Search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex topic. The rules seem to constantly be changing and it can be hard to keep up. Misinformation abounds, and this includes the issue of duplicate content. What is it? Will Google penalize your site for having it? How can you prevent duplicate content’s negative consequences to your site’s SEO?
What is duplicate content?
“Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.”
You’ve probably heard that duplicate content, whether duplicated within your site or across different sites isn’t a good thing. That’s true, but there is a lot more to it than that.
How Google handles duplicate content
Google will attempt to determine the original source of the content and only display that source, filtering out any duplicates from the search results. While a less than desirable version of the content could end up on the SERP, Google is usually pretty good at finding the right site to display.
The worst-case scenarios are the rare times Google’s algorithm happens to select the URL from a site that is posting your content without your permission. You did the work, but they are getting your traffic. While there are many bloggers who don’t mind this, others do—especially if they don’t give you the byline or the links. This isn’t curated content, it’s plagiarism.
If this happens to you, Google recommends that you contact the site’s host and ask them to remove the duplicate content. If they don’t comply, you can ask Google to remove the infringing page from their search results by filing a request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The process is easy and only takes a few moments.
Will your site be penalized for duplicate content?
That depends. People rarely put duplicate content on their site with malicious intent (more about that, later). And you certainly won’t incur a penalty in those situations. Unfortunately, deceptive duplications do happen. This is usually done in order to manipulate traffic and rankings, resulting in poor user experience. And, user experience is the most important factor in Google’s ranking algorithms. Every single metric in those algorithms has the goal of giving users the best experience possible. This includes avoiding duplicate content. After all, it’s frustrating to visit multiple sites and find the same content each time.
If Google suspects that the duplicate content on your site is being used to manipulate the rankings and deceive users, they will make adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved. They may even completely remove the site from the Google index. At that point, it would no longer appear in search results.
No problem. I never create duplicate content!
Most people don’t, but one page can be read by search crawlers in several different ways. Take your homepage, for example:
All of these URLs lead to the same page, but to search engines like Google’s, they look like multiple pages. When they are each crawled and Google sees the same content, it appears to be duplicate content. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many content management systems automatically add tags and allow multiple paths to the same content. Your site may also have a “regular” and “printer” version of each article. Your site may have thousands of duplicate URLs without you even knowing.
Should I just block duplicate content on my site?
By blocking the bots from freely crawling your site, you are also preventing them from properly consolidating the signals. Google then has to treat them as separate, unique pages. If your site contains multiple pages with mostly identical content, there are better ways you can direct search engines to your preferred URL. Mark duplicates by creating a canonical tag using the rel=”canonical” link element.
301 redirects are another method of canonicalization. They are the easiest way to fix duplicate content issues on your site. So if you found a bunch of duplicate content pages on your site, you would redirect them back to the original.
Avoid creating duplicate content
There are ways to control similar content within your site, such as looking for pages that can be consolidated into the same page, or lengthened and expounded upon to differentiate them from one another.
If you have a large chunk of content that you add to the bottom of every page, you can instead, include a brief summary and link to a page with all of the details. This also makes it easier to change those details if you need to, rather than having to do it on every page and/or post.
If you syndicate your content on other sites, include a link back to your original article from each site on which your content is syndicated. You could also ask the site on which you are guest posting to use the noindex meta tag to prevent search engines from indexing their version of the content. This is something you will want to discuss prior to agreeing to write on their site.
Duplicate content can seem complicated
The professionals at Iceberg Web Design are experts at coding, design, marketing, and so much more. They can ensure that your site is created in a way that search engines and people will want to see. Contact us today to find out how!