Let’s get down to it, plain and simple: If you use non-unique product descriptions, ones that are used by other retailers (i.e., the ones that the brands and manufacturers give you), you are NOT going to get hit with a penalty.
Yes, you read that right. Contrary to almost every ecommerce SEO post you’ve ever read, you’re not going to be hit with a penalty for duplicate product descriptions.
To understand why the notion of a duplicate descriptions content penalty is so pervasive, we need to go back to 2011 when Google released their Panda update. This algorithmic change demoted websites that had thin or bad content. As Google’s main goal is to ensure they answer users’ queries, they realized they couldn’t serve poor-quality content in results. At some point, “poor-quality content” became synonymous with duplicate content in the digital marketing space.
Google recognizes that duplicate content isn’t necessarily poor content, however. Sometimes, duplicate content happens in ecommerce because you have the same product on multiple URLs. Google isn’t going to ding you for it. Instead, they give you tips for consolidating the pages via canonical tags so that they can return just one page in results, maximizing your link equity and ensuring a better use of your crawl allowance.
In fact, even if you have the same content as other sites, Google says, “Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.” Using the same product descriptions as other retailers is not manipulative; Google will not penalize you for it.
This doesn’t mean though, that you don’t need unique product descriptions. Because Google wants to ensure that they’re offering the best results to its users, all search results can’t be identical. Google favors unique content for this reason – and this applies to product descriptions. While it won’t directly hurt you to have a non-unique product description, having a unique one will make you stand out to customers and to Google, which will likely rank you higher. According to Inflow, “Lower-tier ecommerce websites [have been able to] increase organic search traffic by as much as 50-100% by simply rewriting product descriptions for half of the website’s product pages–with no manual link building efforts.”
Let’s not be afraid of the penalty. Let’s instead build unique product descriptions and get increased ranking, traffic, and revenue. Sure, it can be an expensive and time-consuming process to do manually, but automated ways of building unique product descriptions quickly and cost-efficiently are emerging. If you spend the resources to build custom product descriptions in one of these ways, your bottom line will thank you.
Also published on Medium.