How To Avoid Google’s Duplicate Content Penalties In eCommerce Search Pages

Hello again! Normally I mainly blog about OpenCart and customisations but this one can be applied to any eCommerce store whether using software such as Magento or osCommerce or just have your own PHP/ASP store built up. We will be looking at Google wrongly penalising websites for having duplicate content on website search results because of extra parameters in the URL. Don’t worry if you’re not following so far, like most things Google, it is just a case of jumping through the hoops.

What is a URL Parameter?

Basically, a URL parameter is used in choosing how content is displayed on a dynamic site. The easiest one to talk about would be if you go to your profile page on FaceBook and look at the URL (if you don’t have a username set on the website); you will see something along the lines of [FACEBOOK URl].profile.php?id=668491281481849816.  That little question mark starts off the parameters for PHP and each one has a name and a value; in this case the name is “id” and the value is “668491281481849816”.

When you have a search page there is generally one which holds the Search Query in question (it’s id is usually something like “q”) and other elements which change the way the information is displayed such as displaying more results at once or displaying them from highest to lowest price. Google sometimes has problems deciding which parameter does what and how to decide which is duplicate content or not.

Why Are My Parameters Causing Google Duplication Errors?

OK, so technically, Google isn’t wrong to think it is giving duplicate content because it sees the parameters showing different content and assumes they are different pages. When in actual fact it is the same content just shown a bit differently. All we need to do is get in the middle of the process to tell Google that it should only read one parameter and assume that is the content and the others are just a rearranged version.

How To Remove Duplicate Content Penalties With eCommerce Searches

Right, so, regardless of whether or not you have an OpenCart store or whatever you just need to go to your OpenCart store and open up a search page in question to check the URLs. In this case we are going to assume that Google is seeing www.[mystore].com/search/?q=trousers&sort=ASC as a different page to www.[mystore].com/search/?q=trousers&sort=DESC. When in actual fact they are the same and should be taken as such. So, the parameter which is causing us the trouble in this example is “sort”.

Go to your Google Webmaster Tools account and choose the “Configuration” option followed by “URL Parameters”. You may get a warning message here but just click through if you do and click the “Add Parameter” button somewhere near the top.

A dialog box should appear and just type in the name of the parameter (in this case “sort”) and then choose the option “Yes, this content changes the information” from the drop down menu just below. After that some more boxes will appear and you will need to provide some more details.

It will then ask you how the information is changed, in this case it “Sorts” and then underneath we have a radio selection with several options. By default, it has the “Let GoogleBot decide” chosen (which obviously doesn’t work for your site if you are reading this).

You can choose between the “No URLs” and the “URLs with the value of”. Which one you choose will be affected by your situation. In my case I would choose the “No URLS” option because my “sort” parameter doesn’t decide what information is displayed in my eCommerce store, it just decides what order it is displayed in. Or you can choose the value which Google should choose by setting the value of the default parameter which shows search results before you refine it (such as “ASC” or “DESC” in my example).

You must be really careful when choosing the “No URLs” and you must be absolutely sure that it is not going to remove any results from your pages and possibly get products deindexed. Never put the parameter which contains the “id” or “q” in Google Webmaster Tools URL parameter boxes and never put any parameters in there which you’re not sure of what they do, it’s better to have a few penalties until you’re sure rather than rushing and getting removed from the search results.

So there we go. I will update this blog soon with a guide to placing canonical URLs on pages but this will serve just as well for now. I hope you enjoy it and feel free to leave me a comment below!

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