Duplicate content can come in many shapes and sizes. For instance, there can be duplicate pages, duplicate domains and lack of canonicalization. What most people often don’t realize is that one of the most common and easiest to fix forms of duplicate content can be the meta titles and descriptions. It has been said that by simply tweaking ones title tags, a site can gain significant positions in the search engines.
Titles tags are probably the most important of the meta tags for two reasons: search engines weigh them very highly and users can actually see them as they appear in the browser window and in the search engine results pages. Making these unique, at least on the top level pages, can make a world of difference to a website’s ranking possibilities. People need to understand that the search engines can actually choose to display a different title tag to the one that’s on the website if they feel the one they choose is more appropriate. Constructing title tags so that they are at an appropriate length (70 characters or less), and making sure they are unique, relevant and have the primary keyphrase for the page will ensure that you choose what content is displayed in the SERPs, not the search engines.
Search engine optimization (SEO) varies by site and industry. Some industries are extremely competitive in the online space, whereas others may be less competitive. With ecommerce sites in particular, there are often challenges when discussing SEO. As a result, we find that many ecommerce sites instead turn to paid search as the quick solution.
Why do ecommerce sites typically have a difficult time for SEO?
First, there is often very little content on these site’s pages. Usually the pages consist of images, product names and manufacturer information that are used as product descriptions. Due to this lack of unique content, ecommerce sites at times have a difficult time attracting inbound links (although this isn’t an issue for the giants such as Amazon.com and Zappos.com). Another problem is that on ecommerce sites, non-SEO friendly URLs may be dynamically created. These are URLs that are tremendously lengthy or URLs that don’t contain keywords. And, to top it off, sometimes the URLs are duplicated, which is where there is more than one URL for one page of content. Multiple URLs create duplicate content on one site, and using the same manufacturer information for product descriptions creates duplicate content across many sites. (If you’re familiar at all with SEO, you already know that this is not good for your SEO efforts).
So, what can be done to overcome these obstacles?
The good news is that even though these issues mentioned above are commonly seen, there are ways to help ecommerce sites compete in the organic search results. First and foremost, the site must have a well organized and logical structure for users and search engines. There should be levels of your site — such as category and product level pages. You should also take into consideration the assets you have available. Ecommerce sites have many pages. Use these to your advantage. Add unique content to category level pages. Content is still one of the most important aspects of SEO, and giving the search engines lots of it will be to your benefit. Also, creating content that your competition does not feature can give you a distinct advantage. Don’t forget about those product pages that contain the generic (duplicated) manufacturing information. Try incorporating customer reviews. This way your customers will do the work for you.
Also, don’t forget about other opportunities to add unique content. Blogs, articles, how-tos are all great ways to accomplish this. Keep in mind, your customer should be at the heart of all of your efforts. Therefore with blog posts, how-tos, etc. create content that people are searching for or that will encourage them to share that info elsewhere on the internet (helping you to build your inbound links, which can be viewed as “votes” for your site).
Although not always easy, SEO can be worked into ecommerce websites with a little time and effort. Adding unique content and following SEO Best Practices will lead you to positive results.
A common misconception within the online community is that there are “penalties” for having duplicate content on your website. Many webmasters tend to get very antsy if they think the folks at Google et al are going to put them in “search engine jail” for having duplicates of this and duplicates of that on their website. In actuality, omission or de-ranking is reserved for only the most blatant offenders.
If your intention is to deliberately steal content from another website or spam your page’s content with keywords with the goal of ranking higher, then you should probably fear Google’s wrath. However, if some pages simply look very similar or are just duplicated because of a stubborn CMS, the worst that will happen is that one of these pages will simply be filtered out and demoted to the supplemental index. The best way around this is to either employ the proper redirects (a topic I discussed in my last blog post) or to make all pages on the site as distinct as possible.
Barring the iron fist of the search engines, it is still good practice to avoid duplicate content for the sake of your users. The more unique content on a website, the wider the reach you will have in the search engines and the better experience you will provide for your users.