Small Business Ecommerce: The Perils of Canned Content

Thursday Apr 26th 2012 by Helen Bradley
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Helen Bradley explains how canned product descriptions can hurt your small business ecommerce site ranking and how to approach writing your own.

How do you differentiate your small business ecommerce store when you sell products that are sold on many other Web stores? Using product descriptions provided by manufacturers or copied from other sites might seem like a quick way to list your products, but that strategy can spell disaster for your shop.

Google penalizes duplicate content and, worse than that, trying to get your site to rank high in search engine results when everyone uses the same content is nearly impossible. In this column, I'll explain how canned content actually hurts your website, and how you can -- with a little effort -- improve the descriptions to make your site rank better for the products that you sell.

What is Canned Content?

Canned content is any copy written by someone else, usually the product manufacturer, and offered to you as a description of the product for your website. On one hand, it makes good sense to use canned content. After all it's prepped, ready to go and written by the manufacturer, so who knows the product better? And, you save time when someone else writes the product descriptions for you; it's one less task for you to do.

Why You Should 'Can' Canned Descriptions

If you're in a "cookie-cutter" business where you sell the same kind of products found on lots of other sites, then using canned product content won't help your business. When someone types a product description into a search engine, it's unlikely that your site will appear on the first page if lots of other sites use the same product descriptions as you do.

product descriptions for small business ecommerce

Lately Google has been actively filtering out duplicate content. This means that when someone searches for products, instead of getting a list of sites all with the same content, Google reduces the amount of duplicate content and delivers a wider variety of results to the searcher. After all, from a purchaser's point of view, it doesn't matter too much where they buy the item; they don't need to see fifty sites with the same description in the search results. One or two is all they really want or need.

Populating your site with product descriptions that are the same as everyone else's means your site won't achieve the search engine rankings that it could otherwise get if you used more varied content.

Product Descriptions in an Ideal World

In an ideal world, you'd be able to create original product descriptions for all your products. This would allow you to distinguish your small business website from all the other sites selling the same products and snag your site a great ranking in search engine results when people search for products like yours.

Of course, if you have a lot of products then creating original product descriptions will be an impossible task. So any solution that you implement needs to be a real world solution that has regard for the skills you have and your time constraints.

A Real World Solution

Once you've accepted the need to differentiate your site by using better product descriptions, start by listing your most important products. These will be products that are seasonal, products that you have large numbers of in stock, your best sellers, the most popular products, those that you convert most regularly and those with the highest profit margin.

If you look critically at your product list, you'll see that some products are more important and of a higher value than others. Make a list of products from most important to least important, and then start from the top and work down.

Write short and unique product descriptions for these top products. Take into account the benefits of the product and not just its specifications. For example, if we consider a handbag, its specifications might be that it is green leather with a shoulder strap and four zippable pockets. Its benefits are that it can carry everything you need for your busy day, it goes effortlessly from workday to evening wear, and it is stylish and trendy.

While search engines don’t index images the same way that they index text content, including lots of images can help your site ranking -- provided that you include rich text descriptions in the image alt and title tags. This will help your images rank highly when someone searching for a product does so using an image search.

Finding Inspiration

If you need inspiration to write up a particular product, check around the Web for additional information about the product. Read comments and reviews not only from your own site, but also look at comments and reviews on other sites like Amazon.com, Buzzillions.com, Epinions.com and Bestcovery.com. These review sites are handy places to find product reviews that you can use as inspiration and information when writing your own product descriptions.

If you're not good at writing product descriptions ask other people in your office, your kids and other family members to help. Even if you need to clean up their spelling and grammar, they will likely have a different perspective on the products, and they will often come up with descriptions that you would never have thought of yourself.

Encouraging customers to review your products is also a good idea, as it provides richer content for your site. However, customers are often reluctant to spend the time writing reviews; you may need to supply an incentive in the form of discounts on future purchases to encourage them.

Writing good product descriptions won't make-or-break your e-commerce website, but it can help you differentiate your site from those selling similar products. Good and unique product descriptions are yet another tool that you use to improve your site's ranking and help attract buyers to your site.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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