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Recently, a website visitor reached out to us with a very common issue. They are a small business with an e-commerce website, and their product pages included mostly duplicate content. This is not uncommon, as many manufacturers and suppliers will provide businesses with product descriptions and images. Inevitably, this means there are potentially hundreds of websites with the exact same content. The question is, "Will Google penalize my e-commerce website for having duplicate content?"
In short and simplifying a very complex answer, yes! Google, and other similar search engines, want to see truly unique content authored from your company’s perspective. When duplicate content is present, Google looks for the original content author and only gives credit to that outlet. According to Google’s search quality team, in cases where Google “perceives that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate [Google’s] rankings and deceive [Google’s] users...the ranking of the site may suffer, or the site might be removed entirely from the Google index, in which case it will no longer appear in search results.”
While duplicate content is a significant issue on e-commerce pages, it’s important to note that every page of your website should be optimized with unique content. Specifically for products, any webpage for different product sizes or colors should be rewritten, focusing on those specific characteristics, with a direct link back to the main product or category page. This will help improve your internal linking structure.
In attempts to avoid duplicate content, some users will keep only the bare minimum information, i.e. product name, price, category, etc. This is potentially even worse because without content, Google has even more trouble understanding what the page is actually about/selling. If Google can’t understand your page, it will not be able to match it up to relevant users who are searching for your products on search engines. For a solid page, you should have at least 500+ words per page. If that’s not remotely doable, at least have over 250 words.
If you still have duplicate content, some experts may advise you add to "noindex" to duplicate page and link to the original author’s page, citing their content. However, you should be aware there are many downsides to a noindex. Primarily, a noindex means the page will not show up in search results, meaning no one will find your page unless they are on your actual website via a different page which has been indexed. In addition, a penalty may still occur to your site for the duplicate content if malicious intent is assumed by Google.
Using these techniques will ensure you do not duplicate content used on other sites, and avoid penalties for duplicate content on your own site. Additionally, the strategy will increase the likelihood that users are directed to the main product page from within search results.
Need help? If you would like to talk about duplicate content on your website, or related topics, please contact us. We provide copywriting services for our clients who need some extra help writing unique content for their website or marketing materials.