duplicate content

If you perform an ecommerce seo audit, you’ll usually check for duplicate content issues. If they are found, they can almost always be corrected through proper canonicalization.

However, since such an audit usually focuses on the site itself, one factor that can significantly affect rankings is often overlooked: external duplicate content.

What is External Duplicate Content?

External content duplication happens when two or more ecommerce sites use identical product descriptions. Often, a product’s manufacturer has an ecommerce site and then there are several other online retailers that sell the same product. Most of them use the manufacturer’s product description.

Example: TheNorthFace sells a jacket called the Fanorak.

This is the product description:

This versatile pullover offers wind and rain resistance, and packs into its own stylish fanny-pack-style kangaroo pocket.

If you paste this sentence into Google, you can find dozens of ecommerce sites using the exact same product description. Here are a few examples:


When you simply search for the product name, “Fanorak,” TheNorthFace, of course, is ranked #1 and #2 (for the Men’s and Women’s Fanorak) .

But ranked #3 and #4 — and therefore getting some good organic visibility — is REI. And guess what? They are not using the original product description, but created their own for both the Women’s and the Men’s Fanorak:


product description

What should you do about External Duplicate Content?

If you want to have a chance to rank well for a product that is sold by many sites, you need to follow some best practices to avoid external duplicate content:

  1. Write your own unique description for the most important products on your site. (You don’t have to do it all at once. Do a certain number each week and they will add up over time.)
  2. Make your product description significantly longer than the original. (You may actually outrank the manufacturer’s site in some cases).
  3. Encourage customer reviews and make sure that they are included in the page’s HTML code (vs some kind of embedded feature). Customer reviews add a lot of unique text content. This is one of the reasons why Amazon is dominating organic search results for many products.

You may say that you sell thousands of products and that you can’t do this at scale. But what if you are not ranked in the top 5 search results in Google for most products that you sell? You really have no other choice than to invest some time to rewrite generic product descriptions.

If you need strategic and tactical help with your external duplicate content issues, please feel free to contact us.