Ecommerce Site- Product Description & Duplicate Content

For ecommerce sites that take product info and descriptions for particular products directly from the distributor, how concerned should one be about duplicate content issues.

For example, most sites have the exact same description for PlayStation 2, that given to them by Sony. Will a site be penalized for this, or is Google smart enough to penalize duplicate content for certain ‘types of pages’ opposed to others? Or should a site rewrite the description for every product?

For short extracts, you’re unlikely to notice any great difference in rankings - you certainly wouldn’t be penalised for using the same snippet. What you want to avoid is copying all your content from other sources.

That said, I would always try to re-word the press release. Don’t think of it as a negative - something that you have to do to avoid being consigned to page 176 of Google - but think of it as an opportunity - you can develop a ‘house style’, so that you rewrite all the product descriptions of items you sell in your own inimitable quirky way. Put a bit of humour into it. This will give you an edge with customers, because they’ll see you as someone who takes an interest in the product rather than simply regurgitates the marketese that’s fed to them by the supplier. And it could also help you in your search rankings. Why? Because the marked is saturated with the words used in Sony’s press release. If a thousand other sites are using those words, you’re competing with those thousand sites, so it’s statistically unlikely that you’ll be near the top. But people won’t always be searching for the words and phrases that Sony put in their press release, they’ll use all sorts of words and phrases - so if your site has different ones, you’ve got a good chance of picking up more visitors.

(It’s like the reason why you shouldn’t choose low numbers when buying lottery tickets. It isn’t that numbers 1–31 are less likely to come up than numbers above 32, it’s that far more people pick those numbers, so you get a much smaller share of the winnings)

a one/two paragraph product description isn’t going to get you penalised. It’s all about what else you add, e.g. a related product list, customer ratings & reviews, images, …