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Content for e-commerceContent is a common cause of headaches on ecommerce websites.

Hundreds and thousands of individual products, all with their own URL, all lacking any form of unique content to help them stand out both to users and search engines: this is an all too common occurrence in ecommerce.

I'm going to show you five simple ways to work with content to help it stand out, both on-page and in the search results.

Use detailed, unique descriptions

I’ll start with one of the most fundamental things you should be doing on your product pages

Make sure you are using a detailed and unique product description for all of your products, and not, as some companies are doing, providing nothing more than a few words at best. Take this t-shirt on the Bench website, the description is nothing more than this:

Bench t-shirt product description

Surely there is more to say about it than that? Give search engines (and ultimately customers) something to read by providing, at the very least, a few unique sentences of content.

But don’t do as many online stores do and simply take the description of a product from the manufacturer and reproduce that copy on the product page on their site.

By doing this, their product content is no more unique than every other website doing the same thing. Below is the product descriptions on the Currys and Pixmania websites for the Samsung UE40ES5500 TV.

Both have totally identical descriptions, providing absolutely nothing new for the customer and negatively impacting your SEO due to duplicate content (a search for part of the text shows 824 different results).  

Identical descriptions of the same TV

The product description should be viewed as more than just something for search engines. It is the copy that is trying to sell the product to the customer and should be treated with as much care and attention as the copy on non-product pages.  

Key points:

  • Always include at least a paragraph of copy for a product description.
  • Don’t use the manufacturer description - write something unique.

Encourage customer reviews

There aren’t many better ways of generating unique content on product pages than user reviews. The content itself is free to generate and has so many other benefits that reviews are pretty much mandatory for an ecommerce website.

62% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site with user reviews, increasing conversion rates as well as bringing in more search traffic. When combined with structured data (discussed in more detail below), reviews can also increase the clickthrough rates on your search results too.  

This John Lewis product page for the TV talked about above has 233 customer reviews. That is a vast amount of unique content that you simply couldn’t have generated otherwise. 

John Lewis customer reviews

Provided your on-page optimisation is strong enough to make it very clear what your product page is about, the user generated content is only going to strengthen it. You may feel like you haven’t got huge amounts to say about each individual product on your site, but your customers certainly do. They just need a little encouragement sometimes and make the reviewing process as easy and painless as possible.

A gentle nudge such as an email reminder a few days or a week after purchasing a product asking for the customers thoughts, long enough that they’ve had enough time to form some sort of judgement but soon enough that it’s still fresh in their minds, can be enough to bring them back to leave a review.   

Key points

  • Always allow customers the ability to leave reviews on your product pages.
  • Make the reviewing process as easy as possible.
  • Encourage customers to leave reviews.

Avoiding duplicate content with filtering & rel=”canonical”

Despite all of your best efforts, you will still end up with duplicate content on the average ecommerce site. This is because of the navigation, categorisation, and filtering on the page or product level. Take this page on Argos:

Filtering on the Argos website

The main, indexable pages are “Sports and Leisure”, “Bags, luggage and travel”, and “Holdalls”, as you can see in the breadcrumbs at the top of the image. These are the pages Argos wishes to rank in search engines and each will need enough unique content on them to not appear as duplicates.

However, to provide a good user experience, you are able to filter the products by options such as price and brand, allowing customers to quickly find what they want. In doing so, you are creating huge amounts of pages with near identical content, which is precisely why this job is handled by filters and not links.

Links, such as the ones you see in the breadcrumbs, are crawlable by search engines. The tick boxes you see in the filtering options, generally, are not (if they’re using Ajax or Javascript for example). You provide a good user experience and you avoid duplicate content. It would also be common to use a rel=”canonical” tag too on these pages, pointing back to the non-filtered URL of the page.

The rel=”canonical” tag is even more crucial if your site does not have a filtered navigation, as you will need to use links to allow customers to drill down to the products they require. But just remember, that good site architecture is the most important consideration in ecommerce site navigation and never use Ajax/Javascript for pages you wish to rank. 

