Do Duplicate Content Filters Apply to Ecommerce Sites?

Are you making either of these 2 mistakes with your product descriptions? If you are, they could be killing your rankings.


It's a common complaint. Ecommerce site owners will contact me for help because their product pages don't get ranked. Among one of my standard checks is their product copy. Very often, what I find is copy that was provided by the product manufacturers. Or, worse yet, copy that is the exact same for a variety of products with the exception of a few words. Both can cost you in the rankings.

Don't Use Canned Copy

Using copy provided by product manufacturers may seem like the best way to go. After all, you get professionally written copy for free. However, there are two major drawbacks associated with this approach.

First, you lose most of your ability to differentiate yourself from every other website that sells the same products. If a person does a search, for example, on a particular model of Oster blender, he’ll likely find most websites have the same copy that was provided by Oster.

Since the product is the same and the copy is the same that leaves only a few options for proving to visitors why they should buy from you as opposed to any of the thousands of other sites that carry this blender.

When you use custom-created copy, you have the opportunity to entice them and show them why your store is the best choice.

On the SEO side, this is a classic case of duplicate content across multiple domains. What is commonplace these days is for one site that uses the canned copy to rank well while others are filtered farther down in the rankings. The top slots end up filled with review websites, blogs or other ecommerce sites that use original copy.

Don't Use Copy That's the Same but Different

Jewelry stores. Foreign language sites. Office furniture stores. There are countless types of sites that will often use the same product copy, but substitute a word or two. For instance, jewelry stores may have a particular ring setting that is available with rubies, diamonds or emeralds. They'll use the same copy for all three rings, with the exception of the stone. Like this:

This elegant cocktail ring isn't just for special occasions. The stunning 14 karat gold band is topped with a classic six-prong setting that cradles a top-quality diamond. This allows the diamond to reflect more light for a brilliant shimmer.

Then, for a ruby ring, the copy would read:

This elegant cocktail ring isn't just for special occasions. The stunning 14 karat gold band is topped with a classic six-prong setting that cradles a top-quality ruby. This allows the ruby to reflect more light for a brilliant shimmer.

Personal experience has shown that these types of product descriptions may or may not get ranked well. This is not duplicate content across multiple domains; however, it still stands a chance of suffering the wrath of Google.

To get a clearer picture about this situation, I emailed Google know-it-all Matt Cutts and asked the question, "Is Google sophisticated enough to be able to tell when an ecommerce site has a need to use duplicate content for products that are the same but different? It seems as though you can from what I've noticed in the SERPs."

Matt's reply was a great big "maybe."

"Typically on-site text doesn't result in a penalty, just in the other copies of a page being filtered out. Only changing a single word ('English' to 'Italian') might not be enough though. If someone has different products, usually it's a good idea to make sure that the descriptions are at least somewhat different."

Translation? Typically, if it's duplicate content on different pages of your own site, and not across multiple domains, one of the product descriptions will rank well, and the rest will be filtered out of the search engine results pages (SERPs). I've seen this happen a good bit for exact duplicate content when every word is precisely the same.

Changing one word means the content isn't an exact duplicate anymore. However, Matt cautions that just altering a single word (diamond to ruby, etc.) may not be enough of a difference to save your products from being filtered. I've seen product pages that have only changed one or two words get filtered about 50% of the time.

Safest bet? Do what Matt recommends and use product copy that is significantly different for each item. Original copy gives you the freedom to entice your site visitors, differentiate yourself from the competition and rank high in the search engines.