How to Avoid Duplicate Content (and Why You Should)
Taking the proper steps to avoid duplicate content on your site is important. Otherwise, it could end up hurting your SEO performance. Here’s what to do…
Duplicate content is not a new subject. In fact, marketers have talked about it for more than a decade. But it still haunts those who don’t know how to handle or manage it.
So, here’s a question: Do you have duplicate content? With everything else you have to worry about, we hate to add another potential issue onto the already toppling pile of things you need to monitor. Still, this one can do some damage if you’re not aware.
That’s why we’re going to talk about what duplicate content is, why it’s a problem, and how to avoid duplicate content on your site.
Let’s get started…
What Is Duplicate Content, and Why Is It a Problem?
Essentially, duplicate content is identical (or virtually identical) content published on multiple URLs.
This seems innocent enough, right? I mean, let’s say someone on your team snatches a few paragraphs from a previous article and republishes them on a different URL to enhance a piece. Or maybe you syndicate your content on a popular website to get more exposure. Aside from blatant stealing and duplicating, most cases of duplication are not malicious.
So, what's the problem?
Let’s play pretend for just a moment. You’re Google, and it’s your job to provide as stellar an experience as possible for your users. That means you don’t want to show every version of the duplicate because that does not present a valuable user experience. After all, why would anyone want to read the same content after they’ve already read it?
The problem is that search engines have to decide which version of the duplicate to include in their search results.
This means that if a duplicate of your web page or blog exists on the web, the one you want to rank may not show up because Google only wants to display one version. Alternatively, while the duplicates go undetected, people might link to both or more of the duplicate versions, diluting your link equity and lessening your chances of ranking.
But wait, there’s more… You might be duplicating content without even swiping any written content from other pages. If you don’t know how to avoid duplicate content on your site, you may be introducing it unknowingly.
Here are some different ways businesses inadvertently duplicate content:
- Duplicate publishing
You publish a blog on www.yoursite.com/blog, but your web admin also publishes the blog at www.yoursite.com/category/blog. It might seem unlikely, but it happens more than you would think.
- Duplicate product information
If several businesses sell the same product, they might publish duplicate product descriptions. Even product features seen on multiple URLs throughout the web can trigger a search engine to see your content as a duplicate.
- Www vs non-www
If your website lives at both www.yoursite.com and yoursite.com or http://yoursite.com and https://yoursite.com, you might have duplicate content issues if the search engines can view both versions.
- Multiple website locations
Your content may live on your blog, but it’s also possible that it lives in other places on your website. Some common locations might be archives, the home page, category pages, etc.
- Printer versions
Your website might require users to create printer-only versions of web pages, registering to the search engines as duplicates of the original.
What If You Want Duplicate Content?
But what if duplicate content has become necessary for your business? For example, maybe you are syndicating your content to get more exposure. Or you create tracking URLs with special parameters to get data on your audience.
Thankfully, you can avoid running into duplicate content issues with the search engines and keep things running smoothly. In the next section, we’ll discuss how to avoid duplicate content, whether you are doing it purposefully or not.
How to Avoid Duplicate Content Issues
First things first, fixing duplicate content issues doesn’t mean you have to delete every occurrence of duplication. It just means specifying to the search engines which piece of content is the correct version, so it disregards the duplicate. Below are some ways to do this. Note that some of these might be a little technical and require some outside assistance.
1) Set Up 301 Redirects
One way to avoid duplicate content issues is to set up a 301 redirect from the duplicate page to the original. In this case, you are telling the search engines that the page you are redirecting to is the correct page or the main version. When implementing 301 redirects, direct to the higher-performing content so you don’t lose website performance. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to implement 301 redirects.
2) Add the Noindex Meta Robots Tag
You can add a no index meta robots tag to the HTML head of your web page to tell search engines not to index the page. When you add this tag, the engines will still crawl the page, which you want. Why? Because Google doesn’t recommend restricting access to duplicate content on your site. By adding the noindex tag, you aren’t keeping Google away; you are just making it clear the page isn’t meant to be indexed.
Here is the code to add to the <head> of your web page:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,follow”>
3) Use the Rel=Canonical Attribute
Another element you can add to the head of your web page to avoid duplicate content issues is the rel=canonical attribute, which tells search engines that the attributed page is a copy of the original.
When you add the attribute, you notify search engines to send all link equity to the original page instead of the duplicate. While the rel=canonical attribute performs a similar function to the 301 redirect, it is implemented at the page level instead of the server level.
Add this code to the <head> section of the duplicate page:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”URL OF ORIGINAL WEB PAGE” />
4) Create Unique Product Descriptions
If you’re selling a product that you might find on another website, reword the description to make it as unique as possible. We realize that measurements and technical features may be the same across the board, so it’s tough. But changing the order and wording of the features can keep your descriptions unique.
5) Syndicate the Right Way
Google does a good job of showing the correct version, but it may not be the version you prefer. Google recommends including a link back to the original article on the syndicated article to help it display the right one. Also, ensure anyone who syndicates your content uses the noindex tag so Google doesn’t index that version instead of your original.
Note: Similar Content Is Also Duplicate Content
Even though two pages on your website might not be identical, the search engines may still see it as duplicate if the content is similar enough.
For example, you may have a nutrition site and multiple pages that discuss a particular nutritional supplement and its benefits. Each page that discusses that supplement might have similar information.
To avoid duplicate content issues in this case, either combine all the pages into one in-depth content piece or add enough unique content to each page to make it stand out on its own.
What to Do About Unlawful Duplication
There may be instances when people swipe your content without asking you and publish it for their benefit. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. The good news is you can take action.
Here’s what to do:
- Take a screenshot of the stolen content.
- Get the contact information of the webmaster using WhoIs.net.
- Contact the site’s webmaster who is duplicating your content and show them your original content and the date it was published along with your screenshot. Request that they link back to your original article since you are the owner or remove it from their website. For some people, that is enough to get the situation rectified.
If the above is unsuccessful, contact the site’s hosting company and provide the same details along with any screenshots and timestamps. Find out who is hosting the website using this tool.
And if all else fails, you can also contact Google here to report the content and hopefully get it removed.
Avoid Duplicate Content Today: What You Need to Know
When left unaddressed, duplicate content can have a negative impact on your SEO performance—and ruin all the hard work you’ve put into your SEO strategy. That’s why it’s so important to prevent it when you can. Here is a quick summary of the ways to avoid duplicate content:
- Set up 301 redirects
- Add the noindex meta robots tag
- Use the rel=canonical attribute
- Create unique product descriptions
- Syndicate correctly
Additionally, it’s in your best interests to remove similar content and take action when someone else duplicates your content without your permission.
Duplicate content is a significant problem affecting websites and their ability to rank in search engines. Keep in mind the issue is not that easily rectified and requires ongoing maintenance and service.
If you’re concerned about duplicate content issues with your website, start with our FREE website audit. Find out how your website performs as it relates to speed, user experience, messaging, design, SEO, and more.