In the world of SEO, there is a multitude of ranking factors. In fact, if Google is your search engine of choice (as it is for the vast majority of search engine users), there are over 200. While each of those ranking factors impact your website’s SEO to some extent, certain factors have a more dramatic pull than others.
If you’ve been working on optimizing your website, you’ve likely heard about duplicate content—and not in a good way. Though not technically a negative ranking factor according to Google, duplicate content can still damage your SEO presence and rankings.
In this post, let’s take a closer look at what constitutes duplicate content, how it occurs, and what you can do to address it. At RAPTAP Marketing, we’re constantly focused on helping our clients learn new concepts and strategies to improve their rankings and revenue.
What Is Duplicate Content?
Simply put, duplicate content is exactly what it sounds like: Identical (or very similar) content that appears on multiple pages within your website or on multiple websites.
In some instances, duplicate content can also refer to content that provides little or no value for visitors (e.g., pages with minimal body content).
Google defines duplicate content as “content within or across domains that either completely match other content in the same language or are appreciably similar.”
With 25%-30% of the web’s content being duplicated, duplicate content is not necessarily something to lose sleep over. In many cases, in fact, it’s a relative non-issue.
That being said, there are instances where it can be detrimental to your website and business. In order to recognize harmful scenarios, it’s helpful to understand the causes of duplicate content in the first place.
What Are the Causes of Duplicate Content?
When you think of duplicate content, your mind may go straight to a scenario where original content has been directly plagiarized. While plagiarism is a major issue (which Google takes very seriously, incidentally), it actually accounts for only a small percentage of the web’s duplicate content.
More often than not, the creation of duplicate content is actually completely unintentional. It can occur due to a variety of technical errors, oversights, or inconsistencies and can also be the result of robotic interventions gone wrong.
A lot of the time, site owners don’t even realize that they have a duplicate content issue. How is that possible? Well, it turns out that content can be duplicated in seemingly innocuous and invisible ways.
There are many legitimate reasons why you may have, either intentionally or inadvertently, created alternate versions of URLs on your website (thus leading to duplicated pages). These reasons could include, but aren’t limited to:
- Session IDs (when each user that visits a website generates a session ID that’s stored in the URL)
- Print friendly versions of content (that can cause duplicate content issues when multiple versions of the same page get indexed)
- URL parameters (such as for click tracking, filtering, and some analytics code)
- Homepage accessible via multiple URLs (e.g., .com, .html, .asp, .php, etc.)
- Posts in multiple categories (taxonomies)
- Comment pages (which can repeat original content)
- E-commerce products that fall into more than one category (e.g., a primary page and a discount page)
- Same language content created for multiple markets (e.g., Canadian audience and U.S. audience)
Most of these issues can be readily resolved. But it’s crucial to know that they exist in the first place so that you can properly address them.
www Vs. Non-www & HTTP Vs. HTTPS
If your site has separate versions with or without www, or with or without the s on the HTTP (e.g., www.example.com vs. example.com, or http:// vs. https://), you may run into duplicate content issues. Recommended best practice is to ensure that only one version of your website is live and visible to search engines.
Scraped or Copied Content
Scraped and republished material is another source of duplicate content. Though they sound awful, bot scrapers don’t frequently pose a major threat to your rankings. Why not? Because Google will typically identify scraped sites as spammy and tank their rankings or de-index them altogether (this is one thing Google is great at).
In the rare case where original content was directly plagiarized from your site to a high(er) ranking site, you can (and should) file a request with Google to have it removed.
Why Avoid Duplicate Content?
Now that we’ve covered some of the ways that duplicate content may come into existence, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Why it’s a problem.
Obviously, no one likes the idea of their original content being replicated all over the internet. But, when framed in an SEO context, the issue is bigger than that.
Though you won’t officially receive a penalty from Google for duplicate content (unless the intent of the duplication appears to be to manipulate search engine results), duplicate content can still negatively impact your SEO presence. Here’s how:
When search engines find multiple versions of the same content, they don’t know which one is the original page—the page you actually want indexed and trafficked. Often, as a result, the link metrics (trust, authority, link equity, etc.) get split between multiple pages, and potential customers may be routed to the wrong page. Your target page may also lose rank—sometimes with disastrous impacts.
If there are duplicate copies of your content floating around the internet, search engines will not know which version to link to.
Not only that, other sites won’t know which version to link to.
Receiving high-quality backlinks is a critical element of effective SEO. Don’t let duplicate content damage your link-building campaigns.
How To Address Duplicate Content
Before addressing duplicate content, you’ve first got to find it. While there are many ways to sniff it out, two of the most straightforward are to:
- Scan your own website for repeat titles, meta descriptions, and headings. Google Search Console’s Index Coverage report is a good starting point, but many other free and subscription platforms are also available to assist you in this endeavor.
- Use Google to search for unique content phrases from your original content and take note of any other places where the content has been duplicated. For large websites, you can use a dedicated web crawling service to seek out multiple occurrences of the same content.
Once you’ve identified instances of duplicate content, you can address them in a variety of ways. These include:
Permanently redirect traffic from duplicate pages to your original page. This will increase your original page’s potential to rank well.
The noindex,follow tag can be added to the HTML head of individual pages that you want to exclude from a search engine’s index.
This tag has a similar effect to a 301 redirect but can be more simply implemented at the page level (instead of the server level). It should be added to the HTML head of each duplicate version of a page.
Minimize Boilerplate Repetition
If your site includes a lot of repetitive statements (such as copyright notices or legal disclaimers), consider solutions to minimize the duplicate content. One simple strategy could be to build a main disclosure page and simply link other pages to it as needed, using short, differentiated phrases.
- Keep internal links consistent; be sure you’re always linking to original content and not duplicate pages.
- If you’re asking for backlinks, be sure that you’re providing the correct address that will link to your original page.
In conclusion, duplicate content is not technically a negative ranking factor and won’t land you a penalty (unless the duplication appears to be malicious in intent), but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Duplicate content can negatively impact your SEO presence and is bad for business in a variety of ways.
Keep a clean web presence and be aware of the pitfalls that can result in duplicate content. Identify duplicate content as it arises, and deal with it effectively to ensure that it doesn’t drag your business down.
If you have further questions or concerns about duplicate content or other SEO and marketing topics, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at RAPTAP Marketing. At RAPTAP, our team is focused on empowering local business owners to succeed. We won’t just solve your problems; we’ll also teach you how to successfully address them yourself in the future.
As far as San Antonio search engine optimization agencies go, we’re confident you won’t find a superior service. Our team is dedicated, knowledgeable, experienced, and customer-oriented. We will have you meeting your business goals in short order.
Reach out to us at RAPTAP Marketing today!