Stop Writing Unique Product Descriptions and Use More Efficient Techniques

How many times have you come across the statement that every online shop has to write unique product descriptions in order to stand out from the crowd? I suppose enough times you have to believe it.

However, I’m going to obliterate this myth and show you how to use far more efficient techniques.

There are two reasons to believe that writing unique content for ecommerce products is something worth spending the time on:

  • duplicate and thin content will harm your SEO efforts and you’ll get brutally penalized by search engines;
  • unique product description helps you better convert visitors.

Let’s start with the rankings.

Does Google really penalize your website for duplicate content?

Search engines such as Google don’t like duplicate content for several reasons:

  • Search engines don’t understand which pages/versions should be indexed and which ones shouldn’t be;
  • Search engines don’t understand how to reward pages (e.g. to send authority and anchors to one page or divide them into separate pages);
  • Search engines don’t understand which page to display in the search results.

All of those factors confuse search engines, but none of them say anything about penalties for duplicate content. Andy Crestodina in his article 3 Myths About Duplicate Content over at the Kissmetrics blog says the following:

“I have never seen any evidence that non-original content hurts a site’s ranking…”

This article was published in 2014, and only early in 2017 did there appear fresh insight.

Shaun Anderson published a Duplicate Content SEO Advice From Google. He’s analyzed the following session with Google.

For those of you who need some quick takeaways from the video:

  • There is no duplicate content penalty
  • Google rewards UNIQUENESS and the signals associated with ADDED VALUE
  • Google FILTERS duplicate content
  • Duplicate content can slow Google down in finding new content
  • XML sitemaps are just about the BEST technical method of helping Google discover your new content
  • Duplicate content is probably not going to set your marketing on fire
  • Google wants you to concentrate signals in canonical documents, and it wants you to focus on making these canonical pages BETTER for USERS.
  • For SEO, it is not necessarily the abundance of duplicate content on a website that is the real issue. It’s the lack of positive signals that NO unique content or added value provides that will fail to help you rank faster and better in Google.

I strongly advise reading the full article if you’re exploring how duplicate content affects SEO.

Okay, so duplicate content will not hurt your ranking and SEO efforts. Good news, right? 

Pop out the champagne, because it really is. Some of you might think that while duplicates don’t harm, a unique product description helps you rank well and makes you stand out in SERP.

Well, it might anyway, but what impact will that you get?

Ranking factors are dynamic and differ for every website. Let’s discover the role of major factors and their impacts on the rankings.

How does a unique product description affect the ranking?

Before answering this question, we must understand that search engines, especially Google, do not tend to provide a detailed info about their algorithms. Any information about the impact of all factors is only the assumption, based on experiments and experience. That’s why, I decided to use the info from the most trusted sources and digital marketers.

seo ranking factors by neil

This diagram was published by Neil Patel back in 2014 in his article No Link Building Strategy Is Complete Without These 12 Tactics. You can see what impact every separate factor has on your rankings.

Here’s a similar diagram.

seo ranking factors by rand fishkin

This piece was used by Rand Fishkin in his article, Weighting the Clusters of Ranking Factors in Google's Algorithm.

Those are approximate figures, but that’s enough for a general understanding. These diagrams from different sources point out, that well-crafted on-page optimization is 15% of success.

Let’s dive into the term “on-page optimization”. It includes many subfactors: URL structure, meta description, meta tags, H1 title and H2-H6 subtitles, content lengths, images, titles and alts to images etc., and also how all those elements are packed with keywords.

Let’s imagine you are selling laptops. You have many pages with different laptops. One of them is MacBook Pro 15-inch 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7, 2013. That’s a separate product with a separate page.

If you want this page to be top-ranked by a search engine and visited by an actual human, you will optimize this page for a specific keyword/search query. In most cases the search query will look like “macbook pro”, maybe with the words “buy” or “purchase”, and maybe without. It’s also possible the user will add the city, where s/he wants to buy it.

What should you do to rank for that keyword? You should use “MacBook Pro” with the parameters above. As result you will get something like this:

  • URL: yourwebsite.com/product/macbook-pro-15inch-27ghz-i7-2013;
  • Page title (H1): MacBook Pro 15-inch 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7, 2013;
  • H2-H6: Features of MacBook Pro…, How to start with MacBook Pro etc.;
  • and so on.

Actually, you can input the name of a product (and it’s your keyword) into the meta description, titles, alts to images etc., automatically.

So here’s the big question: if you have so many on-page factors and each of them contains a name of the product and the keyword at the same moment, how much impact on total ranking will you get from a unique product description?

Here’s another illustration by David McSweeney in his article, The Noob Friendly Guide To Link Building.

backlinks factor onpage factors by ahrefs

The only factor of on-page optimization, which can be unique, is Content on the page. As you can see, keywords in content play a very low role for your success. David says it has a 0.0053 correlation ration with Google rank. Please note that correlation rank is a different parameter from percents on the diagrams above, but the logic remains the same. We can see that the impact is low.

