5 Ecommerce Tools to Control Duplicate Content and Canonicalization on your Online Store.

Many online merchants are concerned with having duplicate content within their websites due to the misconception that Google penalizes sites for having duplicated content. This is not the case. Google doesn’t actually penalize for duplicate content, unless it is made with the intent of being deceptive and for the purpose of manipulating search engine results; in which case it represents spam and/or misleading practices. Any penalization by Google for this type of content is based on its use rather than the mere duplication of content.

However, the use of duplicate content within your online store can have a negative impact on the ranking of individual pages. Having more than one URL with repetitive or very similar content dilutes the relevance of each page within your website. So instead of having one highly ranked page you end up with 2 or 3 poorly ranked pages.

Let us assume that, as an online merchant, you are already doing your best to enter rich and unique content for their home page, product pages and categories. These 5 tools will further help increase your rankings and avoid duplicate content issues related to the structure of your website.


1) Let Google know about your preferred domain (To www or not to www).

The “preferred domain” - also known as the canonical domain - refers to the version of your URL that Google should use when indexing your site. This provides control over the www or non-www will be indexed and avoids treating references to different versions of the domain as separate/individual pages.

You can specify the preferred domain name directly from Google Webmaster Tools. The value should be set to use the www version of the store’s domain name. Your 3dcart store itself includes automatic 301 redirects of all store’s pages from the non-www URL to the www one. So there is no need to worry about how external websites link to your site; the www will take your preference into account when Google finds those links.

2) Specify the canonical link for your store’s pages.

Within an online store, products and category pages can usually be accessed in different ways which might lead to duplicated URLs displaying the same content.

For example, a category page normally accessible via this URL: Flat-panel-tvs_c_5.html,
could have a different URL when sorting “By Price” (Flat-panel-tvs_c_5-1-3.html) or a different URL when sorting by “Newest” (Flat-panel-tvs_c_5-1-2.html). Meanwhile, all of them refer to the exact same page.

When this occurs, search engines can’t tell which page is more relevant and which should have precedence over the other. In the same way, if external sites link to this page using more than one URL, the overall ranking of the page is diluted across each of the links. Using canonical links addresses this issue by combining all duplicated URLs into a unique one. This is currently supported by Google, Bing.com, Ask.com and Yahoo.com; and is built into 3dcart ‘s (v3.2.2) SEO toolset for your ecommerce store.


3) Submit your sitemap with the URLs you would like to be indexed

Creating and using a “sitemap” is a great way to tell search engines about the pages on your online store. A sitemap is basically an XML file within your site that includes the canonical URLs to your main content pages, categories and products.

All 3dcart stores include a built-in sitemap.xml file that dynamically updates as changes are made to the site. So it’ll include new categories and will automatically remove discontinued products as they apply. Furthermore, you can submit this sitemap from your Google Webmaster Tools account.

4) Restrict access to the secure version of your store (https:// vs. https://).

For security purposes, every online store requires an SSL certificate to process transactions. This certificate utilizes a “secure socket layer” connection which allows your site to be browsed with either HTTP or HTTPS. In the same manner, SSL allows search engines to index your site in either way.

As content is added to your site, links and referrers should be kept relative to avoid references to the HTTPS version of the URL, since this might give search engines access to the SSL version of the site.

As online stores are being developed, a temporary URL is often used for place-holding purposes. In our case we provide a “domain.3dcartstores.com” with every account. Once the site goes live, references to the temporary URL should be avoided within the site just like any HTTPS URLs. Since http and https protocols are different, these are considered two separate sites and search engines will list the pages using the first page found. The canonical URLs will help with this issue, but it’s recommended to use a secure version of your robots.txt to block search engines from accessing these pages.

A robots_ssl.txt file is included for all 3dcart accounts as a guideline to prevent spiders from crawling the https or temporary URL of the store.

5) Choose a unique page name for your products and stick to it.

If things go as expected, you’ll notice your products ranking high in search engines results and the positions they reach will be maintained over time. At this point, you need to be aware that any changes you apply to your product’s names, (or if inventory updates require you to delete and re-insert your product) will result in a change to the product page’s URL. This will, in turn, result in the product losing its current search engine rankings.

Ecommerce sites handle page names and URLs used for product and category pages in a variety of different ways. Less sophisticated ecommerce software packages will generate dynamic URLs using an id to identify the product, for example “product.php?id=100” or “100.htm.” Therefore, if the id changes, the URL also changes and will result in a ranking loss.

With 3dcart, the page URLs are built as static HTML pages using the product or category name and the id of the page within the system; for example “flat-panel-tvs_c_5.html." This provides a keyword rich URL that reaches a higher ranking than a dynamic, non-descriptive URL.

In either scenario, changing the product id, renaming the product name, or deleting it and adding it again, will result in a change of the page’s already established URL. To address this issue within 3dcart, the use of a Custom File Names™ is recommended. This unique feature allows you to specify a URL of your choice, regardless of its automated naming. For example, “high-definition-flat-panel-tv.html” would be an example of a custom file name. With Custom File Names™ you can include additional keywords, and have a URL that will be maintained over time, even if the product name or id changes,

In the following weeks we’ll be providing more detail on each one of these 5 tools and how these can easily be implemented within your 3dcart store.

About the Autor:
Jimmy Rodriguez is CTO and co-founder of 3DCart, developer of an e-commerce suite for businesses of all sizes. As an authority on e-commerce best practices, Jimmy combines more than 8 years as an e-commerce developer and web programmer with SEO, social marketing and business intelligence.