Selling duplicate content

Online retailers often hinder their online performance by keeping with the status quo. Don't let manufacturer stock copy hinder your search results because of duplicate content filtering.

Brian R. Brown
Brian Brown is a Consultant & Natural Search Marketing Strategist for Netconcepts. Brian assists with leading retail clients on their natural search needs, analyzing their sites for creative optimization and link building opportunities to maximize the value of their natural search program. Prior to entering the online world, Brian served in various sales, product management, and new product development roles within divisions of Newell Rubbermaid. He made the dramatic shift from consumer packaged goods with the launch of his own web presence development company, where he served diverse clients, from small startups to large corporate divisions. He brings not only strong SEO skills to client engagements, but a technical background in standards based web design, including table-less XHTML & CSS. Disclosure.
Brian R. Brown
3 min read

When it comes to Internet retailers, getting found in search results is often just as important as the right location is to brick-and-mortar retailers. When a big part of online success comes down to words, why settle for selling what everyone else is?

All retailers, no matter what their channel of choice, often sell the same products as at least some of their competitors. If you are a big enough fish, you can command enough power to at least obfuscate that fact . . . different product names, model numbers, etc. -- of course the underlying product is often still the same, anyway. Ever wonder how some retailers offer those huge pricing guarantees if you find the same product elsewhere at a lower price -- much easier to do when you have your own guarantee with the manufacturer that no one else can carry that same model.

But online retail is a bit more challenging, because aside from brand loyalty or being at a convenient location, the difference is often about search results . . . obtaining those highly coveted top rankings for the right searches. I began our duplicate content discussion by focusing on the duplicate content filter or penalty topic and the challenges of external content duplication. What better way to bridge the gap from external to internal, or on-site content duplication, than by talking about sales copy.

Actually, we're talking about much more than just sales copy . . . really any text that is provided for use on Web sites is open game here. That could be product information provided by the manufacturer, or the entire "product," if that product is textual, such as articles, guides or other information.

What makes this text so very important is that there often isn't a lot of copy at the product level page to begin with. Depending on the type of product, much of it is often general spec detail, such as features, colors, dimensions and so on. These are details that nearly every product page will have on nearly every site. But when someone lands on a product page because their search query was so specific to bring that result up in the search results instead of a higher level category page, that's often a search you want to be found for because that's a searcher that is often ready to buy.

Needless to say, we really don't want the engines to be seeing our product copy as duplicate content. Maybe you'll come up tops in the results anyway, but why gamble?

Unfortunately, many online retailers take this gamble every day. Maybe you can't take the time to customize the copy for every product you have, or create custom intro or summary copy for your guides or articles, but at least try to identify the most important pages on your site, whether they be the most competitive topics or highest profit driving products, and do what you can to help them stand out from all the me-too duplicates.

Give your important pages that extra love and attention to help differentiate them from the masses. Better yet, find ways to make this about more than just search, but speak to the human side of things as well. Take J. Peterman for example. Long before the web came around, here was a mail order company that built whole back stories to their products. They mailed these non-standard sized catalogs, with one product on each page, and incredibly captivating copy that made you want to be a part of the story . . . in fact, I imagine they might debate whether they were actually selling products or selling experiences.

They still feature these captivating product stories, though their overall online presence could probably use some SEO TLC, but visit J. Peterman online to get a taste for how you can present your products differently than your competitors. This is probably overkill for many retailers, but you'll get the idea, and a little copy differentiation may go a long way in the eyes of search engines and duplicate content filtering.