You’ve probably heard of duplicate content. That is content which appears on more than one URL. This can be within your own site, or across several different websites. This can often be unintentional, such as having a printer-friendly version of your website or duplicate content in discussion forums. However, duplicate content is often malicious, with intentions to manipulate search engine results.
This creates several problems in regards to SEO:
Negative user experience
One of the main aims of any website should be the user experience. Search engines are no exception to this. They want to create a good user experience, or else people simply won’t use them. Duplicate content helps to create a negative user experience. Users will be directed to the same content over and over again, rather than fresh, different content that matches their queries. This becomes frustrating for the user, and therefore creates the negative experience.
Because there is multiple content with the same keywords and phrases, search engines don’t know which version to excluding when indexing websites. You risk losing traffic to your website, as the other URL with duplicate content may rank higher.
It is a myth that duplicate content will hurt your rankings domain wide. However, your ranking may be affected depending on why you have duplicate content. In Google’s own words:
“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”
So if you are intentionally trying to manipulate search engine results, and practicing black hat SEO strategies, you may find your website removed from Google’s index. However, this won’t happen with every case. If you have duplicate content, you can expect it not to rank as well as original content, but your whole domain ranking will not necessarily be affected.
So what can you do if there is duplicate content?
The first thing to do is establish if there is duplicate content. Maybe your content has been taken and published elsewhere without your knowledge.
The first stage is to actually establish if any of your content has been duplicated. Fortunately, it’s very easy to find out. You can do this by:
- Using Google: Take any content from your website and put it in quotes and search. The results will show you where that exact content is found on the web.
- Use tools: Content checker tools such as Copyscape will do all the hard work for you. This tool will compare two articles or web pages. Simply enter a URL or paste text, and see if there is any duplicates.
If you’ve got duplicate content, whether on your own website or across different URLs, there are a few things you can do:
- Use 301 redirects: this is particularly important if you have restructured your website. Make sure you use 301 redirects to avoid duplicate content and maintain your rankings.
- Boilerplates: an easy place for duplicate content to appear is the boilerplates or copyright notices. Instead of including a lengthy notice, minimise this and include a link to where people can get the full statement.
- Preferred domain: you can tell Google which is your preferred domain that you would like indexed. This avoids situations where http://example.com is indexed, while http://www.example.com is preferred, but not indexed. Google will also use this information when crawling your site in the future.
- Minimise similar content: if you have many pages on your website with the same or similar content, consider altering this content, or condensing it onto one page. If expanding the content on the two pages, just make sure to make it unique, so there is not further duplicated content.
- Canonical link element: if you have duplicate content, it can be tempting to block access to crawlers by using a robots.txt file. However, Google recommends against this method. Instead, Google suggests marking duplicate pages by using the rel=”canonical” link element. This allows for the pages to be crawled, while also minimising duplicate content problems.
- Reconsideration: if you’ve been undertaking some tactics that are considered against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, don’t panic! You can still get relisted and gain your ranking back. If you have made the necessary changes and believe your website is no longer breaching the Webmaster Guidelines, you can submit a reconsideration request.
- Copyright law: in rare cases, your content may be taken and used on an external URL that you have no control over. If the external website is duplicating your content, they will be in violation of copyright law. You can contact the website’s host to request the duplicate content be removed. You can also request Google remove the page by filing a request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The best thing to do is ensure every page on your website is full of high quality, original content. This means it won’t appear that your website is intentionally trying to manipulate Google’s results page. However, if you have been stung by having duplicate content, it’s important to take the time to rectify the issue in order to improve both your SEO and ROI.