And now comes my favorite piece. It’s the freshest one and is trusted enough. new ranking factors for ecommerce 2 by neil

Neil Patel in his article You’re Probably Doing Link-Building Wrong speaks about ranking factors, and none of the listed factors say anything about a uniqueness of product data. None.

As a summary, we can say that duplicated product descriptions (duplicate content) will not hurt your rankings at all, while a well-crafted unique product description might increase your success rate by less than 1%.

No doubt that 1% is better than 0%, which is what you get with duplicate content. When you compete for the first position in search results, every percent matters.

Would you chase that 1% from unique content, if I told you that you can earn 1% success from other factors, which are cheaper, faster and more effective?

Unique product descriptions against better techniques

Have you ever calculated how many man-hours you spend on writing and updating a unique product description?

No doubt you did. Suppose the best of your results was something like 30 minutes per single product (if we also count adding unique pictures and technical description). Often if you are creating a bigger piece of content for each product, this number might go over one hour.

What happens if we invest the time into the link building and technical optimization? Why do I choose those? Take a look at the diagrams above. As you can see, they have a greater impact on rankings.

Let’s now take a closer look at what you could do in this direction.

Link building

It’s pretty complicated to place links on the web, which will lead directly to your product pages. This is especially true if you have thousands of products. When you build links to an ecommerce portal, you are actually doing one more clever step for your audience. This step can help you grow not only traffic to your website, but also drive conversions.

Let’s say you want to grow sales of waterproof mobile phones. To promote this category, you could publish an article such as “7 best waterproof mobile phones” or “How to choose a waterproof mobile phone?” or any other related topic. The article should be useful to people who are interested in purchasing waterproof devices, and who are also your target audience.

Links to such article will look natural on the web, since people tend to link to useful content.

By the way, this idea is not new. Take a look at the screenshot of the search query for ‘waterproof mobile phone’.

unique content in top serp

Do you get the idea? Such articles get solidly ranked in Google.

Such an article should contain links to many models on your website. This way you will collect a wide range of people, who are searching for “waterproof mobile phones” and will send the ones interested in some specific models to the right pages.

In order for your article to succeed, it should meet certain criteria:

  • perfectly optimized for search queries (but not overloaded with keywords);
  • full of vivid images;
  • includes a genuine study and in-depth analysis of the topic;
  • provides additional value to the users and readers.

Such material might be created within a week (when taking into account research and editing). That’s 40 hours for 1 content marketer. I use average figures, and please keep in mind how complex the topic may be, how familiar with the topic your content marketer is, etc.

“How to do link building” is a huge topic and my point in this article is only to show why you should do that. That’s why, for those of you who need guides for how to build links, in addition to the above listed with the diagrams, here are some of my favorite.

  1. SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide by Jayson DeMers
  2. 20 SEO Link Building Tips for 2017 by Christoph C. Cemper
  3. How to Do Link Building and Not Get Penalized in 2017 by Cornelia Cozmiuc
  4. The one which I appreciate a lot due to its title and approach: A Guide From Link Building to Link Earning by Anna Crowe
  5. Of course, possibly the most detailed and rich guide by unmatchable Brian Dean Link Building: The Definitive Guide

Even if you’re familiar with link building techniques, I am sure you can find something useful in these articles. The authors have conducted some great research and provided really cool tips.

If you follow the how-tos from these materials, building links might take another week, or 60-80 hours in total with content creation. Of course, you may think that within 60-80 hours you could create approximately 150 unique product descriptions, while an article can point only to 10-15 products. Seems like link building is less effective? Wrong!

Don’t fall for bigger figures. Keep in mind, the impact of the unique product description is very low, while some useful article should bring much more additional traffic to your website and build a stronger relationship with your visitors, leading them to conversions. Moreover, links will make you look more appealing in the eyes of search engines, much nicer than just unique product descriptions.

Anchor text and surrounding text

I suppose you really know that search engines pay a great deal of attention to anchor text and to the test around the link.

Links to your website should appear naturally. That means real people should place them. Not you and certainly not bots.

matt cutts about rankings and duplicate content

Image source

However, in order to kickstart your link earning, you might need to place a couple of links in front of your audience to get notified. Also, you might want to add some links later in order to change the balance of the anchor types.

Anchors and their types, the same as link building, are not the main topic of this article, so I won’t dive too deeply into that. With that said, I want you to succeed and I really want you to switch to more efficient techniques. So here are some pieces for further reading:

  1. What Is Anchor Text And How Can I Optimize It? by Shane Barker
  2. NEW! The Complete Anchor Text Guide (Updated) by Nathan Gotch

These two should be enough for you to understand and practice anchors.

Technical Optimization

Your webshop should be technically optimized for search engines. This is a total no-brainer. Everyone knows that. Not everyone does that, or at least does that right 100% of the time.

If you look back to the diagrams above, you will not see the specific sector for technical optimization. It’s important, both for search engines and humans alike. It’s hidden somewhere under the category ‘Domain Trust’.

