Got an eCommerce site? If you do, I’m willing to bet you sell more than a few products. If you’re anything like the hundreds of eCom operations I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years, you likely have some products that are pretty similar to each other. Depending on how similar those products are you could be setting yourself back in organic search. So, I’d like to take the time to show you how to avoid being hamstrung by duplicate content on eCommerce sites.

Duplicate content can be beautiful, yet still troublesome

Defining eCommerce Duplicate Product Content

First, let’s flesh out what could make a set of products seem similar, duplicate, or identical to search engines.

  • Sizes: Say you sell shirts, or shoes, or hats, or pants. You could consider those each to be a specific product. After all, you have different quantities of each for fulfilling orders. However, aside from the size, the product is virtually identical. If you had a unique page (with a unique URL) for each size, you’d have a lot of duplicate content on your hands.
  • Colors: Pretty similar to above. Each product may or may not come in different colors. Visually it’s different, but everything else about the product is the same. This is more common than the above and if each color variant has it’s own page, you’ll probably have duplicate content.
  • Designs: This is like the next level of color. A product could have a slightly different design or pattern, noticeably different but not different enough to actually label it as a completely unique product. This one can be kind of tricky and is the most often overlooked.

Why Duplicate Product Content on eCommerce Sites is an Issue

Search engines frown on duplicate content because it typically correlates with lower quality sites and spam. Having a ton of pages that all have the same content makes it look like you haven’t taken the time to put together a good site that users are going to get value from. Alternatively, it might just make you look oblivious to how your site works, which probably doesn’t bode well for your users either. Also, search engines need to be on the watch for when content is scraped or stolen from other sources, making it appear on multiple pages throughout the web; don’t risk getting caught in any kind of automatic duplicate content detection if you can help it.

All of that aside, having duplicate content on your eCommerce product pages makes your SEO much less effective due to the dilution of link equity. What happens when three users each link to and share a different version of the same product? That equity and value that once product should be earning is now split among three copies, making all of them less effective. If duplicate content is a systemic issue on your website, that’s a huge problem.

I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

How to Avoid and Clean Up Duplicate Content

When you are presenting these different products to search engines (and shoppers), you need to be careful. Don’t overwhelm visitors (human or bot) with mountains of product choices and display every size, color, and design variation, as its own unique product. I mean, come on, you don’t want to have your visitors landing on a category page that displays the same shirt ten different ways.

They key is to condense as much as possible. When’s the last time you actually saw a website that had unique product pages for every available size of a pair of pants?

That’s right: never.

The pair of pants has one “canonical” page, a single representative destination, with a dropdown selection for size. For usability, that makes a lot more sense, but let’s think about if from the SEO perspective as well. If we had 10 pages for 10 available sizes of a single style of pants, we’d end up with 10 unique pages that all have the same name (H1 heading), product description, price (probably), reviews, and shipping information. Maybe the product image would be different on each version, but through the eyes of a search engines, you’ve just created about 10 duplicate pages.

The engines then have the choice to:

  • Let the 10 duplicate versions compete against each other for ranking
  • Pick one and drop the rest of them
  • Do something drastic like send your website to Panda jail.

…and just in case you need help visualizing the issue, take a look at this side-by-side screenshot.

A diehard SEO and web analytics geek, Mike is the Director of Analytics & Optimization at SwellPath. He is also a board member at SEMpdx. Mike's fascination for search experience optimization, structured data and semantic markup, and web technology knows no bounds. Beyond geeking out with SEO and analytics, Mike is also a prolific blogger, speaker (MozCon, SemTechBiz, SEMpdx, SMX, State of Search Conference, etc.), and company culture advocate. When not in the office, Mike is spending time with his wife, enjoying the outdoors, or keeping up with inbound marketing news via mobile; most of the time, it's all three simultaneously.