We Spent 2 Months & 300+ Hours Defining The Top 3 Types Of Duplicate Content Issues Shopify Merchants Face. Here’s How To Solve Them!
As an online store owner, you’re likely familiar with the ever-elusive “duplicate content issues.”
But what are they exactly and why should you care?
Don’t worry - we've got all your questions answered!
By the time you reach the bottom of this blog post, Shopify merchants like yourself will know exactly what duplicate content is, common issues that arise relating to it, and how to fix them effectively.
So don't fret - read on and start ridding your site of pesky duplicate content today!
- What is duplicate content and why should you avoid it?
- The 3 most common types of duplicate content issues Shopify merchants face
- Duplicate content issue #1: Duplicate product pages
- Duplicate content issue #2: Identical or extremely similar product descriptions
- Duplicate content issue #3: Duplicate meta tags
What is duplicate content and why should you avoid it?
Are you scratching your head trying to figure out why some of your pages aren’t indexing in search engines?
Chances are, you might be dealing with duplicate content issues. Being the savvy Shopify merchant you are, there’s no need to panic.
It happens more often than people realize. In fact, duplicate content is one of the most common SEO issues Shopify merchants face.
The good news is that it can be easily fixed with a few tweaks here and there. But we’ll get to this in a moment. First, let’s explain what duplicate content is.
What is duplicate content?
Google explains that duplicate content “generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.”
According to them, most of the duplicate content out there isn’t deceptive in origin and, therefore, they don’t take action against it:
“Let's put this to bed once and for all, folks: There's no such thing as a "duplicate content penalty." At least, not in the way most people mean when they say that.
There are some penalties that are related to the idea of having the same content as another site—for example, if you're scraping content from other sites and republishing it, or if you republish content without adding any additional value. These tactics are clearly outlined (and discouraged) in our Webmaster Guidelines.”
Read more: Google, Demystifying the “duplicate content penalty”
Still, duplicate content makes your website look unprofessional and hard to navigate. Also, having duplicate content can prevent Google from properly crawling and indexing your pages. The negative impact here is twofold:
- Your rankings will drop, which will result in lower CTR and a ton of missed sales.
- Potential customers will have a hard time finding what they need on your store.
This is why it’s essential to regularly check your store for duplicate content and promptly fix all issues that arise.
Next, let’s have a closer look at the 3 most common types of duplicate content issues Shopify merchants face.
The 3 most common types of duplicate content issues Shopify merchants face
As a Shopify store owner, you’ll most likely come across the following duplicate content issues:
- Duplicate product pages
- Identical or extremely similar product descriptions
- Duplicate meta tags
Let’s have a closer look at each of these issues!
Duplicate content issue #1: Duplicate product pages
Duplicate product pages are a common issue for Shopify merchants because of the way products are displayed on the site. Or, rather, the different ways in which product pages can be reached.
Let me explain.
Duplicate product pages can occur when you associate a product with a collection. The more collections you associate a product with, the more duplicate content issues can arise.
The reason for this is that when you associate a product with a collection, an additional URL is created and customers have another way to reach the product page.
Let’s say you have a fashion brand and your new collection contains a wide range of cashmere scarves.
Imagine you feature the scarves in several collections - “Scarves,” “Premium products,” “Winter 22/23 Collection,” and “The perfect gift.”
This means that each scarf will be reachable through multiple different URLs:
These are just 4 of the URLs.
Each of them can also be reached through the https:// version of your website, through the http:// version of your website, as well as its www. version and its non-www. version.
Additionally, there are a myriad of other factors that can change the product page URL, such as product variants (size, color, prints, etc.), filtering and sorting options, and URL parameters. (Note: URL parameters are added to the URL of a page when you share it on social media. However, Shopify automatically adds self-referencing canonical tags to the URL without parameters, so this is something you should not worry about.)
Each of these URLs leads to the same product page: yourshopifystore.com/products/cashmere-scarf.
Now, your customers know that this is the same page that they can reach through multiple different URLs. Search engines, however, view it as different pages that contain the same content. Hence, the notorious duplicate content issues arise.
