Ecommerce SEO | Duplicate Content
As a general rule of thumb, each page that you want to perform well in organic search should be primarily unique content – this means content that isn’t anywhere else on your site or anywhere else on the web. As search engines try to rank the original source of content, this helps with your rankings and helps to ward off penalties, such as Panda, associated with low content quality.
While there is no magic ratio for unique content vs duplicate content on a page, a good framework to think about this is – if all the duplicate content on the page were ignored:
- Would your page provide enough information for Google to understand what your page is about and rank it well?
- Is there information that would be valuable to visitors that is not available on (many) other websites?
Duplicate content presents a unique challenge for ecommerce sites and is why ecommerce sites can easily fall prey to Panda. If you have thousands (or millions) of products, it is a huge investment to create this much unique content. But, sites who do invest in content have a significant advantage over their competitors and typically perform better in search.
If you want your product pages to bring in organic visits, you need to get a significant amount of unique content onto these pages. The problem here is that most ecommerce sites utilize product descriptions and specifications provided by the product manufacturers. This results in duplicate content populating the majority of product pages on many sites.
To fix this, the product description should be completely re-written. While this is a huge cost, if you’re competing using duplicate content, you likely won’t rank well, unless you have an exceptionally authoritative site. Worst-case scenario is that you get very familiar with the Panda algorithm.
If you have a huge product catalog, this cost might seem really high and you might have a hard time convincing managers that you need to rewrite every product description. So start here:
- Go to your analytics and see how many products have had at least five visits in the last 30 days and compare that to the total number of products on your site. Is the difference a big number? This should give you a good idea of how Google views the quality of your product pages.
- Take 100 products (a mix of pages with and without traffic) and create unique descriptions to test the impact of this effort and create a case study to help you lobby for rewriting product descriptions.
To maximize the value and results yielded by your test, test this on high revenue, high margin products that rank on the second page or bottom of the first page.
There are several options, such as CrowdSource, for outsourcing product content, that typically produce adequate quality content.
Multiple versions of products is another one of the most commons sources of ecommerce duplicate content.
This is likely done to be able to show users the different colors the shirt comes in. While this was well intentioned, it can be very detrimental to SEO as a significant amount of duplicate content can be created this way.
The ideal solution would be to display images of each product on the category page, but have both the images point to a single URL where the user can choose between the colors, as depicted in the image below (Target).
If this single page solution is not viable, the next best option is to have a canonical version of the product and to set the canonical tag of all product variations to the canonical version. This is actually what Banana Republic did in the above example – both of the URLs canonical to this one.
URL Based Duplicate Content
Duplicate content can also be created systematically by some content management systems. This happens when a product is displayed in multiple categories and the product URL is based on the category (but is not “anchored” to any one category).
An example of this would be if a product was listed in both a jacket page and a brand page, the resulting URLs for the same product could be:
/jackets/product-id and /northface/product-id
Another common scenario is when the URL is based on the user’s click path. In this situation, the URL would be different when the user went to jackets and then North Face vs North Face then jackets:
/jackets/northface/product-id vs /northface/jackets/product-id
In short there are multiple URLs for the same product.
When this happens you first need to decide which URL you want to be the canonical URL. Typically, it is best to choose the URL based on the most external links, most organic entries, or the highest converting entry page. Then you should set the canonical tag on the duplicate points to the chosen canonical version.
Similar Category Pages
A frequent source of duplicate content on category pages is the creation of multiple category pages for the same topic. There are many reasons this happens and the most common is creating a category page for site navigation and another version of the same page to display in internal or external search results.
Even if these pages are different (different products, title tags, or one even has a sentence or two on it), it’s still duplicate content and compete with each other in search as they are focused on the same topic. There are two primary problems associated with having multiple similar category pages:
- Search engines have to pick a version to show in search results and they often show the less favorable page
- Link equity is split between multiple pages instead of being concentrated on one page, which makes both of the pages less likely to rank than if there was one stronger page
The simplest solution is to get rid of the extra category pages, 301 redirecting extra category pages to proper category page.
If this isn’t possible, the canonical tag on the variations should be set to point to the proper category page.
- Create unique product descriptions
- Consolidate duplicate products into 1 page
- Remove any URL based duplicate content
- Remove redundant category pages