Marketing agencies that offer SEO services often get asked by clients to help them with duplicate content appearing on their website. The client may only know they have this issue in the first place because the agency has undertaken a site audit and found multiple pages of identical content, linking inconsistencies or display issues. Then the client panics and thinks they will be penalized by Google and lose traffic. But is this really the case?
What is duplicate content and will it hurt my site ranking?
Duplicate content generally refers to large blocks or pages of content from your website that appears on other pages of your site or on other websites. The operative word here is ‘large’.
Experienced New York marketer & blogger Neil Patel in his blog 3 Myths About Duplicate Content shares the example of a company who launched a new website. Their PR firm was lazy and used their home page content in a press release which was sent out via newswire services. This created hundreds of versions of the same content which put up red flags for Google who blacklisted the domain. The timing, the volume and the context of the content being published were the issues in this case, says Patel, not that they just published one page that was the same as another.
Google itself says that in the ‘rare cases’ where it does perceive an intent to manipulate rankings and deceive users that “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.”
Even if Google doesn’t intentionally penalize your site for duplicate content, as it’s smart enough to know when there is an intent to ‘manipulate rankings and deceive users’. It’s still a good idea to address duplicate content issues, firstly, so that Google’s search engines rank you for unique content and, secondly, so your visitors see the pages you want them to.
Here are some instances where content may be identified by Google as ‘duplicate’ and different ways an SEO company may recommend fixing the issue:
E-commerce product descriptions
Using the manufacturer’s description for the products you sell on your e-commerce website is easy but it can also lead to duplicate content issues. This is because the product may be sold to other e-commerce websites, and if they all use the same description it will appear on multiple websites. When people search for the product Google may or may not show your version.
SEO solution: recommend that the business writes unique keyword rich product descriptions to rank higher than competitors selling the same products.
Content from other websites
Using content verbatim from other websites as a quote or comment is a common enough practice to backup an article or blog post. But if not stated clearly, Google may consider the content duplication.
SEO solution: recommend that a link back to the original article is used every time a quote or comment appears.
Businesses may have printer-only versions of pages so people can download content from their site but when the different versions of the same page are indexed it can lead to duplicate content issues.
SEO solution: recommend that the printer only version has a noindex,nofollow meta tag, so Google ignores it when indexing the site.
Content display issues
Content, such as blogs or forums, may be appearing in multiple places on the site without the business realising because of the way the content management system displays content.
SEO solution: recommend checking the content categories and making sure the content is only appearing in one category, e.g. ‘blog’ vs ‘blog’ & ‘news’. Check how the system archives, as it may be duplicating content here too.
Inconsistent internal linking
This is when you use multiple versions of a URL to link to the same page. For example you may use:
- http://www.mywebsite.com/page/ and
Google will class all these URLs as separate pages of identical content.
SEO solution: recommend choosing a canonical URL to specify what people see in search results.
There may be many other duplicate content issues with your site that are not obvious to the untrained eye. If you’re not an SEO expert it’s best to ask a professional SEO company who knows what they’re doing to fix it for you.
Author Name: Matt Ramage
Matt Ramage has been marketing websites for over 20 years. He loves helping businesses improve their user experience and searchability on the Internet. Matt now heads Emarketed which is located in Los Angeles, California. They specialize in SEO, social media marketing and web development.