So, to fix them, you need to provide search engines with the context humans have - you need to explain that this is the same page that can be reached through multiple different URLs.
So, how do you achieve this? Let’s start with canonical tags.
Canonical tags ( <rel=”canonical” ) are pieces of HTML code that tell search engines your website contains at least two URLs with identical or extremely similar content. They are placed in the <head> </head> section of the page.
Moz describes canonical tags as “a way of telling search engines that a specific Uniform Resource Locator (URL) represents the master copy of a page. This helps prevent problems caused by identical or “duplicate” content appearing on multiple URLs.”
So, basically, a canonical tag tells search engines which is the original version of the page, and which pages should be treated as its variations. This helps search engines understand the website better and index the proper (i.e., the original) version of the page.
Also, canonical tags consolidate link signals and ranking signals across duplicate content pages. All this optimizes your Crawl Budget and improves your ranking.
It’s important to note that adding canonical tags to your URLs is not an SEO requirement. Even without canonical tags, Google will try to define the primary version of your duplicate content pages.
However, adding canonical tags ensures Google will index exactly the page you want, instead of one of its variations.
Ultimately, adding canonical tags is one of the most effective ways to fix duplicate content issues. Therefore, it’s important to understand how canonical tags work and how to use them properly.
There are two types of canonical tags:
- Self-referencing - canonical tags that point to the page’s own URL and tell Google that the page they’re applied to is the original version of the page
- Canonical tags that reference to another page’s URL - they tell Google that the page they’re applied to is a variation of the original version of the page
A canonical URL is not synonym for a canonical tag - a canonical URL is the URL that is specified as the URL of the original version of the page. You have to use a canonical tag to specify the canonical URL.
But canonical tags aren’t the only solution to duplicate content issues.
There are other ways for canonicalization you should consider, such as using 301 redirects, using passive parameters in the Google Search Console, and using location hashes.
So, you’re probably wondering what’s the best way for Shopify merchants to approach canonicalization?
Well, read on for specific advice on the topic, shared by no other than Shopify themselves.
Actionable advice #1: Should you use canonical URLs or 301 redirects?
Shopify creates automatic permanent redirects (301 redirects) when you change the URL of an existing page.
So, what happens when a merchant has to choose between a 301 redirect and setting a canonical URL?
In SEO expert Joost de Valk words, “If there are no technical reasons not to do a redirect, you should always do a redirect. If you cannot redirect because that would break the user experience or be otherwise problematic, set a canonical URL.”
Actionable advice #2: Don’t block Google from crawling specific URLs when it comes to duplicate content.
Using your robots.txt file is another way to tell Google which pages it should crawl and which ones it should disallow. However, this is not recommended when it comes to duplicate content, as search engines might ignore some important pages on your website, which can hurt your rankings. Also, you may miss out on engagement signals, content signals, and other important metrics that could have contributed to your Google ranking as well.
Instead, set up proper canonical URLs to take care of duplicate content, and Google will know which pages it should crawl.
Actionable advice #3: Don’t delete the non-canonical versions of your pages (e.g., old posts, old product pages, etc.), because this content may have been linked to or referenced in other places.
Instead, do a redirect to the new blog post or the new product page.
And, in case you accidentally delete an old page, ensure to set up a stellar 404 page that enriches your customers’ shopping experience, instead of ruining it.
Remember that relevant CTAs, impeccable design, and flawless UX are the characteristics of a 404 page that is optimized for conversions.
Important: Understanding how to properly use canonical URLs is an essential front-end developer skill.
So, unless you’re tech-savvy and are extremely familiar with Shopify Liquid, it’s best to contact a Shopify Expert and ask them to properly add canonicalization to your store.
Duplicate content issue #2: Identical or extremely similar product descriptions
Identical or similar product descriptions can easily occur in the following cases:
- If you’re a dropshipper and use the manufacturers’ default product descriptions. This is the most common scenario.
- If your products are exceptionally similar and you repurpose your product descriptions.
- If you create a separate page for each product variant.
- As a result of a human error when copy and pasting content from another source.
