Last updated - October 17, 2022
Modern online businesses need updated and proactive SEO work to find success. SEO consists of many aspects that include technical and non-technical bits. One of the most crucial and visible parts of SEO is website content.
In the internet realm, they say that content is king. Content makes the first impression not only on the users but also on the search engines. Search engine bots index a website based on the relevance and quality of the content it offers.
One of the worst things that can happen to a website is the compromise in the quality of its content in its niche. The said compromise could be a result of myriad reasons, but one of the most despised ones is the duplicity of content.
Duplicate content eats away your precious crawl budget and downgrades your website’s rankings and authority on the SERPs(search engine results pages). Duplicate content is a recurring challenge, especially for eCommerce sites.
For eCommerce websites, it’s a commonly noticed issue to develop complicated and overlapping URL structures that create indexing and crawling issues. These issues can give rise to duplicate content for various other reasons.
Do you want to learn more about duplicate content on eCommerce sites? Keep on reading.
In this article, we will look at some of the most common reasons for duplicate content on eCommerce sites. We will also discuss the various types of duplicate content that we can find on such sites. Further, we will discuss why we should avoid duplicate content and how we can do so. So without further ado, let’s begin.
What is Duplicate Content?
The explicit war against duplicate, low-quality, and thin content began way back in 2011 when Google launched the Panda update for its search algorithm. The said update was aimed at strengthening the content guidelines for websites. The idea was to give priority to better-quality content and weed out its low-quality counterpart.
The eCommerce websites naturally came under the ambit of the new algorithm. As a result, websites once deemed non-trustworthy by the Panda algorithm started falling in the SERPs to make way for the ones with unique content. The update sought to crack down on the widespread problem of content theft in the internet community.
But how do we define duplicate content? When chunks of content on a website start to fully or partially(but substantially) match with other content on the web, in more than two domains, the content is seen as duplicate content. Here, we have merely paraphrased the definition of duplicate content according to Google.
In simpler words, when parts of content on a website, or entire web pages in some cases, make an appearance on the internet in multiple locations, we can call the content in question duplicate. Duplicate content is often a result of accidental linking of multiple unique URLs to the same content while developing websites.
Duplicate content can be detrimental to your SEO and may even lead to search engines looking past your web pages. With more updates to the Panda algorithm, Google has shifted its focus on urging web developers to improve the quality of content on websites. Singling out and downgrading duplicate content is but a part of these efforts.
When it comes to eCommerce websites, the issue of duplicate content is more prevalent than in most websites of other genres. Interestingly, while duplicate content on other websites can be outright plagiarism, on eCommerce sites, it occurs inadvertently. We look at these reasons in the next section.
Reasons for Duplicate Content on eCommerce Sites
The duplicate content on eCommerce sites can be a result of various factors. Some of the most common such factors include:
The fact is that most sellers use the standard and generic descriptions of products provided by manufacturers. Thus, eCommerce websites end up with multiple pages where different sellers have used the same content to describe the same product.
Retailers rely on the descriptions from manufacturers because of the detailed information they have about the products. While the intention behind using these descriptions isn’t malicious, the result is duplicate content on eCommerce sites.
Navigation Using Filters
One of the crucial elements of any eCommerce website is filters. Filtered navigation is vital to aid users in easily accessing the products they want. Filters are used to sort items based on categories, brands, sizes, materials, and much more, making life simpler for users.
But the issue with filtered navigation is the appending of filter parameters to the URLs of your web pages. The possibility of numerous filter combinations, therefore, leads to countless duplicate content pages.
Here, by the looks of these URLs, both of these appear to be unique. But the results they offer will be almost identical.
Multiple Categories and Product Pages
Many eCommerce websites can’t help but have multiple product pages and categories that share common attributes. Thus, the content across categories can be similar, signaling to the search bots that the website contains duplicate content. The use of different tags ends up creating unique URLs, but the content they point to is often the same.
Various categories can eventually target the same products. For example, “Women’s Sweatshirts and “Sweatshirts for Women”. Here, both categories will fetch similar products.
Ecommerce websites often use session IDs to track how users interact with the site. A session ID comes into the picture when a user wants to send and store items to their cart during shopping. We can often find that session IDs are embedded in the URL structure (it appears like ?sid=). Every session ID is unique to a given user and tracks their behavior on a website.
The problem with session IDs is that search engines read all URLs containing unique session IDs as duplicate pages. Session IDs create a duplicate URL for every page they are applied to.
Different Types of Duplicate Content on eCommerce Websites: Helping You Identify
Duplicate content on eCommerce sites can be broadly categorized into two categories viz. Off Site and On Site Duplicate Content. Let’s take a look at these.