Key points

  • Use filtering as a way of preventing duplicate content with faceted navigation
  • Use the rel=”canonical” tag to indicate the pages you wish to crawled and indexed  

Make your content stand-out with structured data

Make the most of the content that is already on your product pages by using structured data to make your search results stand out above the competition, something which a surprisingly large number of online retailers are failing to do. Pixmania UK are doing a good job of marking up their data: 

Pixmania rich snippet

We can see: breadcrumbs showing the site navigation, ratings with a score, a price (you can also show a price range), and availability. All of this extra information helps this page stand out against the standard results it’s competing against. It’s about more than ranking highly - people need to be enticed to click through to your website.  

There is microdata for almost everything and it’s continuing to grow, along with its usage. Perform a search for Micky Flanagan tickets and you’ll see results such as these: 

A Google search for Micky Flanagan tickets

Rich snippets bring the search results to life: which of those three results stands out the most?  

Key points

  • Use structured data markups wherever you can to create rich snippets 

Think beyond the word and the image by using videos 

Think beyond text and pictures by engaging your audience with videos. Brands such as Asos have long been using videos on their product pages and other stores are having great success. Ice.com increased their conversion rate on product pages with video by 400% and Shoeline.com improved their conversion rate by 44% using video.

Videos can be incorporated into search results using structured data markup too, but videos aren’t appearing particularly frequently in searches at this time (unless the search query specifically includes the word ‘video).  

There is no doubt that product pages with a video perform better than those that don’t. But don’t leave video just for products, consider it as part of a broader content strategy. REI, the US based outdoor clothing/equipment company, regularly create videos to promote products and provide outdoor learning resources. This shows you how ecommerce websites can use videos creatively that have the power to not only increase click through rates and conversions, but to bring in referral traffic and links.

Video on REI product page 

Key points:

  • Introduce videos of your products on product pages
  • Use video as a creative way to enage your customers 

What other ways are there for working with content on ecommerce websites? How do you avoid duplication and ensure the right pages stand out?

Peter Meinertzhagen

Published 21 February, 2013 by Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen is Digital Marketing Manager at Nominet and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Peter on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn

8 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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hyderali

The only problem we are getting is to make *unique* content on our product pages. We've around millions of product pages & all of them are covering manufacturers content. How do we solve it?

Also, what if we don't have videos? Can we add videos from youtube in our product page? I've seen most of my competitor are doing that only.

Thanks for the post.

over 3 years ago

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Emma Willis, Marketing Assistant at Box UK

Very nice Peter. Some nice points here.

I've been a fan of how John Lewis do ecommerce (and marketing in general) for a while so it's good to see them get a mention for thier work with user reviews.

Video is a great way of allowing customers to engage with products. Combine this with schema markup and you can improve CTR to product pages too.

Zappos does this nicely:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=site%3Azappos.com+converse+kids&pws=0&hl=en&num=10

over 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

Hi Hyderali,

Coming up with unique content for every single product, when you have that many, is a challenging task. You need to firstly focus on the most important products to ensure they have been given the attention they deserve.

You don't need to completely avoid using a manufacturers description either. While avoiding it and using a paragraph of unique text is preferable, just writing a sentence or two of unique text to enhance the manufacturers description is better than nothing, and can be enough to put you ahead of the competition who haven't bothered. Having some unique text is enough to make a smaller website rank above a much more highly authoritative one.

In regards to videos, I'm not an expert on the rules regarding embedding other peoples YouTube videos on pages with a commercial purpose. I strongly suspect that this is against their terms of service and I wouldn't recommend it.

Depending on the nature of your products, video production doesn't need to be expensive. And you do not need to use videos for all of your products. Producing some short videos for your best selling products only as a way to boost conversions further is a great idea. And if you do that, I'd recommend not hosting them on YouTube (but this depends on the nature of the video).

Peter

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Peter

you compared Currys and Pixmania : maybe you didn't know they are the same company (Dixons Stores Group)... so not entirely surprising they use the same text for the same TV.

