Modern-day business demands that you take a proactive approach to stand out and above your competitors. While creating a trusted brand is quintessential, making the brand visible online is critical.
A company looking to capture its audience’s attention by ranking high on search engines often will work with a local SEO agency to formulate a comprehensive digital marketing plan. An essential element of any such successful campaign is written content.
Google rewards unique, authoritative, and fresh content by placing it higher in search results. Therefore, content forms one of the fundamental (some would say single-most-important) aspects of SEO.
At the same time, companies need to be careful about the information they share on their websites. In particular, duplicate content can possibly impact the impact of your marketing campaign.
Before we discuss if duplicate content can hurt website rankings, let us dive into the problem.
What is Duplicate Content?
Google considers all “substantive blocks of content” that are “appreciably similar” and have a unique URL as copies.
Therefore, if the same content is available in a different location on one website or across other websites, it is duplicate content.
People often get confused about duplicate content on their own websites. To be clear, if you have an exclusive article available at two locations on your website, Google will assume it as a duplicate. This is simply because each page will have a different URL.
How Does Duplicate Content Occur?
In 2013, Google’s Matt Cutts commented in a video that almost 25 to 30% of content on the web is repetitive. However, it is a factor that is acceptable since duplicate content can occur for various unintentional reasons.
The only time Google takes some form of action against duplicate content is when a website does nothing but copy information or is deceptive in its activities.
Why might someone do this? It’s quite simply the path of least resistance.
People blatantly copy popular and in-demand blogs, news items, and listicles to hopefully trend and rank higher on Google quickly. However, black-hat techniques such as these do more harm and rarely show any positive results.
A company that wants to grow its brand should work with a local digital marketing agency that avoids such practices, using only white-hat SEO techniques.
On the other hand, unintentionally duplicated content may happen for various reasons and requires a more thorough understanding.
At first, having a slight variation in the URL for various session IDs, website parameters, and print versions of the pages might seem like an excellent way to organize your website. However, Google considers every page with even the slightest variation in the URL as a duplicate.
Suppose you have a page with the URL boomcycle.com/about-us. The print version of the same page with the same content has the URL boomcycle.com/print/about-us. A search engine crawler analyzing your website will register both these URLs as separate and thus, as having duplicate content.
Website Prefixes and Versions
Nowadays, websites have various versions, from HTTP to the more secure HTTPS. Moreover, you can have an address with or without the classic WWW prefix. In terms of duplicate content, if more than one version of the website is live, Google will tag it as a duplicate.
The duplicate content “mistake” I often see when running website audits is the main domain resolving to both the “www” version and the non-www version.
For example, if Boomcycle.com resolved to both boomcycle.com and www.boomcycle.com, the URLs would be unique to Google and potentially flagged as duplicate content.
At the very least, my rankings may be hurt if Google ranks some “SEO topical” content on www.boomcycle.com and other “SEO topical” content on boomcycle.com. In this case, we would have essentially “split” our authority for those keywords.
Scraped content is an issue particularly faced by e-commerce sites that use seller information for the products they sell. Since sites often use the same descriptions, duplication is evident.
Additionally, within a website, color codes of the same product often have a different URL, which again constitutes duplicate content.
Another common reason for duplicate content might be MLS listings on a realtor’s website. Think about it: Google has very likely seen the exact same data on hundreds of websites. Thus a realtor website publishing these same listings receives zero bonus for this “duplicate content.”
Publishers, movie production houses, and businesses usually send press releases to various online bloggers and news portals as part of their promotional campaigns. Unfortunately, when everyone copies and pastes the same press release on their site, it ends up being duplicate content.
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Does Duplicate Content Affect Your Website Rankings?
We now know that duplicate content exists, and in fact, as per an article on Business Insider, duplicate content makes up almost one-third of the information on the internet. A little later, we will talk about how Google views duplicate content and if it is at all a serious matter.
Before that, though, let’s understand the effects of duplicate content on Google and your website.
Effect of Duplicate Content on Google
Google is clear on one thing. It only wants to show uniquely informative articles at the top of its search engines. So, when it encounters duplicate content, Google ends up in a dilemma. It is, unfortunately, unable to tell which page is the original.
As a result, the following happens;
- Search engines do not know which particular content to index.
- Consequently, they are unable to rank all the articles and must choose only one from the list.
- Google also cannot decide which version is ideal for calculating link metrics.
In most cases, duplicate content confuses search engine algorithms and makes it challenging to filter original content.
However, if Google decides that the duplicate content is deliberate and “an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings or win more traffic,” they may adjust the website’s ranking.
In rare cases, Google says they may even ban the website, so they “no longer appear in search results.”
Effect of Duplicate Content on Websites
We now come to the article’s central question: Does duplicate content hurt your website’s ranking?
The simple answer is YES!
Duplicate content affects your website’s rankings, particularly in two ways.
- Since search engines choose not to rank multiple versions of the same content, everyone sharing it eventually suffers.
- The presence of multiple URLs carrying the same information leads to a decrease in link equity, especially for the original content. Backlinks are another essential aspect of SEO that tell search engines about the chief content. However, if different sites link back to distinct URLs, the authority of the original link decreases.
Easy Ways to Fix Duplicate Content
Finding duplicate content on your website is not worrisome to the extent that it gives you sleepless nights. Still, it is important to be aware of the issue and correct it using one or more methods mentioned below.
The best practice to avoid duplicate content is to write 100% original material. For instance, if you are writing about a popular subject, add your own viewpoint or share information others have not to make it different.
At the same time, be prepared that you might still end up with duplicate content. As you populate your website, there will eventually be an overlap of information.