Dealing with such duplicate content issues is extremely time-consuming and requires certain levels of creativity and SEO expertise (more specifically, SEO writing and optimizing your content for the right keywords).
Ultimately, it’s not difficult. But there is no quick fix.
You just have to go through all your product descriptions and assess their quality. Here are some guidelines and best practices to follow:
- Your product descriptions should be unique.
- Each description should describe the product in detail - its features, its benefits, its uses. For optimal results, use the Before-After-Bridge framework to describe how the product will change your customers’ lives for the better. How will it improve them? Will it save them time or effort? Specificity is key here - the more specific you are, the more engaging (and effective) your product descriptions will be.
- Each description should address the buyers’ concerns and be optimized for speed. It should also drive the customers towards purchase. Proper structure and formatting are key. The CTA buttons should be optimized accordingly.
- Each description should address the specific problems the product solves and describe exactly how it solves them.
Ultimately, if your product descriptions are tailored to each product and meet these requirements, there’s nothing to be worried about. There is zero chance that Google will see them as duplicate content.
However, if they are similar, you need to do some damage control. You need to edit your product descriptions and make sure each one is unique and outstanding.
Taking these steps will also ensure that your Shopify store has original and high-quality content.
Writing SEO-friendly content that stands out and captures the attention of your target audience is one of the most important steps to take when launching a Shopify store - content is a pillar of your authority and a fundamental aspect of your entire on-store SEO strategy.
Therefore, creating original, in-depth, and informative content will not only help you rank higher in Google, but will also give you the competitive edge and help you position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. All this contributes to the long-term success of your store.
So, creating relevant and unique content that helps you create richer product experiences and adds extra value for your customers is essential.
But if you don’t have a dedicated content marketing team, this can be a difficult and time-consuming task.
If this is the case, you should consider using an AI tool for content generation - it won’t write the perfect article, but it will give you a solid foundation that can become an outstanding piece of content with just a few tweaks. And if you sprinkle some examples and personal stories here and there, you will have an absolute winner.
Two of the best options out there are jasper.ai and copy.ai.
However, if you’re looking for a solution that works natively with Shopify, you should consider ReRank - our Shopify SEO assistant that is the first Shopify SEO app to offer AI-assisted content generation features.
Currently, the feature is in closed beta, but very soon, all merchants who want to use it will be able to generate engaging product descriptions and blog posts without any hassle.
Duplicate content issue #3: Duplicate meta tags
Another common duplicate content issue Shopify merchants face is duplicate meta tags - meta titles and meta descriptions.
This issue can arise if you use default meta tags or, if for some reason, you create a copy of a page and tweak its content and URL, but forget about the meta tags.
The good news is that such duplicate content issues can be easily detected and fixed with the help of a robust Shopify SEO app like ReRank. All you need to do is open the app’s admin panel > Duplicate content.
Then, with just one click, you can check your website for duplicate meta tags. The app will scan your entire website and generate a list of all pages (collections, products, blog pages, blog posts, and pages) that have identical meta tags.
Then, you can go through the list and fix each issue by tweaking the content of the duplicate meta tags.
Note that, in order for the app to consider that a page has unique meta tags, both its meta title, and meta description must not match the meta title or the meta description of another page.
Even though there’s no such thing as a duplicate content penalty, duplicate content is a common SEO issue you shouldn’t ignore.
This is because duplicate content confuses Google which could hurt your ranking and result in less sales. Also, it will make your website look unprofessional and will hurt your customers’ shopping experience (again, negatively impacting your bottom line).
In this article, we outlined the three most common types of duplicate content issues Shopify merchants face:
- Duplicate product pages
- Duplicate product descriptions
- Duplicate meta tags
We also showed you how you can address each issue through canonicalization, creating unique and outstanding content, and using a robust Shopify SEO assistant like ReRank.
We know that since no two businesses are alike, not every single one of these solutions will work for everyone reading this blog post. There isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all approach here.
However, we hope that by sharing multiple options for each issue, you’ll be able to find a solution (or a combination of solutions) that works best for your business.
And if you’re still struggling with duplicate content or other SEO issues, our team at MelioraWeb is always here to help - just contact us or book your free consultation call!
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