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eCommerce Website Design: Avoiding Fallout from Duplicate Content
26 April 2010
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Website Design and Duplicate ContentThe SEO industry collectively shudders when the term “duplicate content” is uttered—which is why eCommerce website owners need to be aware of what duplicate content is, who it affects, and how it varies in terms of severity.

So, What Exactly Is Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content is simply the act of copying content from another website and placing it on your own. These days, website owners who take content from a copyrighted website without the website owner’s specific permission can face legal ramifications—after all, that’s stealing another person’s hard work aimed at improving their website.

Not only can a site owner face legal troubles, but duplicate content is also a major SEO don’t. Search engines crawl the Web looking for the most valuable websites to display in their search results. When a search engine finds that multiple sites have the same content, they’ll typically detect and index the originator of the content, the site where the content first appeared. The other sites that copied the content can face search engine penalization issues, and search engines may simply not index many pages from their site, leaving few opportunities for the sites to rank well.

What If I Don’t Have Time to Write Unique Content?

For a busy website owner, the idea of writing unique copy may be daunting. It may be tempting to use the product descriptions that a manufacturer supplied and gave permission to use . . . but don’t cave! There are tons of other eCommerce websites that may be using the exact same descriptions, and for that reason, it’s important to differentiate copy. Unique copy sets the site apart and allows search engine spiders to index as many pages as possible.

Are All Duplicate Content Situations Treated Equal?

In an ideal world, all of a website’s content—from product and category descriptions to homepage content—would be unique and reflect the store’s personality and value proposition. To that end, it’s recommended that sites include unique, SEO-friendly homepage content and section page content. Product descriptions should be as original as possible, and tweaking a description to include at least three unique sentences can be a help.

Additionally, duplicating content within a specific website is much less severe than using another website’s content. So, while it’s still best to make content as unique as possible, using the same original product description for three products on the same site isn’t likely to cause search engine penalization issues.

How Can I Rectify a Duplicate Content Situation?

Instead of succumbing to duplicate content scenarios, start brainstorming ways to work around them. Take a T-shirt shop as an example. Perhaps the online store features a handful of T-shirt styles that are available in five colors. The store decided to include the same description for all of the colors of each shirt, creating five pages that contain the exact same content. To correct this, the store owner could create one product page and incorporate drop-down boxes that allow customers to select the specific T-shirt colors and sizes they’d like.

Canonical tags can also be placed in a site’s code to tell a search engine which variation of a page to crawl and index. Keep in mind, however, that it’s ultimately up to the search engines whether they’ll follow these instructions, and with search engine algorithms continually changing, this may not always be the safest route.

Investing in an experienced SEO copywriter to author unique product descriptions, section page copy, and homepage content could prove to be a wise idea . . . and it could go a long way in ensuring that a site is optimized well from the start and doesn’t suffer from duplicate content problems.

What If My Content Is Stolen?

If a website contains copyrighted content and another website owner places it on their website without permission, legal action can be pursued. However, the investment in doing so is usually quite high. Plus, stealing content from another website is an all-too-common problem, so repeated legal costs could really add up.

Fortunately for those who create unique content, duplicate content issues have the most adverse affect on the website that copied the content, rather than the originator. Yet, seeing another website easily take the content someone spent hours writing isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Work to protect that content by ensuring the site is protected through copyright laws, hopefully deterring other website owners who may be contemplating stealing content.

The moral of the story? Always be unique.

This article was published in the March/April 2010 issue of eBiz Insider, the magazine for eCommerce professionals from Web.com.


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    1. Hey Alicia, great article. A few extra bits to note for avoiding duplicate content problems:

      1. There is no duplicate content penalty as such, or so Google says; it is more of a filter. That said, if other people are scraping your content and winning more links, it could be time to report them to the big G.
      2. The biggest dupe problems we see are sites that have several domain names pointing at one site or have variations of a domain (such as “http://” with and without “www”). Couple this with CMS systems creating several different URLs for a single page, and all of a sudden you could see your main domain drop out of the index for your important search terms.

      So, a few tips:

      1. Make sure you have unique content.
      2. Only have one primary URL, with all other versions redirected (301).
      3. Have a consistent policy for linking internally.
      4. Be mindful of your CMS, and make sure you don’t have multiple versions of a single page.

      Hope it helps someone.
      Marcus

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    2. A good SEO copywriter won’t just avoid duplicate content, they’ll also help with conversions by including strong calls to action.

      There’s some good advice here. The whole duplicate content issue seems to create much more fear than perhaps it should, but you’ve shown it’s not too difficult to avoid.

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    3. Marcus and Andy: Thank you for the further insight! You both have some excellent suggestions that site owners can certainly put to use. Thanks for contributing!
      Alicia

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    4. I really appreciate this article. It did take some convincing that we SHOULDN’T be using the manufacturers’ descriptions for our product descriptions, but in the end my quest to conquer the online mattress world persevered. TY

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    5. Hi,
      I really like this blog. But I’m confused about one thing. How can I know that my website content is copied by someone?

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    6. Reko said on May 13, 2010

      I just found out that another website almost 100% duplicated one of my web pages.

      Really hate when this happens, after thinking so hard to make all my words unique to avoid duplication.

      In Alexa, this page has a higher rank than me, and all of a sudden my first page result on keyword of Yahoo search is completely gone, while this “robber” is in the first page of Yahoo results. (Seems Yahoo crawler thinks that I’m the one who’s duplicating?)

      Still feel lucky though, as Google put me in the first page results, and this robber is a few numbers lower than me on the first page.

      Reporting them is useless, isn’t it? Still hoping I can sue them though . . . :)

      Thank you.

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    7. Kevin @ Back To Bed – I completely understand. It definitely does take quite a time investment to write unique product descriptions, but in the end, it’s worth it. Plus, it differentiates you from your competitors!

      Peter Mark – Try just taking a few lines and copying and pasting them into Google’s search box and see if any other websites come up with similar copy. There are also some tools that will help detect it, but they’re basically doing just that.

      Reko – That’s so frustrating when that happens. Google is much more advanced, so it’s great to see they have detected that you are the originator of the content. You can try to report them, but legal action may actually produce quicker results :)

      Thank you for the great comments!

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