Designers meet SEO series: scaled content

Web designers and developers often work separately from those who focus more on strategy for SEO, paid media, or social media. There are a lot of reasons why this occurs (large companies with independent teams lacking full communication, outsourcing to vendor, etc.), and the separation is easy to understand because these positions utilize different skill sets and are driven by different trends. As a result there are sometimes misunderstandings and questions about what digital strategists do. In a short series of blog posts, I’ll respond to some common questions and misconceptions, providing a little insight into some of the latest best practices and strategies. This week I’ll be responding to questions about scaled content.

Can you build a site with scaled content?

Through all the complicated algorithms and constantly changing landscape, search engines like Google and Bing have had one constant theme and driving message they continue to push to web masters: build the best content for your users. This idea has not manifested itself more than with the Panda algorithm that targets thin websites with duplicate pages, content scraped from other sources, and too many ads above the fold.

The question of having scaled content (multiple pages with mostly the same content minus a few tweaks) comes up most often in two different cases: 1) e-commerce websites that utilize the manufacturer’s product description and 2) businesses that have multiple locations. Both demonstrate the ability to take scalable content – which business owners often use to build and manage a large website – and instead offer content that’s even more beneficial to their users.

E-commerce Websites

E-commerce businesses selling physical goods that are not of their own making often use content directly from the manufacture themselves – product descriptions, features, and even photos. And when a manufacturer distributes its goods to many vendors all selling and promoting the same thing, users have a poor web experience. All the same images and all the same descriptions open up the site to be valued less by search engines due to duplicate content.

The straight forward solution to this problem is to make the content as unique as possible. Write your own description and take your own photos if possible. Better yet, make your own product videos. Zappos, a major online retailer, sells thousands of products from major brands and likely faced this same issue – the same description for shoes, clothing, etc. What did they do? First they took inspiration from the original descriptions and modified them as much as possible except for branded features that must be included. Next, they underwent an extensive effort to build unique videos for an extensive number of products (focusing on shoes).

Local Businesses

For businesses with multiple brick & mortar locations, you will often see individual pages for each location that look basically the same, save a different address and phone number. While it can be easy to build one “About Us” style page and just change the location information, there’s an opportunity to make each location truly unique.

Highlight important landmarks and points of interest that can help visitors find each location. Promote partnerships with local organizations and other businesses you trust. Incorporate content unique to that region – weather, events, culture. For example, landscaping will be different in Oregon than in Arizona, which makes for unique content about the challenges and opportunities of each climate.

Unique Content is Worth the Extra Effort

Scaling pages with boilerplate content can’t fully reach Google’s goal of the best possible content. It’s certainly possible to create pages quickly this way. But if your product page is the same as every other retailer or your location pages don’t provide much context, then you should take the time to develop unique content for each page. It takes a little bit more work, but has the most benefit. Not only do you build content that’s better in the eyes of search engines, you stand out among the multitude of websites that take the easy route.


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