Chapter 2 - Resolving Duplicate Content Forever

Some of the most common issues ecommerce websites typically have to face are around thin and duplicate content. Compared to regular websites, ecommerce sites tend to contain less unique content; on product pages, for example, this is often limited to a short product description, which in many cases, is even copied across from manufacturer sites.

Besides this, there are many other scenarios which often cause issues on ecommerce sites, such as:

  • The same exact page is resolvable via more than one URL. E.g. Same product accessible via different paths (no order enforced)
  • Promotional pages competing with products and categories
  • Similar products competing with each other (e.g. same product in different colours or sizes)
  • Similar categories competing with each other
  • Thin category pages with only one or two products creating indexation bloat and waste of crawl budget problems

 Ultimately, your goal is to ensure that all your indexable pages have unique meta data and content, to avoid problems with Google algorithms. However, due to the typically larger size of ecommerce sites this is easier said than done.

Here’s 5 tips to fight thin and duplicate content on your ecommerce site:

1. Consolidate product and category pages when they are too similar or there is not search demand

Your site architecture should be informed by your keyword research which means that a page should only be created when there is search demand justifying its existence. For example, for a website that sells shampoos – and assuming that there are no searches around different sizes for this type of product (e.g. ‘Tigi Bed Head shampoo 250ml’) – having multiple URLs for each product size would present a challenge for strategically mapping keywords. As users will rarely search specifically for a size of product, more general and most valuable keywords won’t be attributed to one page only (e.g. ‘Tigi Bed Head shampoo’) and individual size pages will compete with one another, with ranking power diluted between them.

Furthermore, this used at scale also creates a bloat of pages, which will absorb search engines’ crawl budgets and reduce the frequency of pages’ appraisals.

image of product bedhead
Maria Camanes

Maria Camanes

Senior SEO Consultant at Builtvisible

Maria is a Senior SEO Consultant at Builtvisible, an organic digital agency based in London. With 7+ years SEO experience across sectors, she is passionate about optimising websites from a technical point of view and is particularly interested in eCommerce SEO and site speed optimisation. She speaks 4 languages and loves travelling whilst capturing landscapes with her camera.

Watch our Tea Time SEO session here:

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On the other hand, if your site sells dresses and you find there is search demand around a specific item characteristic, such as colours (e.g. ‘black dresses’) then you can consider hosting different colour variations of the same item under different URLs, so that you can target these longer tail variations with separate, more specific, URLs (e.g. /dresses/black-dresses, /dresses/red-dresses, etc.). However, these URL variants should only exist if you have the ability (and the resources) to ensure their content is unique and different from each other. Failing to do that will cause content duplication issues, as shown in the below example:

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The ecommerce website in the above screenshot had separate product URLs for each colour variant. In this case, users were searching for different colours so there was a real organic opportunity on going after these keywords. However, their product descriptions (along with the rest of the product page content) were exactly duplicates one from another. As a consequence, over 9,000 product URLs on the site were declared as ‘duplicates’ by Google and removed from their indexes.
This can be avoided by ensuring that every URL variant has enough unique content that is specific for each of them. However, this is easier said than done, especially for large ecommerce websites, so I have summarised a few tips on how to achieve this at scale in the next section.

2. Make room for content in your product page template

Product reviews

One of the best ways to do this at scale is allowing and encouraging your customers to leave reviews on your product pages. This type of user generated content (UGC) can be one of the best ways to tackle content uniqueness and freshness and a source of relevant content to your pages (at scale).

They also help your pages become more relevant for targeted keywords in a natural way, which will help your product pages rank for long-tail keywords.

reviews

Finally, reviews are seen as an endorsement of trust by Google and they will encourage visitors to make a purchase (increasing conversion rate & revenue).

Tip: if you add reviews to your site, remember to add the reviews and aggregateRating properties to your Product Schema code.

 

Answering user questions with FAQs and Q&As

Allowing customers to leave questions and answering them can be a really good way to avoid thin and duplicate content issues as they will work in a similar way to product reviews and become a source of fresh and unique relevant content too.

questions and answers

This will also help you increase your domain authority (and relevancy) whilst creating a community where existing customers give advice to new ones and advocate for you, which will also contribute to increased conversion rates.

 

Product markup

Product markup gives Google detailed product information it can use to display rich snippets (for example, price, availability, review ratings, etc.). There are a lot of different properties you can add to this schema property, but here are some of the most common ones we usually recommend adding to product pages:

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Use videos and related content to cater for longer queries

Long tail searches usually mean higher purchase intent and targeting ‘How to use [product]’ terms on your product pages can be a great way for capturing potential customers who are interested in buying but need more information.

When relevant, add related content and how-to videos on your product pages and make sure to include a summary/transcript to inform both users and search engines of its content. Also, remember to add video schema markup.

 

Show related products at the end of the product page

Your product might not be right for every customer that lands on your product page so it is always a good idea to provide them with other alternative products for them to explore. This will help the user find what they are looking for and contribute to a higher conversion rate and increased Average Order Value (AOV).

You can try different types of features such as ‘frequently bought together’, ‘you might also like’, ‘recently viewed products’, etc. We recommend testing a few different types to find out which aids higher conversion.

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3. Create unique product descriptions

Whilst all of these features can be a really good way for adding content at scale, you will still need to ensure that your top products have high quality descriptions targeting your most valuable keywords. You can start by taking the top 20 products on each subcategory on your site (ordered by traffic or revenue) and manually write a product description that’s unique and good quality.

 

Here some guidelines to follow:

  • Include your main target keyword in the description
  • Sprinkle in long‐tail variations, synonyms, and LSI keywords (but do not over optimise!)
  • Make sure they are well‐written and readable for visitors

 

If you do not know what to write about, here are some details you can include:

  • Product details such as size, features, colour, etc.
  • What is it made of and how is it made?
  • What is the packaging like?
  • What are the care instructions?
  • What can it be used for?
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4. Avoid product listing pages with only one or two products

Search engines see these pages as very thin and low quality and, having these at scale will have a negative impact on your organic performance. Furthermore, these product listing pages (PLPs) will be competing with the product page itself for related keywords, creating keyword cannibalisation issues and quite likely causing ranking decreases. E.g.: https://www.example.com/category-1 and https://www.example.com/category-1/product-name-1

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This kind of scenario can be avoided by following the below recommendations:

  • Consolidate categories when possible if you do not have enough product offering and don’t create category pages for less than ~4 products.
  • If they have to exist, you can noindex them as part of a wider product retirement strategy
  • Improve your category page templates by adding relevant content (e.g. content snippet at the top or bottom of the page, link to related categories, link to fitting guides, how to articles, etc). This will help search engines understand what is the purpose of these pages and avoid content duplication and cannibalisation with other pages on the site.

Step 5. Use the right platform

Often, a single product will fit under two or more different subcategories and, if this is not handled properly, there is a risk of having the same page accessible via different paths, causing content duplication issues. E.g.:

 

Similarly, a badly implemented faceted navigation, can often create more than one URL for a single product that is accessible via different facet order combinations. E.g.:

nail polish product

This can be avoided by enforcing a specific facet order for URLs to prevent a same page being accessed through different paths and will prevent from exponentially increasing the number of URLs created by different facet combinations.

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