When navigating the complicated seas of SEO, there are a number of practices that can hurt your site’s ranking on search engine results pages, or SERPS. These practices are often unintentional, though some may try to break SEO rules to get better results. Whether intentional or unintentional, it’s important to be aware of elements of your site that can hurt its rankings, like duplicate content, which we’ll look at in this post.
Unlike other practices like keyword stuffing, paid links and spam, you likely won’t be penalized by Google for duplicated content. But don’t be fooled, duplicated content can still greatly harm your search engine ranking because of the way Google and other search engines index your website’s pages.
What Is Duplicate Content?
Duplicate content is what it sounds like — it’s any content on your site the is completely identical or extremely similar. Google describes it as “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.”
Duplicate content can occur accidentally through discussion forums, printer-only web pages and URL variations that occur from click tracking and analytics code. Duplicate content can also originate purposefully, as some try to create duplicate content across different domains to manipulate search engine rankings.
For example, duplicate content could occur in the form of press releases that use boilerplate text at the bottom to provide additional insight about your company. Posting press releases with that repeated content on your website is essentially duplicating the same content over and over again. There are also more web-based issues that cause duplicate content, like multiple variations of links and URLs. It’s possible for your site to have multiple variations of a URL, like “www.strunkmedia.com” and “strunkmedia.com” with and without the “www” in the address. If each of these pages are live and have the exact same content, it’s going to cause a problem.
Regardless of the intent, the message is clear: duplicate content hurts your site’s results on SERPs.
How Does Duplicate Content Affect SEO?
Google uses mechanisms called crawlers to scour the internet for web pages to put in its index. When a site has multiple URLs with the same — or “appreciably similar” — content, Google will make a determination for you about which page is crawled most often, taking the control out of your hands as to what page is focused on.
When Google does this, it could pick one of the pages with duplicate content to crawl more often than others or it could determine that they’re both of equal importance, which drives down your ranking on search engine results pages since it won’t place all the emphasis on one page.
Here’s what Google says about duplicate content on how it works.
“Google tries hard to index and show pages with distinct information. This filtering means, for instance, that if your site has a “regular” and “printer” version of each article, and neither of these is blocked with a noindex meta tag, we’ll choose one of them to list. In the rare cases in which Google perceives that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate our rankings and deceive our users, we’ll also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved. As a result, the ranking of the site may suffer, or the site might be removed entirely from the Google index, in which case it will no longer appear in search results.”
To sum it up, duplicate content could lead to Google indexing a page that you don’t want focused on, or it could have trouble determining which page to index, lowering your ranking.
How To Avoid Duplicate Content
There are many ways to avoid duplicated content, some a little more complicated than others. We’ll look at an array of techniques you can use to protect your site from duplicated content and the unintended consequences that can surface because of it.
If you find yourself having a duplicate content issue arising from multiple live URLs with the same content, you can use a 301 redirect to… redirect… web users and search engine crawlers from the page with the duplicated content to the page with the original content. To do this, you’ll need to access your server’s .htaccess file. Your website hosting service will be able to help you with this if you’re unsure how to.
Rel=”canonical” Link Tag
Google also suggests using a practice called canonicalization to let them know of your preferred URL. Similar to 301 redirects, using a “rel=canonical” link tag tells Google to treat the page with this tag as a copy of the URL specified in the tag. If we have two pages — http://www.strunkmedia.com/page1 and http://www.strunkmedia.com/page2 — and want to designate http://www.strunkmedia.com/page1 as the original page, our HTML head would look like this:
… [other code in the HTML head] …
<link href=”http://www.strunkmedia.com/page1” rel=”canonical” />
… [other code in the HTML head] …
You would use this same tag on any page with duplicated content to notify Google of the original page. This is a much easier way to tell Google to disregard the pages with duplicate content than the 301 server redirect, as it only requires going into a page’s HTML code.
Consistent Internal Linking
This one’s pretty simple. When linking to other pages on your own site, known as internal linking, you want to keep the links consistent. Don’t link to http://www.strunkmedia.com/page1/ and http://www.strunkmedia.com/page1 and http://www.strunkmedia.com/page1/index.htm. Pick one and stick to it.
Keep Boilerplate To A Minimum
If you’re publishing press releases or other pages with replicated boilerplate copy about your company, business or organization, you’ll want to keep it off of the releases on your site and only include it to press releases you send out to journalists. Publishing this replicated content sounds off the alarm bells to Google.
Consolidate Or Further Develop Similar Content
If you have pages with content that is quite similar, but maybe not identical, it’s still a good idea to consolidate them or differentiate them. Instead of having two pages listing similar services, consider targeting different locations in the website copy to appeal to searches in those areas. That will help you steer clear of duplicated content and improve your SEO!
SEO is challenging, there’s no doubt about it. If you feel like you’re struggling or need a little extra help optimizing your site for search engine success, contact the search engine optimization experts at Strunk Media Group to get SEO solutions that will boost your website’s rankings on search engines for better results and better business.