Again, here I provide you with links on how to technically optimize your website. 201 Powerful SEO Tips (That Actually Work) by Brian Dean - pick ‘Technical SEO’ tag. Brian describes a huge list of recommendations, which will cover all your technical issues.

Here are some additional tips:

  1. To Grow Search Traffic, Add JSON-LD by Eric Davis
  2. How To Use Schema Markup To Increase Your SEO Exposure (yes, Brian mentioned the Schema in his guide, but this piece is a good guide for you, and covers not only ratings, but the direct navigation links too.)
  3. Leverage browser caching by Patrick Sexton - it will help you to improve speed

Hope this helps:)

Okay, so we understand that unique product description will not help you a lot, especially as compared to link building and tech optimization. However, you need some product descriptions and photos, your product pages cannot be blank.

It leads us on to the next question.

Where do I get product descriptions and photos?

Some of the manufacturers have such options to import the product content (descriptions, photos and more). You should also check whether the provider for the specific product already provides this option.

If you have a range of brands/manufacturers, you will know the struggle. So that’s why, please consider the services of product content sources.

There are several players on this market. I’m going to speak about a few of them now. These are the biggest ones who can cover a lot of product descriptions, photos and rich data, there are three players.

Icecat - open catalog based in the Netherlands. They offer their services mainly to the European market and is well established there. Icecat serves such companies as Office Depot, CentralPoint, Media Markt and others. They have free and paid plans, depending on your business requirements and specific needs.

Cnet content - has multiple offices in the US, and also representative offices in the UK and Australia. Despite product descriptions and rich content, Cnet provides a wide range of data services for ecommerce business from manufacturers to added value resellers. Explore more info at cnet.com

GfK Etilize - is one of the businesses of GfK. The company also covers a wide range of services for ecommerce business, mainly in the area of business analysis and business intelligence, designing User experience and promotional services. Providing product descriptions and rich product content, is one of their business verticals. Explore more info at gfk.com

As you can see, there are solutions on the market, which can help you avoid writing unique product descriptions. In some cases, you can even get product data for free!

The only question which remains: how good is the quality of product data from the companies above? Well, some of you might doubt whether what you get from these companies is good enough to convert your visitors into customers. My answer is simple: Don’t you think the companies, whose core business is providing product description and content have mastered this craft at the highest possible level?

Moreover, I can provide you with an example. This example has two purposes.

Purpose 1. I will show you how ecommerce companies, who import product descriptions, get actually ranked on the first page in Google. It’s proof that imported content doesn’t hurt your SEO efforts.
Purpose 2. I will show you the description of the content to prove it has a high quality.

Media Markt and CentralPoint are users of Icecat and they don’t create product content by themselves. Let’s take a look at how Google displays them.

I go into an incognito mode with my Chrome to avoid any cache to affect the SERP. Then I go to google.be (because that’s the location, where these two companies compete). Then I input the query “laptop kopen”, what means “buy laptop”, but in Dutch, because that’s the local language. Here are the results:

pages with duplicate content easily get on the first page

Can you see this? Positions 2, 6 and 7 - are from websites that import product descriptions automatically, their product descriptions are not unique. That’s for a generic and highly competitive keyword. Once you go to long-tail keywords or at least some exact models - you will find that Google doesn't care about your unique product descriptions at all.

Now let’s take a look at the quality of product page with imported product data. Take a look how Cnet describes what product information they provide.

All three content sources have the same standards for product content in various languages. Let’s assume that’s a good piece.

Okay, so now we know that it’s easy to import product data to your environment. Are there any restrictions? - No restrictions. Struggles are still possible. Why is that? There are three possible issues:

  • You may want to import product data from multiple sources (for example one source can cover 90% of your product range, but the other 10% should be imported from the other source).
  • Data structure and taxonomy of your website might differ a lot from what you get from the content source. You might need to transform this data, otherwise, it won’t fit your website structure.
  • You may want to transform data, like centimeters to pounds and so on.

For any of these reasons, you might face the struggle with importing content from the content sources.

How to transform product data from content sources so it fits your website

Once you realize that data, which you import from content sources doesn’t fit your website structure and taxonomy, it’s time to think about a solution. One which will transform the data structure for you.

Gepard Syndicator is a tool which does that for you. Here’s a detailed article on how it works and what it does: How to automate product content updates for Ecommerce.

For those of you who prefer a short version:

  1. Map the name of the category on your website to the name of category in the catalog source;
  2. Map every product, using EAN and MPN - the international number to identify the product;
  3. Make the rules for transforming centimeters to pounds or similar.

Voila!

Super simple, yes?

Great. That’s all!

Conclusion

You should focus your efforts on link building and on the technical optimization of your website. You can easily skip writing unique product descriptions.

Search engines do not penalize your website for having duplicate content. It means you can easily copy and paste product descriptions from the manufacturer. For bigger volume, copy and pasting is still far from efficient and is not worth doing.

For bigger volumes, it becomes smart to import product descriptions and photos from the companies, who offer product content as a service.

In most cases, what you import, might not fit your taxonomy. That’s why additional transformation tool like Gepard Syndicator is required.

Happy retailing!

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