Evan Prokop

SEO for Ecommerce Websites – Managing the Duplicate Content Beast

Evan Prokop     Online Marketing, SEO

Man in 3D GlassesThe rise of ecommerce websites has heralded a new era of convenience for consumers, as well as the most powerful tool for retailers since electricity. However, ecommerce sites bring with them a host of SEO challenges that can quash any hopes of being found in organic search.

Fortunately, with a little foresight and a bit of technical knowledge, ecommerce retailers can maximize their SEO potential and literally rise above the competition (in the search results), resulting in more customers and increased sales.

Duplicate Content

The single biggest SEO challenge for ecommerce sites is duplicate content. While nearly every modern website can be subject to this issue, the characteristics of most ecommerce websites tend to have every attribute that typically results in duplicate content.

Because duplicate content can be a sign of manipulation, plagiarism, content scraping, or just plain laziness, Google takes it seriously and so should you. Hosting too much duplicate content can seriously hurt your rankings, traffic and most importantly your bottom line.

However, as there are perfectly legitimate and unavoidable reasons for duplicate content, the major search engines have united in recognizing meta tags which honest webmasters can use to send signals to the search bots that will help avoid penalties.

While the precise causes of duplicate content can be diverse, in the majority of cases, the problems can be addressed with:

  • Rel = Canonical Tags
  • Pagination Tags

Similar Product Pages

Most ecommerce retailers have lots of very similar product pages. Products often come in multiple colors, sizes, or variations, which all have their own individual product pages. While giving shoppers lots of options for customization is essential to keeping them happy, search engines do not feel the same way.

A simple and essential fix is to place canonical tags on similar product pages to indicate to search engines which is the most important version of that page.

Similar Product Page 1   Similar Product Page 2

Multiple Page Product Search Results

Any time a product list stretches across multiple pages, those pages will all register as duplicates or near duplicates in Google’s eyes. However, listing hundreds of products on a single page is not only poor user experience, but can exponentially increase your page load times. What to do?

Adding pagination tags to sequential product pages will indicate to search engines that multiple pages are meant to be treated as one page.

Ecommerce Duplicate Content 1   Ecommerce Duplicate Content 2

Mobile and Print Versions

Offering multiple versions of your site for mobile users and printing is great from a usability perspective, and is increasing expected in the age of the smartphone. However, once again this will ring duplicate content alarms at Google, as you are serving up essentially the same content on multiple pages (however well-intentioned you are).

This is another case where canonical tags are the way to go. In most cases you will want to treat the desktop version as the most important.

Duplicate Ecommerce Print Version 1   Duplicate Ecommerce Print Version 2

Similar Product Pages Across Domains

In cases where products are offered through different domains, cross domain duplication can become a problem. Dealers will often supply product descriptions to their re-sellers, who will use them verbatim. Also, ecommerce retailers who sell through multiple sites due to geographic or disparate markets may use the same descriptions across domains. Whatever the cause, the end result is duplication, and in many cases lots of duplication.

Unfortunately in this case there is no simple fix. Aside from convincing your competition to change their product descriptions (good luck), the only course of action is to re-write your copy to differentiate it from the rest. Depending on the volume of products on your site, this can be an intimidating task, but the results are well worth it.

When dealing with a site that has a very large number of duplicate product pages (across domains), a good technique is to prioritize your optimization efforts by focusing on the most important products first. This will most likely be determined by which products have the highest profit margin, have the highest sales, or are currently not drawing any search traffic.

Duplicate Product Description 1   Duplicate Product Description 2

Be Proactive

As with most areas of online marketing, the key to effectively managing duplicate content on ecommerce sites is proper planning. By implementing the above measures from the beginning, you will be able to save yourself effort and stress down the road by handling duplicate content before it becomes a problem.

What are your top tips for optimizing ecommerce websites?

Image via Shutterstock.

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  1. Great post.Writing contents for your site is the most daunting task. Unique
    contents are pretty much self explanatory. Unique & relevant content
    is really very helpful in getting more traffic. I know it’s really hard
    to make your every post ground-breaking. Unique content will help you
    to stand out in your field..

    • Agreed, it is a challenge to regularly create unique and interesting content. I find one of keys is to maintain a rolling content plan spanning at least 2 months of concepts / outlines. It helps to stay on track as well as ensure that a common thread runs through your posts.

      • SEO turning into content marketing and Guest blogging only , one can gain Quality Back links only investing valuable time and spreading positiveness in websites not spams. Using Call to action Images and well designed landing pages will be returning huge effect in seo for ecommerce.

  2. Some eCommerce websites are doing there best to avoid duplicate content penalty since Google released the latest post Panda update by removing all the product descriptions since, most of the product descriptions are used by many ecommerce related websites..

    • I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing that. While this may avoid duplicate content penalties, it also won’t give the search engines much to rank your page for. Duplicate content is bad, but no content is arguably worse.

  3. Avatar Rank Watch says

    The good comes with bad too. On a forum I visited a few days talk, one webmaster was questioning about the tags mentioned here: Canonical Tags
    Pagination Tags. This goes to show that how much competitive E-commerce platform has become as far as online visibility goes. Some sites do suffer from duplicity unknowingly, but they can’t do much about the Google algorithms and have to be more cautious.

    • I’m curious, what were the criticisms? There may be unintended consequences from using them incorrectly, but I would argue that when used properly the advantages are well worth the effort. As you say, ecommerce is incredibly competitive. Wouldn’t you want to do everything available to optimize your site?

  4. So how much difference does there have to be in the content for it not to be considered duplicate?

    • Good question Tricia. There isn’t an official number I’m aware of (like a lot of things in SEO). I think a better way to approach it is to alway try to write with a unique voice, and write for people first and google second.

  5. The examples given above related to the similar content (product descriptions). What if the text is different (e.g. different language descriptions) but all the tags and site architecture remain the same? Do you think web search engines will consider it a duplicated content?

    • If the on page text is unique, then no, you should be fine. Keep in mind that a lot of ecommerce sites are built using templates, which will have similar architecture. Just make sure you have a reasonable amount of text on your pages and that it is crawlable.

  6. I always try to recommend products end up in only 1 category on an eCommerce site. I often bump into eCommerce sites where a single product is in many categories which could really confuse a website visitor.

    • I tend to agree, although there are cases where a product does legitimately fit into multiple categories and makes sense to be found in both. In these cases make sure you use proper canonicalization.

  7. Avatar Sheetal Sharma says

    Managing content on eCommerce website is a part of content management which needs special attention if you are trying to increase your search rankings, be it E commerce website or corporate website, the essence remains the same.I consider myself lucky to be a part of content management team at Synechron where one of my KRA’s is to work on SEO.

  8. Thanks Evan,

    I was looking to solve the same problem for two of my clients with their eCommerce websites’. Because they have so many same products with different attributes so most of them have same description. I will be doing their search engine optimization.

    So this post is a perfect solution in my case and I like this post as you are not only discussing the problem but you have a better solution.


  9. Thanks for sharing your views. Great blog here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate people like you. I would like to thank for the efforts you have put in writing this blog.

  10. I manage two e-commerce sites that have similar content and some products that crossover, which makes it even more difficult. You really have to get “creative” with some of the descriptions, because there are only so many ways you can explain certain products. 🙂

    It takes a lot of time to make your product descriptions unique, but if you’re in it for the long-haul, then it is totally worth it.

  11. Thank you!!!!!

  12. Brilliant
    article, I enjoyed reading this.

  13. there is only description of products you can write unique and creative but product specifications and other important details are usually same on most of websites. How to solve this issue?