Why Duplicate Product Descriptions Are Bad For SEO

A tablet computer on a wood desk displaying the Google search page

Have you ever visited a website that has the same product description for multiple products? This often happens with multiple products that are very similar, and is a time-saving tactic. On the Google Office Hours video from December 31st, Google’s John Muller said that while Google doesn’t penalize web pages with duplicate content, there are some disadvantages to having duplicate content.

Your product pages are your money pages, and getting them to rank for relevant searches is important. Because of this, you’ll want to have unique descriptions on each page. Here’s why.

Google Is Less Likely To Rank Multiple Pages With The Same Content

When users are searching for a product you offer, they don’t need to see many pages with the same content. Google is capable of reading the content on your webpages, and it’s less likely to rank multiple pages with the same content. In the video, John Muller states:

“…we would probably see this as duplicate content, but we would not demote a website due to duplicate content. So from a practical point of view, what would happen is, if someone is searching for a piece of text that is within this duplicated description on your pages, then we would recognize that this piece of text is found on a bunch of pages on your website, and we would try to just pick maybe one or two pages from your website to show. So it’s not that we would demote your website or penalize the website in any way because it has duplicate content. It’s more from a practical point of view we recognize that you have this content on a lot of your pages. So if someone is searching specifically for that content, it doesn’t make sense for us to show all of those pages.”

What this means is that a bunch of your money pages aren’t going to rank in Google if they share content with other pages. This could prevent customers from finding just the product they’re looking for, and reduce overall conversion rates.

Duplicate Content Is a Wasted Opportunity For SEO

Somewhere out there, someone is searching for just the product you’re selling. The way they find it is very likely by searching for it on Google. Having the right keywords in your product description is essential for that user to find (and hopefully purchase) that product. So if they’re searching for “blue and white kids shoes,” and the color of the product isn’t mentioned in your product description, they’re less likely to find you.

Specific and detailed product descriptions are key to increasing click through and conversion rates. Most users aren’t going to take the time to navigate through your site to find what they want; they’re going to click on the most appealing link of the first page of search results. 

These detailed, descriptive keywords not only make your money pages easier to find through search, but they’re more likely to get users to click through, especially when included in the title and meta description of your page.

It’s Harder For Google To Rank Pages With Duplicate Content

Muller states that when you don’t provide the details that make up the context for your page, such as visual details of the product, that makes it more difficult for Google to rank those pages. Most search queries on Google are between three and four words, and some of those words are likely to be descriptive. If you don’t have these visual details in your product description, Google is less likely to view these pages as relevant to the search query, and thus less likely to serve those pages as results. Again, you’re losing potential customers for those products.

A Note About Duplicate Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are the little blurb of text that appears below the link to your site on the Google search results page. 

Once upon a time, metadata such as descriptions were much more influential in ranking pages. Google has since reduced the importance of metadata as a result of keyword stuffing and other “black hat” SEO methods. But meta descriptions are still important.

First off, meta descriptions still have an impact in ranking your site. After all, it is content and content is the single biggest ranking factor for Google these days. So, you want to have descriptive keywords in your meta description.

The primary use of the meta description, though, is to provide context and description for your page on the search engine results page. It allows users to read what’s on your page and determine if it’s relevant to their needs. So it impacts click through rate, and thus traffic, conversions, and revenue.

Additionally, if your meta description is absent or if Google determines that it’s not an accurate description of your page, it will scrape the first part of the content from your page and show that as the meta description, making it doubly important that your copy is descriptive.

What Can You Do About Duplicate Content?

If your products are distinct enough to appear on different pages, they’re distinct enough to have their own product descriptions. You can reduce the overall number of pages on your site and potentially increase a page’s chances of ranking by condensing those similar products onto one page with a variation selector. For example, a birthstone necklace where you choose from twelve different stones. These variations don’t need individual pages. Instead use one page and include a selector where the customer can choose their preferred stone. You can do this with plug-ins or apps for your content management system.

If your products are so distinct that they have to be on multiple pages, you’re going to want different descriptions on each one. The best way to do this, according to Muller, is to add the visual details that differentiate each product from the others. For sites that have a lot of pages, and e-commerce pages easily have thousands of pages even for small businesses, this is a lot of work. You’re going to have to do more than just change one or two words on each page, too.

One way to tackle a big project like this is to allocate a number of hours a week to it, and appropriately prioritize your pages. Tackle the most important money pages first; these are going to be your product pages generally, and specifically your core product pages. Move from there to your product category pages, then to your static pages, and so on.

If this is still too big a project for you, it’s okay to consult and contract an expert. Business owners and managers wear a lot of hats and have very busy schedules. A knowledgeable SEO Specialist will have not just the time but also the expertise to write stunning and well-optimized descriptions for your product pages, your category pages, and all of your pages.

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