They must be doing something right - they get 3 of the top 4 organic Google slots for that Samsung TV boiler plate text!

But you found over 800 pages with the same text, so you're right... unique content would impress users who compared their page to competitor ones.

I'm sure many shoppers are like me and get daunted by the sheer volume of product choices: and find it hard to compare them.

So thinking first about 'how can we help our visitors make a product choice / comparison' might be the best way to think about adding unique content - the unique text is comparative: eg

"this TV is in the lowest 10% of stand-by power of
Tvs this size / is in the top 20% of screen brightness / ..." etc

over 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

Hi Deri,

No I wasn't aware that Currys and Pixmania were from the same company, although I don't think that is an excuse for them using the same content! But I could have found an example of duplicate copy that was more illustrative of my point.

You're right that content isn't just there for SEO, it is there for users too. Copy on a product should be viewed like any other form of copywriting - it is there to sell the product.

But there is no doubt that if you're serious about succeeding in the SERP's for competitive product searches, you need unique copy, even if just a little. Sure, an authoritative website will still manage to rank well using copy that isn't wholly unique, but it is absolutely essential for smaller websites that wish to stand their ground too.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Deri!

over 3 years ago

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Alex Quail

Great post Peter; the importance of well written product descriptions cannot be emphasised enough. Unfortunately this is often the most time consuming part of managing an E-Commerce website; especially one that has a large database of descriptionless products! In most cases it's definitely worth convincing the client of the value in an audit/overhaul; if they're willing to do it, even better (once they have been taught best practices ofcourse).

over 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

Thanks Alex!

Yeah, it can certainly be time consuming, but it definitely pays off... Best focusing first on the most profitable products with the highest conversion rates to see the most immediate benefit. But, just a couple of sentences is enough to make a product page stand out, so should have priority!

over 3 years ago

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John

great post Peter...customer reviews is best way to generate unique content.

over 3 years ago

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Siobhan Brennan

The use of imagery in content in a no brainer. I totally agree with your video comment especially as mobile usage continues to rapidly increase.

over 3 years ago

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Ryan

hyderali - The best way to handle writing unique content, vidoes, etc, when you have a large number of products is to focus on your big hitters.

Take a look at your sales numbers. Find out which products or categories get the most visits and sales. Rank them in order, and just start at the top. Even if you only do 25 products or category pages to start with, you could see huge increases in sales.

Just chip away at the most popular products and categories, working your way down the list.

about 3 years ago

Calum Macleod

Calum Macleod, SEO Consultant at Big Surf Digital

Great post. As you say in the comments it's often best to focus on the most important products first. I would even make sure that when starting out any products added have the perfect amount of content before adding any more. Mainly because it can be demoralising as hell trying to fix big content gaps.

about 3 years ago

Peter Meinertzhagen

Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Zest Digital

@Calum

Thanks Calum. It's a tough one for so many ecommerce retailers. It is so daunting to be faced with hundreds and thousands of products, all of which are in need of attention. The trouble when just starting out is that there is likely no one assigned to managed product content outside of regurgitating the generic sales copy, and no budget assigned to it either. Ideally, someone will be involved right from the off, but unfortunately it is one of those jobs that is returned to at a later date, by which point the product list has grown even further!

about 3 years ago

Mike  Darnell

Mike Darnell, Social Marketing at Treepodia Ecommerce Video Solution

Hi Peter,

I've been reading through your comments and I have to mention that there are solutions out there for retailers who want to feature video on their product pages. Treepodia allows marketers to automate video production in an efficient and inexpensive way.

Video has become the first port-of-call when shopping online, so getting videos to the top of the results in a total must.

Cheers,
Mike

almost 3 years ago

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isabella martin, Web Developer at http://www.thefas-solutions.com/

No doubt all the points you explained are important for the websites to boost business, but the problem is how can any retailer make unique content always for the same category products?
This a difficult thing to make valuable and unique content for each product.
Anyways thanks for sharing this post.

about 1 year ago

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