #6 or #7 place. The drop to #25 is very large. Overall, eBay has gone from right at 1% of the URLs in our data set down to 0.28%, dropping more than two-thirds of the ranking real-estate they previously held.

Search Engine Journal reported “that eBay was penalized by Google, but that the drop in rankings was caused by being hit with a manual action. It was just a coincidence that it happened at the same time as the Panda 4.0 rollout.”

The question remains as to how long and exactly how hard eBay has been hit. Is the brand big enough that a serious drop in rankings for multiple keywords won’t matter? After all, eBay was around before Google and it certainly is well-known enough to pull in traffic directly. But how much revenue will be lost to Amazon or other shopping sites if they don’t show up organically?

This isn’t the first time eBay has made waves because of Google. Back in 2013, eBay calculated they spend $51 million on AdWords annually. eBay wondered what would happen if they stopped bidding on some of their 170 million unbranded keywords. They decided that they, being eBay, could live without AdWords and drastically cut their PPC spending.

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