In the mid-2000’s things in the SEO world changed – suddenly everyone was petrified of duplicate content, and it’s fair to say it redefined the way the industry went about their business. Maybe even more so for online retailers doing product page SEO.
Google was beginning to transform into the behemoth that we see before us today.
However, in 2013 Google’s Matt Cutts released a statement telling us that just over a quarter of the content on the internet was duplicated and that Google doesn’t necessarily see it as a bad thing.
That’s not to say you’re off the hook; duplicate content should still be a rather large spec on your SEO radar – especially if you’re running or marketing an online store and doing product page SEO. You won’t be able to rank above your competitors by merely copying and pasting content.
As I said Google has evolved and if you’re an ecommerce store owner, you need to be savvier than ever before to have any chance of reaching those coveted top positions in the SERPs.
In the following post, we’re going to walk through the steps necessary to improve your product page SEO and rank higher than other ecommerce websites for the same or similar products.
However, before we run through each step, I think it’s quite useful for us to understand the nature of duplicate content and why it is so intrinsically linked with ecommerce.
But, I Already Understand Duplicate Content…
It may sound like a case of preaching to the choir here, but there’s more to it than you think.
To illustrate my point, take a look at this excerpt directly from Google:
So, Google is scouring the internet searching for like-for-like content which can be traced back to an origin point, but isn’t a deliberate attempt to con the search engines.
It also goes on to say that unless you’re attempting to gain unfair traction through malicious practices, you won’t be in the firing line.
Contrary to what everyone in the industry has told you: duplicate content isn’t directly responsible for damaging product page SEO efforts. Not by itself anyway.
In fact, Google has made several statements since to confirm that they have no direct duplicate content specific penalties.
But the critical thing to remember here is that the problems associated with the duplicated content are not direct – they are quite the opposite.
To explain things further, think of it like this…
Many ecommerce stores create their content from a template product description from the manufacturer, and this is often used extensively for the same or similar products on hundreds of sites.
If Google pops along to your site and sees this content and slaps a big fat red flag on it then there’s a good chance there’s a fundamental flaw in the way you’re running the website and doing your product page SEO.
So, there are 2 things to take away from this part of our discussion:
- Duplicate content that is not attempting to unfairly gain an advantage won’t be under scrutiny.
- This means that this type of duplicate content isn’t the kind that we’ve had nightmares about.
What is “Good” Duplicate Content?
If I Google ‘HP Laptops’, the top three unique results are the HP Store, Curry’s and PC World here in the UK.
Each listing has different information in terms of the meta and titles, but there’s a good chance that these three companies are advertising the exact same product somewhere within their pages and as such there’s a high probability that the imagery and content on these pages is very similar, if not the same.
In this case, Google is ranking the results based on the strength of the domain and page authority, purely because there’s no way to tell which offers more in terms of customer experience.
This is something that you or your clients, must be aware of, because, assuming you’re not working with or for those big retail outlets, you have absolutely no chance of ranking highly because your content is spun from the same yarn.
This causes a problem, because your revenue comes from your product pages.
If I click on two random search results, so, in this case, Curry’s and PC World, I can delve down into the individual product pages to give you a further understanding of what I’m talking about.
After clicking around a bit, I find this:
The HP Spectre x360 15.6″ 2 in 1 in Silver and here are the product descriptions:
As you can see the product descriptions for the HP Spectre is the same on both sites, and although Curry’s and PC World are part of the same company, they are still on separate URLs with no canonical tag.
Whilst duplicate content is not necessarily harmful in Google’s eyes, it is also true that you’re walking a bit of a tightrope if you are engaging in such practices.
Google deliberately tries to filter the best pages, which means that users will see fewer duplicates on page one.
If the store you work on includes quite similar products that look to tap into a different sales demographics, this will be a problem that you’re already quite familiar with.
If we take the laptop example again and pop over to the HP website, you might come across this:
Here are the technical specs of the OMEN by HP 15-ce013na Gaming Laptop:
And here is the technical specs of the OMEN by HP 17-an018na Gaming Laptop:
Except for the hard drive specifications, these technical specs are exactly the same.
Which means that only the OMEN by HP 15-ce013na ranks on the first page. This tells you that using duplicate content in particular ways causes a problem, because the Omen 17, will probably appeal to gamers who are particularly interested in a higher specification product, but they can only see the 15 in the SERPS.
So, how the heck do you improve your product page SEO to rank the product pages with similar attributes over similar products on your site or those of your competition?
Product page SEO stalls when websites aren’t giving off enough signals to Google that say, ‘come to me, I’m offering something super unique and different over here!’
Google is all about originality, so in order to create something unique in a sea of mediocrity, you need to conjure up some of those super unique magnetic rays.
