You might think of each webpage you create as a lovely, unique snowflake with one-of-a-kind content and exceptional style – and perhaps it is. But you might be surprised to learn that in many situations, webpages share their content with other URLs. Has someone stolen the text? Do you need to contact Google to have the doppelgänger removed from search results? Perhaps. But in all likelihood, the duplicate page came into being naturally due to a choice made by you or your webmaster. While you could sit back and let Google handle the duplicate content on your website, this could come back to bite you. What’s the danger of duplicate content?
The Danger of Duplicate Content
What is duplicate content?
Just as it sounds, duplicate content is content that appears on more than one unique URL online.
According to Google, “Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin.”
Does Google penalize duplicate content?
No, Google does not penalize duplicate content. Google knows that duplicate content is typically not created with malicious intent, and it doesn’t want to penalize innocent webmasters for something that is sensible and natural. Despite Google’s emphatic responses to the contrary, the myth of a duplicate content penalty has persisted for years. As Susan Moska, Webmaster Trends Analyst, wrote in September of 2008, “Duplicate content. There’s just something about it. We keep writing about it, and people keep asking about it. In particular, I still hear a lot of webmasters worrying about whether they may have a ‘duplicate content penalty.’ Let’s put this to bed once and for all, folks: There’s no such thing as a ‘duplicate content penalty.'”
Great news, right?
Not so fast. The danger of duplicate content may not be quite as clear as some people imagine, but there are SEO problems related to sharing content with another URL.
What is the danger of duplicate content?
There are two main reasons that website owners should be wary of duplicate content.
First, Google knows that when people search for something online, they’re hoping to find several unique results, so it tries not to present multiple versions of the same content. Instead, it attempts to filter out the duplicate content by grouping pages with duplicate content into a cluster and choosing the ‘best” URL to present to the user. In some cases, Google may not choose the URL that you believe is best. Google also consolidates various signals within the cluster, applying them to the chosen URL. Because of this, pages with duplicate content may struggle to rank.
Second, when other sites link to your content, they will also have to choose between the pages with duplicate content. This will dilute the link equity because the inbound links will point to multiple pages instead of just one. Plus, since inbound links are a ranking factor, this can affect a page’s SEO as well.
How does duplicate content happen?
According to Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of web spam, approximately 25 to 30 percent of the web’s content is duplicate content! Why is so much content copied and pasted across the web? There are several reasons why duplicate content occurs:
- You intentionally duplicate the copy on another website.
- You intentionally duplicate your own website content.
- Your URL parameters (such as click tracking, session IDs, or print-friendly versions of content) unintentionally create duplicate content.
- Your website has separate versions for HTTP and HTTPS or WWW and non-WWW.
- You offer a printer-friendly version of a webpage.
- An e-commerce site duplicates product information to sell a manufacturer’s item.
How can I fix duplicate content issues?
The main problem that results from duplicate content is that Google doesn’t know which URL to display on its results page, so the main solution is to specify which page is the “best” or most correct. There are several ways you might do this:
- Create a 301 redirect. By setting up a 301 redirect from the duplicate page to the original page, you can bypass duplicate content altogether. Instead of multiple pages competing with one another, you’ll have one page that should rank more highly due to higher relevancy and popularity.
- Use the rel=canonical attribute. This HTML tool tells search engines that the specified page should be treated as a copy of a specified URL. So when Google comes across it, it will apply all links, content metrics, and ranking power to the specified URL.
- Apply the meta robots tag. When this tag is added to the HTML head of a duplicate page, that page will be excluded from a search engine’s index. The links on the page will still be crawled, however, which is a good thing – Google warns against restricting crawling on pages with duplicate content because if you block Google’s bots, they can’t consolidate the signals of those pages.
- Make use of Google Search Console. If you have multiple URL structures for your website, you can set the preferred domain using Google Search Console. You can also specify which URL parameters should be crawled. Note that these remedies will only work on Google, not other search engines like Bing.
- Keep your links consistent. As you link internally on your website, make sure you’re always using the “best” URL of content that has been duplicated. In addition, when publishing content elsewhere, always use the “best” URL as you create links.
What if someone duplicates my content?
Sometimes people deliberately copy content from other sites in order to manipulate their SEO or increase their traffic. This is sometimes referred to as stealing or “scraping” content. If Google perceives this sort of deceptive, malicious behavior, it will take action. The site with duplicate content may decrease in ranking or be removed from the index.
If you believe another site is posting your content (and violating copyright law), you may contact the host of that site to request the content’s removal. You may also request that Google remove the page from search results.
So as you continue creating unique, high-quality content, remember to watch out for duplicate content. Check that Google is indexing the correct page and don’t be afraid to notify Google if you spot someone else ranking highly with your content.
If you’re hoping to build a beautiful, effective website that ranks highly on Google, contact 417 Marketing for help. Our team of knowledgeable, creative, and passionate professionals specializes in SEO, web design and maintenance, and Google AdWords, and we have successfully completed over 700 websites since our inception in 2010. Click here to contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.