Duplicate Content: An Eye-Opening Look at How It Might Be Hurting Your Website’s Search Ranking
Getting found online through search engine optimisation is already hard enough. The competition is fierce, so we want to do everything we can to remove obstacles that stand in our way.
Duplicate content is one of those obstacles. We rarely hear about how damaging duplicate content can be, especially if we’re not aware we’re already doing it.
In this post, we’re going to break down how duplicate content can drag your search engine rankings down and what you can do about it.
Let’s get started.
What is Duplicate Content?
In the most basic of terms, duplicate content is content that can be found in more than one URL.
Let’s say that you’re selling digital cameras in your online store. You got all the information for each camera’s product page from the manufacturer’s main website. They were even helpful enough to provide photos you could use.
You’re not going to be the only person selling digital cameras online. If other sellers use the same information from the manufacturer, that could be considered duplicate content.
You didn’t do it on purpose, but it could still hurt your website’s search rankings.
Google won’t penalise you for duplicate content, but they won’t index the pages that say the same thing.
When Google crawlers find your website, they’re not going to like it when they see two web pages with the same content. Indexing both pages wouldn’t be helpful to users, so they’re only going to choose one.
And the version they choose will be what Google deems to be the original (usually the one that is older). If yours is not considered the original, then your web pages will not be found via search results.
Two Types of Duplicate Content
Duplicate Content from the Same Website
Earlier, we discussed that duplicate content is content that can be found in more than one web page?
Even if it’s on the same website, it still counts as duplicate content.
For example, you sell men’s clothing, and you categorise your products by occasion on your e-commerce website. One particular button-down shirt is suitable for both casual and formal occasions. The site lists the product under each category link, so it’s going to appear in three different URLs.
You didn’t do it on purpose. That’s simply how the Content Management System you’re using for your website works.
Duplicate Content on Different Websites
The same piece of content can show up on different websites for a variety of reasons.
Descriptions on product pages are among the most common examples. They’re given by manufacturers to sellers. Unless you get creative, you’ll end up posting the same information as everyone else.
Some people also syndicate their content online. With their permission, their articles and images are posted on other websites. They do this to get more traffic to their own websites and build connections with other influencers.
Those are only two of the tens of explanations why a piece of content can show up in more than one website. In fact, according to a recent survey, 25 – 30% of all websites online contain duplicate content.
Terms We Should Know
This is an HTML tag you can use to tell search engines which version of the duplicated content is the “original.” There are several scenarios where you can use rel=canonical.
For example, you published a post called “Remote Getaways in New South Wales You’ll Regret Not Visiting.” The original link for the blog post should be www.yourawesometravelblog.com/remote-getaways-new-south-wales, but you also added the blog post under the Travel category.
As a result, your content management system–Wordpress, in this case–created a second link to the blog post, www.yourawesometravelblog.com/travel/remote-getaways-new-south-wales. When search engines index your website’s pages, they’re going to see that the two pages have the same content.
Using rel=canonical solves that problem for you. If you add the tag along with the right link to your pages, you’re telling search engines to index the original page.
Another scenario is when you republish a blog post on another website. A lot of people do this to network with other bloggers and get more traffic to their website. They use the tag to tell search engines to display their original blog post, not the republished version,
It’s easy to confuse a 301 Redirect with a rel=canonical.
The main thing to keep in mind when differentiating between the two is, how they’re used.
The rel=canonical is for a search engine’s benefit. You’re telling Google, not your blog post readers, to index this particular page over another.
The 301 Redirect literally redirects users from one page to another. This often happens when a website moves to another. Let’s say your old website used to be www.awesomecoffeebeans.com, but you’ve since rebranded and changed your website.
Your new domain is www.classycoffeebeans.com. When users visit www.awesomecoffeebeans.com, the 301 Redirect will transfer them to your new domain.
It tells Google that the original content is now located in a new URL. Therefore, no duplicate content issues arise.