A service like Siteliner can help find duplicate content on your website. Siteliner has free and premium options that check your website for internal duplicate content, color-marking each sentence, making it easy to alter the content as needed. The service can also find broken links and identify pages with greater potential to rank higher on search engines.
Another excellent way to rank high on Google Page 1 is to share detailed and informative content. Suppose you plan to write three blogs about the same subject with relatively similar content. Don’t do that. Instead, combine all the information into one extensive article that is unique.
Lastly, avoid publishing blank pages. If you are preparing your content or have incomplete articles, share them only once they are complete.
Giving unlimited access to your SEO manager allows them to streamline your website and check for any irregularities. There are three actions to monitor specifically in terms of duplicate content.
- Check to make sure your CMS (Content Management System) is not creating duplicate content. You might unknowingly create a live and archived version or place the same article under different pages.
- Ensure the search function does not index the results, which would potentially create duplicate content. To check your indexed pages, type in site:[your website] on Google. This is a super-simple way to quickly see weird content you never meant to index!
- Be consistent with internal linking. Use the exact same link everywhere, not its different versions. For example, whenever we link back to our blog from any of Boomcycle’s web pages, we only use the URL https://boomcycle.com/blog and not any variations like www.boomcycle.com/blog or boomcycle.com/blog/.
Noindex Meta Tag
Meta tag to the rescue!
Content=“noindex,follow” is a type of meta robot that tells the crawlers how to categorize the content on the page. By telling it not to index the page, we can indirectly state that it has duplicate content.
We spoke earlier about how duplicate content confuses crawlers, which cannot always figure out the original source of information. Canonicalization is the answer to that problem.
Canonical tags inform search engines about the authenticity and origin of the content. Think of it as a “label” that tells search engines one of two things;
- If a canonical tag self-mentions the URL of a page, it tells the search engines that you claim the page as the true original.
- At the same time, in duplicate content, the canonical tag refers to the original URL. This informs the crawlers where to look for the content that should be indexed.
Let’s look at canonicalization using an example.
Boomcycle.com offers a free SEO report tool to all its site visitors and prospective clients. We have a separate page linking to the SEO tool with minimal content on how to decipher your results. The URL for the page is https://boomcycle.com/website-report.
Now suppose I write a guest post on another website about our free SEO report service. The article contains information similar to my original post. A search engine might construe this as duplicate content.
To guide the search engines to the initial content, I then add the following canonical tag in the code of the guest post:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://boomcycle.com/website-report"/>.
When you reference a page using the rel=canonical tag, both URLs exist and are visible to visitors. But now, the search engines know which page to index.
Rel=“canonical” is also a versatile tag that you can use in different ways.
- A website’s homepage will likely have the most duplicates since people may link back to it differently. So, adding a self-referring canonical tag on your homepage is always an excellent move.
In Boomcycle’s HTML source code, under the head section of the homepage, you will find the self-referring tag
<link rel="canonical" href="https://boomcycle.com"/>
Now, no matter the variation others use to link back to Boomcycle, search engine crawlers know that this is the original page.
- And yes! You can and should add a self-referring tag to any original page, even if it is not canonicalizing. Although not compulsory, the tag acts as a safeguard should there be anything similar anywhere on the web later. For example, Boomcycle’s Service page does not have a duplicate on the website. Still, I have a canonical tag in its source code referencing the page’s URL
<link rel="canonical" href="https://boomcycle.com/services/"/>
While canonical tags are helpful in “labeling” duplicate content, one must use them judiciously.
- Avoid swapping canonical tags between two pages or forming a chain. It defeats the entire purpose of telling search engines where to find the original content.
- Duplicate content isn’t always an exact copy. It can be similar. That is why such content should also have a canonical tag. As an example, search engines may consider the following two statements as duplicates;
“For nearly two decades, Boomcycle has helped our clients attain visibility, results and new clients through the brightest sales strategies, organic search optimization, PPC and marketing automation.”
“For close to two decades, Boomcycle has helped clients attain visibility, results, and new customers through clever sales strategies, organic SEO, PPC, and marketing automation.”
There are sometimes occasions when you knowingly have duplicate content. It can be due to the construction of a new website or the merging of two pages. In each case, an older version of the website exists.
A permanent redirect to the new and indexable page can thus remove duplicate content. After using 301 redirects, unlike canonicalization, a visitor will no longer see the old page anymore.
If you find a duplicate version of your original content ranking on Google, it is essential to take action.
Contact the website host and request that they remove the content as an initial step.
If they do not, inform Google by filing a request to remove content form.
Encouraging Words from Google’s John Mueller
John is a Google Search Advocate and a leading authority on SEO with extensive insight into how Google works. Lucky for us, he is forever ready to share his gyan with curious minds.
During several of his candid Q&As on Google Search Central, John provided excellent information regarding duplicate content and how to deal with it.
Here are some key facts that emerged as a result;
- According to John, duplicate content is “not the end of the world.” Google is perfectly okay for a website to have some pages with similar content.
- Duplicate content plays a part in the overall ranking of pages on search engines. It is, however, far from the sole factor.
- Google considers pages translated into different languages, even if they have the same content, as separate entities.
- Google rarely penalizes websites for duplicate content.
Don’t Sweat Duplicate Content Too Much
In conclusion, is having duplicate content something to stay up nights worrying about?
No! But it also isn’t an issue you should let linger as it can affect rankings.
Duplicate content is typically easy to find and fix. Still, the process of correcting it can be time-consuming and occasionally technical.For many small to medium-sized businesses, it’s not a viable option to spend hours removing or tagging duplicate content. Using the services of a leading digital marketing agency like Boomcycle can simplify this process and present you with further avenues to rank higher on search engines.