Off Site Duplicate Content
Some of the common sources of off site duplicate content are:
Third-Party Content: Manufacturer’s Descriptions and Product Feeds
As discussed above, product descriptions are one of the primary sources of duplicate content on eCommerce sites. Similarly, when eCommerce sites add their product feeds to third-party websites for more reach, they end up creating duplicate content through these external domains.
eCommerce websites can instead use practices such as email marketing to increase their reach. Email marketing performance metrics can be easily accessed and provide much-needed insights. It can minimize the possibility of creating duplicate content through product feeds.
Such third-party content informs the search engine crawlers that a given eCommerce site contains duplicate content. Search engines thus conclude that the affected web pages have no unique value to offer to the users.
Unauthorized Content on third-party websites (Plagiarized Content)
When content scrapers and scammers take content from your website to generate traffic for their ads, search engine bots classify the content on your site as duplicate. Such unauthorized use of your content amounts to plagiarism and dents the credibility of your website.
Authorized Content on third-party websites: Syndicated Content
Many eCommerce sites have blogs where they share new posts regularly. These sites can authorize third-party publishers to publish some of these blog posts with due rights for the same. Irrespective of the rights being transferred, to avoid the issue of duplicity or plagiarism, the original author can still face search penalties.
The duplicity that results because of authorized content sharing has a lesser adverse impact on the search rankings of the publisher if they are an authoritative website. The proper rights transferring process must be adopted while re-publishing content.
Proper SEO protocols must be followed while syndicating blog content to avoid duplicate content penalties. Content canonicalization on the source, i.e., the eCommerce website, goes a long way.
Duplicate Content on Testing Sites
When websites are at the development stage, the search engines can still index their content. In such a scenario, if the content of an eCommerce website was indexed at the time of its testing stage, the current content can be perceived by search engines as duplicate. Therefore, it’s vital to note and remember that even testing sites need to be removed or hidden from indexing.
On Site Duplicate Content
Product Review Pages
All eCommerce websites have the facility to allow customers to leave reviews for the products they buy. These reviews appear on dedicated review pages and inform users about the quality and real-life functionality of a given product.
Duplicate content issues arise when some of these reviews are also shown on the product pages. Naturally, when the same reviews are present on multiple pages, the search engines consider it a duplicity issue.
The easiest solution to this problem could be the canonicalization of the review pages to the product page itself.
When URLs on an eCommerce website are non-canonicalized, search engines index all different versions of practically the same URLs. When we canonicalize a URL, we inform the search engines that we want them to prefer it over all others.
We have already discussed how eCommerce websites end up with multiple URLs that lead to the same content. We can solve this by setting up canonical versions of these URLs and helping search engines in indexing only these versions when they crawl the website.
Trailing Slashes on URLs
An eCommerce website can face duplicate content issues solely based on the trailing slash in URLs. Search engines identify two same URLs as different if one of them has a trailing slash at the end. Even though both of these URLs would point to the same content, they will be perceived as different entities.
For example, “/xyzabc/” and “/xyzabc/index.html” will point to the same content but will be perceived as two different URLs.
When users search for products on an eCommerce website, the internal search results show snippets of the product pages on the corresponding search results page. For obvious reasons, search engines don’t prefer these internal search pages while suggesting results for user queries. Instead, the original category pages, product pages, etc., are displayed.
Non-WWW and WWW URLs
We know that we reach the desired website even if we don’t include the customary “www” at the beginning of the domain name. But for search engines, a domain name without “www” is not the same version.
For example, the website that will open for “www.xyzabc.com” and “xyzabc.com” will be the same, but Google will view these as two different URLs.
Ecommerce websites can face duplicate content issues when such URLs are not canonicalized.
Case Sensitive URLs
For Google, URLs are case-sensitive, and a slight difference in the lowercase or uppercase can result in duplicate content issues for an eCommerce website. For example, Google will view “xyzabc.com/sHoeS”, “xyzabc.com/SHOES”, and “xyzabc.com/shoes” as three different URLs.
Why Duplicate Content is Bad for SEO and Why You Should Avoid it
Duplicate content can have severe adverse impacts on your SEO and render the hard work that goes into it toothless. Search engines have updated their algorithms to prefer and rank unique content higher in the SERPs.
The simple reason why search engines prefer websites and web pages with unique content is that they have become more user-centric. Search engines want to aggregate the freshest, most relevant, and distinctive content for internet users.
One of the other crucial reasons why duplicate content is detrimental to your website is the race to set yourself apart from competitors. If you want your website to do better than its competition, you must ensure that it contains unique and valuable content.
When eCommerce websites use the standard product descriptions that come from manufacturers, they end up decreasing their value in the eyes of search engines. The advantage of offering unique content in the form of stand-out product descriptions starts eluding such websites.
Another big disadvantage of duplicate content is its tendency to compete against itself. Irrespective of on-site or off-site duplicity, various versions of such content fail to find the value they would deserve.