Domain authority is a scoring system developed by Moz. Your website can score anything from 1 – 100 based on how many websites link to yours and how popular those websites are. If a website has high domain authority, links from it will be more valuable.
In a nutshell, domain authority is a good way to see how your website will perform in search rankings. If your domain authority is higher than your competitor’s, then your content has a bigger chance of ranking above theirs.
What Does Domain Authority Have to Do with Duplicate Content?
Let’s say you own a travel agency. You spent hours and hours working on a blog post you’re calling “Your Complete Guide to Remote Getaways in New South Wales.” Since you’re hoping the post will let people see how great you are at your job, it’s only natural you want it to reach a wider audience.
Your website is new, so you reach out to a popular blogger. He agrees to republish your blog post on his website, and you’re overjoyed. More people will find you, realize you’re an expert and hire you to take care of their travel needs.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Your blog post got a lot of hits on the travel blog that republished it, but your own website’s traffic isn’t increasing. When you try to find the post in Google, you realize that the search engine indexed the version in the travel blog and not the original one on your website.
Belatedly, you realise you forgot to add a rel=canonical tag.
Since the travel blog’s domain authority was higher and more people linked to it, Google may decide that the blog’s content is more authoritative and indexed it instead.
Save yourself from wasted time and effort. Make sure search engines find your content at the right address by using the correct tags in your republished posts.
Content scrapers grab content from your website and post it on theirs without asking you for permission. In other words, they steal your content.
Some scrapers copy content manually, while others use automated software. There are also cases where they modify your content, but it’s still obvious that they plagiarised you.
Whatever method they use, what they’re doing is wrong and can damage your search engine optimisation strategy.
Useful Tools for Dealing with Duplicate Content
Now that you know about rel=canonical and 301 redirect, let’s discuss helpful tools you can use to find and minimise duplicate content.
Google Search Console
Users can access your website using different versions of your URL. For example, one person might use yourbusiness.com, while another will use www.yourbusiness.com.
People know those different URLs are supposed to be one website, but search engines don’t. They’ll see two URLs and think they’re looking at different websites with the same content.
You can take control of the situation with Google Search Console and tell Google which URL should be indexed and which one should be ignored.
If you find this step too difficult to accomplish on your own, it would be best to seek the assistance of a web developer.
Remember when we talked about content scrapers earlier?
Copyscape is a free tool that helps you check if your content has been posted on other websites without your knowledge. There’s a paid version with more functions, but the free version is already useful.
It’s quite straightforward and easy to use. All you have to do is paste a link to your blog post or web page and hit search. Copyscape will then scour the Internet for similar content.
Right away, you’ll be able to see if content scrapers have copied your content and posted it on their own websites.
At this point, you might be wondering what’s next. After you find out that someone did copy your content, what are your supposed to do next?
You have two options.
- You can contact the website owners and request that they remove your content. This could take up a lot of time and may not result in any change. To save time, you could prepare a template, so you don’t have to start all over again every time this issue arises.
- You could file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint with Google at this link. Even if your content isn’t removed from the scraper’s website, you can ensure that it’s not going to be listed in Google search rankings.
You’re promoting your business online because you want as many people as possible to find it.
Every piece of content you create and how it’s seen on the Internet is important. That’s why you need to consider duplicate content and its potential to damage your search engine rankings.
When developing your search engine optimisation strategy, it’s important to consider duplicate content. You can do this by making sure to add rel=canonical tags or using 301 redirects.
No matter what method you prefer to use, make sure that you’re learning about duplicate content and directing search engines to where they need to be.
Cornerstone Digital is an SEO company in Sydney. We’d be glad to help you address your duplicate content issues so that your site rankings are not negatively affected. Call us on (02) 8211 0668 or email us at [email protected]
A self-professed book and digital marketing nerd, Darlyn Herradura focuses on building trust between customers and businesses with the written word. She understands that creating valuable content is the best way to get found online and happily spends her time doing that.