We recently ran an article about the importance of canonical tags to differentiate between similar product pages.

You can read that piece here. But what about when a competitor's page seems to have bumped you out of the search results?

That's another topic that Jon Earnshaw, CTO Pi Datametrics, discussed at Brighton SEO last month. Let's have a look...

More books (where did kitty go?)

Just like the last canonical example, we're looking at Waterstones again.

The chart below shows the Google search ranking (using the term 'Test Your Cat') of a book product page on the Waterstones' website.

As you can see, kitty falls off a cliff (around the 9th of January) when suddenly the page drops from being ranked in the top five to being 100+ in the pecking order.

search drop off

There were plenty of other examples of this behaviour, too. Dozens of them in fact.

Below is another chart showing this effect for the book 'The Establishment'. The Waterstones product page ranks well, then 'disappears' at the end of January.

So, let's look at what else might be ranking in place of these pages.

ranking for 'the establishment' book title

Who is bumping kitty and why?

Within the Pi Datametrics tool, the team pulled out the top 10 ranking URLs on the day that our 'Test Your Cat' Waterstones product page dropped out of the top 100 so suddenly.

The table below shows a Harper Collins product listing ranked at number two position for 'Test Your Cat'.

This Harper Collins page had recently jumped 99 places in the results pages (SERPs), according to the number in green.

pi datametrics search listings

Compare Harper Collins on a chart alongside Waterstones and you get the image below.

The chart shows the rise of the Harper Collins's ranking for 'Test Your Cat' against the demise of the Waterstones site's ranking for the same term.

It's hard to deny they seem linked.

url swapping through duplicate content

The same pattern emerges when we look at The Establishment.

At the moment Waterstones drops out of the top 100 rankings, a Penguin page rises 99 places in the SERPs to number seven.

A similar chart demonstrates this crossover below. Time for further investigation.

rankings change at waterstones

Product descriptions - it's important to stand out

Comparing the Test Your Cat product pages of Waterstones and Harper Collins reveals identical synopses.

This is no doubt 'seen' as very similar content by Google, which 'decides' to rank one and demote the other.

product description similarities

With the Penguin book, it also seems to be product descriptions causing the problem.

The paperback description was edited to include additional endorsements for the book, which already appeared on The Waterstones product page.

This made the two product descriptions identical and caused the same effect, where Google ranked one page and demoted the other.

In both these examples, it's not entirely surprising that Penguin and Harper Collins out-ranked Waterstones - after all they are the publishers of the two titles in question.

Nevertheless, Waterstones wanted to address the problem and start ranking again by creating some unique content.

penguin pages - the establishment

How to solve the problem?

The team spent a number of hours crafting new product descriptions for some of these affected titles.

The result? All higher search positions were reinstated or bettered by the pages in question.

Below is a chart showing the recovery of rankings for four affected titles.

reinstating results for book pages

Waterstones was also reinstated into Google's knowledge panel for 'Test Your Cat', which displays Waterstones' average review rating.

knowledge graph - waterstones review

The takeaway

The message here from Pi Datametrics' analysis is to keep an eye on others who are using your content.

If this means partnerships with third parties, make sure you have a process in place that ensures no duplication.

If the content is from your competitor, use data to find out who and address the problem.

More importantly, nailing your core business terms will help you stay ahead.

For more on this topic, book yourself onto our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Marketing Training Course.

Ben Davis

Published 6 May, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (4)

Mark Selwyn

Mark Selwyn, eCommerce and Multi-Channel Retail Consultant

"keep an eye on others who are using your content" in this example, i.e. books, its probably not "your" content that they are using, rather you are using the same content that they are using, from someone like Bibliographic Data Services (BDS), and duplication is more than likely.

When you have an exceedingly long tail, say ten million products or so, it's unlikely that anyone is going to "lovingly curate" anything other than the top few hundred product descriptions, rising to top few thousand over time.

about 2 years ago

Kris Hunt

Kris Hunt, Digital & CRM Manager at Capital & Regional

With the Penguin book, the product description was edited to be the same as the Waterstones product page, i.e. that additional content existed on Waterstones first, so is Google not attributing any benefit to the origin date of the content and not seeing Penguin as being a duplicate of Waterstones?
I'm assuming in both cases the content on the publishers sites was there first but is that not the case, or just not particularly important in Google's eyes?

about 2 years ago

Lauren Johnson-Ginn

Lauren Johnson-Ginn, Content Marketing Manager at Quill Content

Really interesting data - clearly the value of unique product description content shouldn't be underestimated. When you consider the number of retailers that use generic product content from manufacturers, the prevalence of this issue must be huge. Is there any data on how this dramatic ranking drop affected sales?

about 2 years ago

Louise Linehan

Louise Linehan, Marketing Executive at Intelligent Positioning

Hi Kris, if you have a look at Pi's other Stolen Content test it's proven that the date and surplus copy within original content seemingly isn't taken into consideration by Google when determining the ranking of a fresh piece of duplicate content https://www.pi-datametrics.com/fatal-flaw-googles-inability-recognise-stolen-content/

about 2 years ago

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