Does Google Care about Duplicate Content on Your Site?

When you have an E-commerce site, you may have similar descriptions for similar products. Is that okay with Google?

Video Transcript:

David: So, you had one question about duplicate content and another question about CloudFlare.

Dave: Correct. So, the first one that’s more important is the duplicate content part. So, the issue ends up being when you have an e-commerce site. In general, you can choose a couple of different ways to put your products on. One way is you can do variable products or variations like you have a t-shirt, and there are multiple sizes and stuff like that. Or you can do separate individual products. And what we do is we recommend to clients that if they only have like five or ten products, to put each individual variation as its own product.

David: Interesting.

Dave: Just because it looks funny to go to a site where you’ve got one product. That doesn’t seem very good. But then once you start getting 10 or 15, then it’s like, let’s categorize them, and all that kind of stuff. So, the question that I have is, one of my clients, on their tarps, for example, they’ve got different variations of the product, but they’re not doing variable products. So, there are different sizes. You know, different sets, and each one is its own product, but the descriptions are very, very, close to the same – temperature, what it’s made of, and all that kind of stuff. What we were doing is there were some images when I was looking at all the products, doing the categories, stuff that we talked about, which is working out well. Then there are pictures of some products, like a tarp being used on a truck, where they show the grommets, they show the D-rings, those things that are good for all of the products.

David: Hmm.

Dave: So, is that considered a duplicate product? Not just text but pictures. What does Google do about that? Do they care? When it comes to e-commerce type of thing?

David: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. This is a super challenge with a lot of e-commerce sites, right? The question becomes how much different is different content, right? And something like a tarp is a really great example. Okay. If a tarp, that’s nine by 13. And you have a tarp that is 20 by 24 made of the exact same material, maybe even the exact same color, but there’s only so much you can say about a tarp and its dimensions to make the description unique.

Dave: Exactly.

David: First of all, it’s important to remember this whole duplicate content thing, right? Let’s clarify what that means. So, I will confess, as long as it’s not recorded. I’m joking. I’ve threatened clients with the fear of a duplicate content penalty. And I tried to manipulate people by saying there is a duplicate content penalty on a website if you have the same content throughout. I’ll admit that was wrong. I shouldn’t have used that threat, but sometimes you have to push clients a little bit more. There’s not really a duplicate content penalty by Google per se, in the sense that Google will penalize your website for having the same content. What really is going on is if the content is the same on several pages or even several websites, Google does not want to share several pages with basically the same content. So, sometimes people like me will call it the duplicate content penalty because functionally, it works like a penalty in the sense that if there are too many things that are the same, Google’s only going to pick one of them. And so it might not pick the right one because it’s basically the same content between 2, 3, and 10 different pages. So, it kind of works like a penalty, but it’s not a real penalty. It’s just Google saying, “Hey, you know what? This page and that page are virtually identical. And so, I’m going to pick one.” And sometimes Google picks the wrong one. The one that you would rather them not pick. Let’s take the tarp example. Let’s say I have two descriptions of tarps. And the only difference is the dimensions. And so, you write a 500-word description of the tarp, and you just substitute out the dimensions. Okay. So now Google sees two pages and the real difference is just a couple of numbers on the page of 500 words. Right? That’s a lot of words, and there’s only like one slight variation.

Dave: Can I add a caveat to that?

David: Please, please.

Dave: So, though that makes sense, the caveat would be that the title would be different.

David: Right.

Dave: 24 by 24 tarp versus 12 by 12 tarp.

David: The title is different, but even that is just one factor, right? So, it’s still basically the same content. And at what point, basically the same and actually the same versus basically the same and actually different, where that is, is a very fuzzy line. So, what could happen in this case is someone could search for a 13 by 20 size tarp. Well, you have a page for nine by 13, and you have a 20 by 24. Google might send you to the wrong one. And you go there, and you’re like, what the heck? This is a nine by 13. I want a 20 by 13. Or vice versa. Or it could be that Google might like the nine by 13 page better, but let’s say you’ve got some links built to it. In contrast, the other one doesn’t have any links built into it. Google’s going to prefer the one with links. So, it might send people to a nine by 13 page, even though they’re looking for a 20 by 24. And when the person lands on the page, it’s not the right target, and they are out of there to find someone that has it. So, because of the way Google works with that, they will pick the page they find to be best, that the similar descriptions basically work as a function, as a penalty where they’ll suppress one of the pages because it thinks one’s better, even though there might be a more relevant page. Does that explanation of how Google works make sense?

Dave: Kind of. So, there’s that. And then there’s also the fact that I could see Google saying it looks like the most popular size that people are looking for is nine by 13. So, even if they say 20 by 24, they could go to the nine by 13 page. So, there are two implications of this that I’m thinking of. One is from a client perspective of the company that has the e-commerce site up. You’ve got to do what is going to be helpful for them to purchase that product. Which means you have to include that information in there. You just have to. Pictures and stuff, because you got to help them to make that buying decision. Right?

David: Yeah. That’s part of it. Yeah.

Dave: Yeah. I mean, you’ve got to do that. And then the other implication is to make sure that if they do land on the wrong size page or the wrong color, whatever it is, that they can easily, on your site, maneuver to find what they’re looking for without going back to Google.

David: Right.

Dave: Would that be a fair way to think about it?

David: So, that’s part of it, but first of all, I think the first solution is that words on the page still matter to Google. So, anything you can do to differentiate the pages, especially the descriptions on the pages of the products to distinguish them will help you. So, in this case of a tarp, that’s nine by 13 versus a tarp, that’s 20 by 24. There’s probably a reason why the manufacturer has picked those two dimensions. Maybe one’s for a pickup truck, and one’s for a dump truck.

