Product URLs – a Duplicate Content Minefield
This post was originally published on White.net
Over the past few months I have been conducting lots of SEO Audits for a vast range of clients of all sizes. One thing that always seems to come out of the audit as a significant action is to look at the URL structure and duplicate content, with a special note for the product URL.
I find it extremely frustrating that with today’s technology and the skill set of most developers, CMS Platforms still generate multiple URLs for products associated with several categories. This instantly generates duplicate content for a single product, and if this is replicated across hundreds if not thousands of products, a serious duplicate content issue occurs.
To give you an example of what happens with some CMS Platforms (all CMS platforms are different), I have described a scenario below that is from the point of view of both a merchandiser and platform.
Merchandiser: a leading retailer has a new product that needs adding to the CMS.
CMS Platform: generate a generic URL that incorporates the product title and the SKU:
Merchandiser: the product that was added is a waterproof jacket; this fits into three categories, which were selected from the options available.
CMS Platform: generate three new URLs, BUT they are SEO friendly with keywords included.
Merchandiser: the product is added to the correct brand
CMS Platform: another URL is created for the brand product.
THREE MONTHS LATER: the winter season comes to an end, so the close of season sale is on.
Merchandiser: the product didn’t sell very well and was added to the sale.
CMS Platform: a new URL is created for the product that is now associated with the sale category.
The scenario above describes adding the product to three different core categories, a brand and sale category, resulting in the creation of five different URLs to go with the generic product URL.
Now what is the issue with that, when they are keyword rich?
One of the biggest, if not THE biggest issue with e-commerce sites is the amount of duplicate content that is created, the majority by products and product listings. The above shows a perfect example of how duplicates are being created by multiple product URLs through CMS Platforms.
So how do you solve this issue? There are a couple of ways, depending on how far you are along with the CMS and how co-operative your web development team are.
1. When adding a product to the CMS, make sure that the platform creates just ONE generic URL (www.domain.com/product/product-title-plus-sku-number-011232 ) that can then be associated with multiple categories, brands, sale page etc. This will allow the merchandiser to select multiple categories to associate the product with, which will link through to the same URL. By ensuring the use of just one URL, the amount of duplicate content would be significantly decreased.
There are numerous large brands that are already using this method to good effect, although in slightly different ways, including:
2. If your web development team are unable to change the way the URLs are generated, speak to them about automatically creating a rel=”canonical” tag for each product with the generic URL added. This will provide the search engine with the generic URL to index instead of the other multiple URLs
3. If you are unable to implement either of the above recommendations, then I would suggest 301 redirecting the multiple URLs to the original generic URL. Before going ahead with this option, I would strongly urge you to try everything you can to get your web development team to implement either of the first two options. Option 3 will take up a considerable amount of time, with collating the different URLs for each product and then 301 redirecting them.
How does your current CMS generate product URLs? Is your web development team co-operative when you suggest SEO enhancements, or do your requests go unanswered? As a web developer, are you looking to improve the product from an SEO perspective? I look forward to hearing your views, not just from SEOs and Online Marketers, but also from web developers in the comments below or on Twitter – @danielbianchini.
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