Be An Individual
When someone copies content to the letter and whacks it into his or her CMS or eCommerce product catalog, it usually awakens the sleeping giant, and once Google comes to investigate the copy and paste job, it will just dismiss the content as a carbon copy of another website.
And when this happens, Google will attempt to help the searcher by providing the answer to the query from what it sees as the original source.
You don’t want to be tarred by this brush, so the idea is that you make your product pages into a unique experience that Google and visitors will prize above the competition.
If you’re still unconvinced by the benefits of creating original content, take a look at this example.
Nick Eubanks over at SEONick.com has proven time and time again how aggressive content techniques pay dividends.
In one case, his team created a brand new website targeting the Japanese market and they were able to grow traffic to over 100,000 visitors per month in only nine months using a system of constant testing and user feedback to create the content they knew their audience needed.
Nick and his team then replicated this process over and over again, in order to prove his content strategy worked.
While creating content like this does take a little more time, the best course of action is to create individual content for each product, based on your own template.
This ensures you’re basically tweaking your own original content and this will improve your product page SEO rankings and traffic.
Take Lush as an example:
Here we see one moisturiser:
And here another:
To the untrained eye these products look similar and probably do a similar job, but what’s great about it is that Lush has been able to write in a way that emphasises the difference between the two products.
This means that unlike the Dell example from earlier, these two product pages are chocked full of positive SEO vibes, which means they both have a great chance of ranking well.
It’s also worth remembering that you’re not just trying to sell a product you’re trying to sell your brand and convince people you’re the only place to buy from.
Once you take the time to create unique content, you’ll rank highly in Google; building that trust that search engines and consumers love to see.
Clean Up Your URLs
Once you’ve sprinkled a dash of fairy dust to your product content, there’s another big issue that could possibly muddy your product page SEO.
When search engines look to crawl a website, they also look at tracking URLs, print-friendly pages and pagination as areas of potential content duplication.
It’s not always possible to remove these, so you must be sure to clean up your URLs, so everyone is clear what is duplicated and from where.
These are all just variant URLs of the same page.
Even though they are basically just slightly different paths for users to reach a particular page on the website, search engines will see five separate pages and the duplicate content within them.
In order to prioritise a certain domain URL, log in to your webmaster tools and select whether you want your website with or without “www”.
This instructs the bots crawling around your website to associate the website with a particular URL structure, which will help to alleviate a big chunk of duplicated content.
Once this is complete, it’s important to make sure the website remains consistent.
Here’s an example from Amazon:
The URL is:
And if I click on any product:
You’ll see that the https://www. has been retained.
It’s often the case that websites are built with little to no consideration of future SEO efforts.
For example, your site will be bolted on to a shop, and this can sometimes create these URLs on product pages:
Whereas your home page may still display:
If you’ve already established a predominant domain, this is where all your links will go.
Matching up product pages, blogs and landing pages, will help prevent customer and search engine confusion as well as the associated content duplication.
So, here’s what to do…
Establishing canonical URLs tells Google which page is an original, by inputting the rel=canonical command.
This does take a little time admittedly, but it encourages Google to rank your original page rather than an alternate.
Canonicals indicates which page is your main port-of-call.
Let’s say that you’ve got five different URL structures, which are associated with the same page. Taking these five pages:
- Page A
- Page B
- Page C
- Page D
- Page E
Page A, is your main man and pages B,C,D and E are just pale imitations.
In order to nudge Google in the right direction, you’ll need to tell them that page A is the place to be using this code within the header of pages B,C,D and E:
This informs Google that you’re using the same content, but all the power from the other pages should be redirected to page A.
With this tag, which is arguably the most essential tool in the product page SEO armoury, you can instruct Google to rank only one page, rather than multiple versions.
In Depth Keyword Research
Optimising duplicate pages for the variants of your keywords is a great way to push your product page SEO efforts to the next level.
However, first, you must perform an in-depth keyword analysis to decide which keywords are most relevant and worthy of your time.
You’ll then need to broaden your list to accommodate numerous search variations. You should also drop one level deeper and search for search variants of specific products; this will help to rank them.
Optimising for these keywords will help you to create unique descriptions for product pages, which will increase rankings, traffic, conversion and most importantly, revenue.
There’s so much noise surrounding duplicate content these days. But, you shouldn’t be afraid to tackle it head on in order to fix any issues.
If you want to stand a chance of improving your product page SEO and ranking your wares above competitors providing the same products, then creating a unique story for each product from a base template gives you a fighting chance.
If this is not always possible, then illustrate clear instructions to allow search engines to seamlessly move through your website and take their attention away from the things you don’t want them to see.
It all sounds super simple, and it is, but as we’ve seen even big companies like Dell aren’t doing this and in turn could be harming their chances of better performance.
Got any product page SEO tips and tricks that work for you? Share them in the comments below!