Websites and pages that have duplicate content issues lose their authority signals and start getting pushed down on the SERPs. All SEO strategies and techniques start weakening in their capability to bring more traffic and improve visibility.
Search engines become confused between different duplicate versions. It becomes difficult for them to choose the right version when it comes to showing results for a user’s search queries.
For all of these reasons, and many more, it is highly recommended that websites, including eCommerce ones, avoid and fix duplicate content issues regularly. You can use a duplicate content checker to identify duplicate content on your eCommerce website.
Ways and Strategies to Fix Duplicate Content on Your Ecommerce Site
Clean All URLs and Look Out For Duplicate Content Across Categories
Ecommerce websites operate across different categories of products, and all of them have their URLs. Search engines may not get a clear idea of which URL to crawl and index if many of them point to the same content.
An eCommerce website generates unique URLs for different categories and various paths. For example, when you want to shop for sneakers, you may end up following one of these paths:
Here, both of these paths will have their URLs, creating an issue of duplicate content for search engine crawlers. While it might seem like a smart move to create multiple URLs for the same product categories, it creates more duplicate pages.
You can use Google Webmaster Tools and establish a domain that should be preferred for each category. Additionally, you should pay attention to identifying URLs that lead to the same content. The idea is to clean unnecessary URLs and ease the crawling and indexing process for search engines.
Optimize Navigation Links, Sitemaps, and robots.txt
Google indexes a website based on three crucial parameters viz. internal/navigation links, sitemaps, and the robots.txt file. These are also applicable on eCommerce websites, just like any other type of website.
Internal linking or navigation links are a vital part of an eCommerce website. These play a vital role in increasing revenue by offering cross-selling options. These links may be placed at strategic positions on product pages to take customers to complementary products. For example, selling a mobile phone cover and screen protector to someone buying a new smartphone.
A sound navigation link structure can do wonders for an eCommerce website. It can also solve various indexing problems due to duplicate content issues.
A sitemap is nothing but a representation of the position of content on a website. For search engines and users to reach different pages on your eCommerce website, it should have an impeccable sitemap.
A clear sitemap guides users and search engines alike in reaching the desired page for their queries easily. You can boost your SEO and offset the impacts of duplicate content by creating a clear sitemap.
The Robots.txt file informs search engines about the parts of a website that should not be crawled or indexed. You can prevent the pages that contain duplicate content from indexing with the help of the robots.txt file. Therefore, you must ensure that you use the robots.txt file wherever duplicate content issues might derail your SERP rankings.
You can manage your duplicate content issues effectively if you carefully optimize these three fundamental indexation elements.
Use Canonical Tags and Noindex
We have suggested canonicalization as a method to avoid duplicate content issues previously in this article. A canonical tag informs search engines that multiple URLs are the page with the same content in reality and that only the one with a tag should be preferred during indexing.
On the other hand, the no-index tag does what its name suggests. When we apply the no-index tag to a page, we are essentially telling the search engine bots not to index that page.
A thumb rule is to never use canonicalization and no indexing simultaneously. The reason behind this is simple. We don’t want the search engine to think that the canonical tag was added for no reason.
Some duplicate content issues where you should use canonicalization include A/B testing pages and filtered navigation. Some of the pages where you should use no index include shopping cart, staff login pages, thank you pages, etc.
Study Which Pages Google Indexes
You should always know which of the pages of your eCommerce website have been indexed by Google. You can simply run a “site:example.com” search to get this information. The idea is to check if there’s something wrong with the indexing of your site. You can also analyze this data to identify the indexing problems.
You can then address these problems and improve your SEO. If your search results in excessive indexed pages, you can identify the ones that contain duplicate content. You can make the best use of your website’s crawl budget by taking the necessary steps to handle the pages with duplicate content. Noindex or canonical tags come in handy.
Try To Create Unique Pages
Having seen how standard product descriptions from manufacturers give rise to duplicate content on your eCommerce site, you should try to create unique content. You should start afresh and make changes to the standard product descriptions.
Since you can’t alter the information regarding the technical aspects of a product, you should focus on changing the tone and rewriting everything else, except for the former. You should be willing to invest time and effort in this process to help your product pages rank higher up in the SERPs without facing duplicate content issues.
Identifying Which Filters Can be Crawled and Otherwise
You should identify the filters that will result in improving your SERP rankings. These filters include the ones that help explain a product and its specifications or add value to your various product categories.
At the same time, you should either no-index or add canonical tags to URLs with filters that only change the design without affecting the content. You should also accord the same treatment to sorting filters because they don’t play a meaningful role for search engine bots at the time of indexing.
We can conclude that duplicate content can have a severe adverse impact on the search rankings of your eCommerce site. You can identify the types of duplicate content and follow the strategies mentioned above to steer clear of duplicate content issues. Make your eCommerce site stand out. Identify and fix all its duplicate content issues now.