Dave: Yes, right. There’s a little bit of that.

David: Right. So then, knowing those distinctions will help you be able to generate unique content. This is a great tarp for a dump truck or commercial use. Whereas the other one is a great dimension for your average extended cab truck or whatever the distinction is. So, you have to know the product to know why manufacturers pick these dimensions and then use that to flesh out the content. So, it’s a little bit more unique on each page. And that will help Google see that these two are different and then serve the right one for the query. Also, imagery is a really tricky thing when it comes to this. So, in this example, we’re talking about the dimensions of a product. You could have two pictures, but the picture wouldn’t necessarily show the dimensions. Even if you put dimensions in the picture nine by 13, 20 by 24, right? The aspect ratio is not going to tell… So, it’s really the words on the page to help make that distinction.

Dave: Right. So, if it was just a generic picture of the tarp on a truck, is that okay to put on a couple of products?

David: Yeah, in fact, the thing is, you can get away with duplicate imagery a lot better than you can get away with duplicate words. Right? So, you’re you don’t have to tell a client, “Hey, I need you to go take a picture of the nine by 13 and another picture of the 20 by 24,” necessarily. But it’s writing the words out. So, I mean, tarps are one thing. Other products might be a little bit different, but I guess what I’m saying is words still matter to Google. Taking the time to distinguish with the words what it is that’s different will help Google pick the right product to serve to search engine users when they’re looking for what you have to offer. The good news is, I like to say to everybody to have at least 800 words on a page, but with e-commerce, it really doesn’t have to be that much. If it’s a super competitive product, and there’s a lot to consider (long buying cycle, whatever), then more words are only going to help you. But if it’s that you are going through an e-commerce site and writing descriptions for each one, you can get away with 300 words. 300 unique words per item becomes an achievable solution. It’s not easy. And you’d have to make priorities like, okay, these are the most profitable ones for us, these are the ones that we uniquely have, and kind of work your way systematically through the site to the point where eventually every product has at least 300 unique words.

Dave: Yeah, I think so. I think what we’re going to do is on this, and I’ll tell the clients, let’s go ahead and duplicate the pictures if it’s okay on the products. And then, on the words, let’s go back and, number one, fix some of the spelling and punctuation errors that are there because there are a bunch. But number two, let’s see if there’s anything that you can think of for each particular product that makes it different like the application is different, or the rows of grommets, or anything that ends up being different from the perspective of not worrying about duplicate content, but from the perspective of helping Google find a better match.

David: Well, and you don’t even have to sell it as SEO. You can say let’s help the users through their purchase of tarp solutions by making it clear why they should pick this tarp over the other one, outside of just mere dimensions. Right?

Dave: Yeah. That will be tough.

David: Okay.

Dave: Because it’s like, I guess you could do things like, for this size of a load, you should choose this one. This is meant for this size of load. But that’s going to be a ton of work. They don’t have time for that, and we don’t have time for that.

David: Well, and that goes to the whole prioritization process, right?

Dave: Yeah.

David: What you could do is just say, what’s already doing well? We’re going to start with those to make sure those, at least, have unique content, and maybe they’ll get a little bit better. And then, do some keyword research and find out if there are some missed opportunities that we don’t have written out uniquely that could benefit from new content, and then start on some of those. And then just, you know, you eat the elephant a bite at a time rather than try to convince a client we’re going to go undergo a 365-day, 300-word-a-day project. All right, we’re just going to go and start working. Honestly, that Google data studio search console report we shared a couple of weeks ago, with the graph and the bubble chart, might be a great way to help identify where to start. Because remember one of the dimensions was these rank well but aren’t getting click-throughs? Or these rank on the second page and are already getting visitors. But not a lot. It might be the distinct unique descriptions that could push the ones that are ranking well into getting clicks. Or it might be unique descriptions that get the ones that are ranking on the second page pushed up to the first. You can almost use this to determine where your priorities lie.

Dave: Yeah. Okay. So, what I’m going to do then is put some words to this, and we’ll talk about it in the meeting that we have maybe next week. I’ll just kind of say, let’s fix the products so that the punctuation and all that is good. We can add pictures if you guys want. Let them do it. And then we’ll take a look and tackle the products themselves afterward because after we’re doing the category stuff. I think because it’s just too much right now. And now we’re doing a category a week, and that takes some time.

David: Yeah. Yeah, that might be good. And you know, maybe you set a goal like we’re going to do five products a month.

Dave: Yeah. All right. We’re going to work our way through. We’re doing a category page a week, and that’s going to take us through at least the end of the year, if not in January. So, then we really look at the products more. Yeah. And then I can talk to them and say, “Look, you know, guys, SEO is a long-term play. You guys are going to be in this for a long time. You think about a year or two now, when we’ve got so many of your products dialed in very well. Especially, as you said, start with the ones you do a little bit of research on. What makes the most sense, as well as the products that they’re going to have over the future, for the next year, 2, 3, 4 years. Right. That’s what we want to spend the time on. Then a year, a year and a half from now, they’re going to have like the most amazing site ever from an SEO perspective. Right.

David: Yeah, I think that’s great.

Dave: Awesome. Well, thank you for helping me go through that and talking to that.

David: Yeah. It is super common in e-commerce. As we talked about in the past, the biggest opportunity for wins on e-commerce sites typically is category pages. But product pages can’t do well, too, if they are uniquely described.

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