It’s always been a fairly common practice for smaller distributors or resellers to use the manufacturers’ product descriptions in their marketing literature. A larger distributor or reseller will typically employ copywriters to write their own unique product descriptions, but smaller companies often use the manufacturer’s copy verbatim, figuring there’s no need to invest time or money to reinvent the wheel.
That may have worked just fine for you in the past, but if you’re hoping for better search engine rankings for your website, it’s not helping you now.
Search engines don’t like duplicate content.
Think about it: If you, the manufacturer, and every other small company selling that product are using the exact same description, that’s a whole lot of duplicate content out there on the web. If someone else is using the same content, but is adding more value elsewhere on their site, then that site will show up in search results over yours.
I’ve worked on several search engine optimization (SEO) copyediting projects over the past year or so to address a duplicate-content problem. In one case, the client actually was a manufacturer, but it had sister companies making the exact same products in multiple countries around the world, and, quite naturally, all were using the exact same product descriptions on their websites, as were many of their distributors. In another case, the client was a retailer using the manufacturers’ descriptions for about 335 different consumer products.
It’s important to note that in neither instance was this duplicate content a case of plagiarism or any other sort of illegal or unethical activity. Nonetheless, it was hurting the clients’ search engine rankings, and hundreds of product descriptions had to be rewritten to solve the problem, as part of the larger SEO project JP Enterprises had undertaken for these clients.
In an ideal world, the retailer would have provided a sample of each product, and I’d have written a fresh, original product description for each one. In reality, I didn’t receive any samples, and I only had a couple of weeks in which to complete the project. I certainly didn’t have time to write 335 fresh, original product descriptions from scratch, so I focused on learning as much about their product line in general as quickly as I could.
For both of these projects, I simply rewrote the existing descriptions and had our SEO guru, Megan Pritts, test a few samples for me to make sure they were sufficiently different to prevent the search engines from seeing them as duplicate content.
Here are a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way.
- Rephrase and restructure. Use synonyms. “Rich and robust” can become “strong and flavorful.” Shake things up by reorganizing the clauses in a sentence — making sure they still convey the same meaning and don’t sound awkward, of course. If the description contains a list of items, re-ordering that list is an easy way to make your copy different. (This is assuming the order of items isn’t essential, as it would be in a list of a food item’s ingredients or in a series of steps to be completed in a specific order.)
- Use your keywords. You might be surprised by how often a manufacturer describes a product without ever using the primary noun that defines what that product is. Instead, they’ll refer to it by just the series name or model number. In some instances, that series name may well be an ideal keyword. For example, let’s imagine you’re selling scooters, and the Fire Zephyr is the top-of-the-line, best-selling scooter model. You don’t want to lose the keyword value of the series name, because many potential customers will search for “Fire Zephyr,” but referring to it as the “Fire Zephyr scooter” kills two birds with one stone by adding another keyword (scooter) and making your description different from the original. That way, you’re covered for both the people who know and love the Fire Zephyr and those who are just looking for a scooter.
- Add unique content any time you can. When I was rewriting product descriptions for the client who was a manufacturer, I downloaded their product sheets and, in some instances, even their instruction manuals, looking for additional, useful information I could add to the product descriptions on their website. Likewise, when I was working on the retailer’s copy, I made sure to visit the manufacturers’ websites to see if I could find more descriptive information that wasn’t already being used. I also learned about a magazine that reviews and rates the type of product they sell, so I’d search on the magazine website to see if they had rated a particular product a 90 or above, and if so, I’d mention the rating. By adding meaningful information to the existing copy wherever I could, I achieved the goal of making it different and, as a bonus, actually added some real value for the reader beyond just simple rephrasing — which should be your ultimate goal. After all, that’s why the search engines don’t like duplicate content in the first place. They want to provide value for searchers by not giving them a list of 30 websites that all say the exact same thing. So if you’re creating value with your content that 29 other websites offering the same product aren’t providing, you’re one step ahead of the crowd.