Content issues plague many sites on the web. Ecommerce sites are particularly at risk, largely due to issues that can stem from hosting hundreds or thousands of product pages.
Typical issues with ecommerce product pages are:
- Duplicate content.
- Thin content.
- Too much content (i.e., too many pages).
Left unchecked, these issues can negatively impact your site's performance in the SERPs.
If you run an ecommerce site and you've seen traffic flat-line, slowly erode, or fall off a cliff recently, then product page content issues may be the culprit.
Let's take a closer look at some of the most common content woes that plague ecommerce sites, and recommendations on how to can fix them.
There are typically three types of duplicate content we encounter on ecommerce sites:
- Copied versions of the manufacturer's product descriptions.
- Unique descriptions that are duplicated across multiple versions of the same product.
- Query strings generated from faceted navigation.
Copied product descriptions
A large degree of ecommerce resellers copy their generic product descriptions directly from the manufacturer's website. This is a big no-no. In the age of Panda, publishing copied or duplicated content across your site will weigh your site down in the SERPs like a battleship anchor.
How to fix it
The solution here is to author original product descriptions for every product on your site. If budget is an issue, prioritize and get fresh content written for your highest margin product pages first and work backwards.
Unique yet duplicated product descriptions
With many ecommerce sites, site owners have authored original product descriptions, which is fantastic. Where they run into trouble is they sell multiple versions of the same product (different sizes or colors or materials, etc), and each product version has a different page/URL with the same boilerplate description.
Now even though this content is technically unique to your site (it's not copied from somewhere else), it's only unique to a single page. Every other page it lives on is considered duplicated content.
How to fix it
The solution here is to concentrate multiple product version pages to a single page, with all the different product options listed down the page. Or you can position them as a list in a drop down menu, like Zappos does.
Once you combine all pages to a single page, 301 redirect the other URLs to that single page, in the event they've attracted links and/or accrued link equity. The redirects will also help Google sort out the true version of your product page, and can help with any potential crawl budget issues.
Depending on the ecommerce platform you're using, concentrating multiple versions of a product page to a single URL can be difficult or impossible. If that's the case, think about moving to a SEO-friendly platform, like Magento or Shopify.
Faceted navigation issues
Many ecommerce sites host category pages with a range of filters to help users easily navigate their site and drill down to specific products, like this Weber Grill page on Home Depot.
A faceted navigation menu like the one above can create dozens if not hundreds of query strings that are appended to the URL, thereby creating duplicate versions of the same page. Faceted navigation can be a fantastic UX feature for consumers, but can problematic for SEO.
How to fix it
There are a few ways to prevent searches engines from indexing duplicate content from faceted navigation:
- Block faceted pages via Robots.txt file.
- Parameter handling via Webmaster Tools.
- Add self-referential canonical tags (rel="canonical") Note: this may help Google distinguish original from duplicate content, but it won't address crawl budget issues.
Even if a site has 100 percent unique product descriptions, they can often be on the thin side (i.e., a few bullets of text). Now, product pages with light content can still rank well where domain strength helps supersede potential thin content issues.
But most sites don't have the backlink profiles of Amazon or Zappos, and I like to think in terms of risk/reward. Thickening up descriptions makes sense because:
- It can reduce any risk that thin content issues might negatively impact SERP visibility
- It adds more content for engines to crawl, which means more opportunities for your page to rank for a wider basket of search queries.
- It freshens up your page, and freshening up your content can definitely pay dividends with Google.
To audit word count for every page on your site, crawl the site with Screaming Frog and looking for potential trouble spots in the "Word Count" column.
How to fix it
Some of the ways you can address thin content on your ecommerce product pages include:
- Enable (and solicit) user reviews and feedback. User-generated content is free and helps thicken up your content with naturally-written text (not "SEO" content). This additional content can help improve potential relevancy scoring, time on page, user engagement levels, and can help the product page rank for a broader basket of search queries. Also, user reviews offer social proof and can improve conversion rates as well.
- In the previous example, I spoke about condensing multiple versions of the same product to a single page. Doing this would also help thicken up that pages since you'd list all the different dimensions, size variations, colors available to consumers.
- Write some additional, original content. You can hire a writer to help thicken up these pages with additional features and benefits, or you can do it yourself. Again, given it could be very costly to thicken up every product page on the site, you can prioritize your highest margin products first.
- Pulling in mashups of links/text of similar products, product accessories, special offers and recently viewed items is another way to add more content to a page, and a tactic many larger ecommerce sites use like Amazon.com.
Too Much Content
Saying that a site has "too much content" may sound contradictory to the issue of having content that's too thin. But when I say an ecommerce site may have too much content, I'm really talking about two distinct issues:
- Too many product pages.
- Improper handling of paginated product pages.
And specifically how having too many pages of low value content can cause PageRank and crawl budget problems.
Too many product pages
This is really an addendum to the duplicate content issues posed by faceted navigation or hosting multiple versions of the same product on different pages.
Aside from low value content concerns, hosting a mass of duplicated product pages dilutes your site's PageRank or link equity, which weakens its overall ranking power of your important content.
The other issue pertains to your site's "crawl budget" (i.e. how deep/how many pages Googlebot crawls each time it visits your website). If a large percentage of your site if comprised of duplicate or low value content, you're wasting your budget on junk content and potentially keeping quality pages from getting indexed.
Improper handling of paginated product pages
Another concern of hosting "too many pages" is not handling pagination correctly. Often times, ecommerce sites can have product categories containing hundreds or thousands of products that span multiple pages.
Like duplicate product pages, excessive paginated results rob link equity from important pages and can hurt your crawl budget.
How to fix
Some of the ways to address equity dilution or crawl budget issues that can stem from too many product pages include:
- Rel=next, rel=previous: This markup tells Google to treat ecommerce product listings spanning multiple pages in a logical sequence, thus consolidating link equity (rather than diluting it) with all pages in the series.
- Canonicalization: It's effective for consolidating link properties (thus solving equity dilution), but it won't solve potential crawl budget issues, since Googlebot will still crawl all your dupe content.
- "Noindex, follow": If your goal is to optimize crawl budget and keep duplicates or pagination out of the index, use brute force and block Googlebot via robots "noindex, follow" meta directive.
The Original Search Marketing Event is Back!
SES Denver (Oct 16) offers an intense day of learning all the critical aspects of search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search advertising (PPC). The mission of SES remains the same as it did from the start - to help you master being found on search engines. Register today!