Your Guide to Finding & Fixing Duplicate Content
One of the most common SEO issues found on websites is duplicate content. Understanding how duplicate content impacts your site performance and SEO strategy is critical to your online success. Why is having duplicate content an issue for SEO? In this guide, we help answer:
- What is duplicate content?
- Does duplicate content hurt SEO?
- How to find duplicate content on your website
- How to avoid duplicate content
What is Duplicate Content?
If you’ve ever performed an audit on your website, you may have encountered a “duplicate content” error in your results. This occurs when there are multiple pages on your website that are identical or very similar to one another.
Let’s say, for instance, you are an online clothing retailer selling vintage t-shirts. You list a product at the following URL:
To market your product to customers ahead of an upcoming concert, you decide to host a sale. Now your product is listed at this link as well:
Since you’re hosting the exact same product description and image in two different URLs on your site, this is considered duplicate content.
Of course, there are elements of your website that will remain the same across all web pages. For example, footers and navigation menus will contain the same content throughout the site experience. This is not considered duplicate content because Google recognizes that this is not the sole purpose of the page.
Why is Duplicate Content an Issue for SEO?
While Google doesn’t officially penalize duplicate content, it can filter it out, which can be harmful to your SEO strategy. Essentially, being filtered has the same impact as a penalty: reduced site ranking.
So, why is duplicate content an issue for SEO? Multiple versions of the same content can confuse search engines in three main ways:
- They don’t understand which versions to index.
- They don’t know what URL metrics belong to which page.
- They don’t know which version to serve for query results.
Not only is duplicate content harmful for the search engine experience, but it’s also detrimental for site owners. Site rank and traffic losses can be expected when duplicate versions of a piece of content appear on a website. Since copied content confuses search engines, it forces them to choose between the multiple versions. This dramatically decreases the visibility of each duplicated page.
Additionally, link equity can be negatively impacted by duplicate pieces of content on a site. Rather than all inbound links pointing to a single page, they link to multiple pages on your site. As a result, link equity is forced to spread across the duplicates. Since inbound links directly impact site rank, this can further decrease search visibility.
How Much Duplicate Content is Acceptable?
While duplicate content can negatively impact your rankings and visibility, most SEO experts agree that Google generally doesn’t issue penalties for this practice. Unless it is done intentionally to manipulate search results, Google doesn’t consider duplicate content as spam.
Still, it’s important to limit the amount of duplicate content on your website where possible. Google states, “if your site suffers from duplicate content issues, and you don’t follow the advice listed in this document, we do a good job of choosing a version of the content to show in our search results.” However, there is always the chance that Google gets it wrong.
If they do get it wrong, your content might not get seen by your target audience. Alternatively, Google may point them to a page that doesn’t answer the user’s query. This can increase your bounce rate and decrease engagement.
How to Find Duplicate Content on Your Website
Knowing how to find duplicate content on your website is the first step to fixing the problem. Even if you think you’ve taken every precaution to avoid this practice, it’s a good idea to use a duplicate content checker just in case you missed something. The best part is that many of these tools are available for free.
Some examples of duplicate content checkers include:
- Copyscape: This tool cross-references content against already published content quickly and efficiently. It highlights any content that might be a duplicate, providing a percentage of exact matches that exist on your page.
- Plagspotter: An excellent resource for spotting duplicates and plagiarism, Plagspotter can also help SEO strategists spot content thieves. You can use the tool to monitor URLs weekly to catch copied content.
- Duplichecker: This free tool allows you to conduct text, .docx or text file, and URL searches to identify duplicate content. While free to use, you are required to register to take full advantage of unlimited searches.
- Siteliner: Not only great for identifying multiple versions of the same content, Siteliner can also show page load speed, internal/external links, and more. Simply paste in your site’s URL to scan for duplicates.
How to Avoid Duplicate Content
There are several ways to avoid creating duplicate pieces of content across your website, including:
Site taxonomy is essentially mapping out your website holistically. Performing a site crawl is a great place to start, assigning unique H1 and target keywords to each page. Try organizing your site content by topic to limit the possibility of page duplication.
One of the most important methods for avoiding duplicate content is canonical tagging. A canonical tag is a portion of HTML code that shows Google who owns a piece of content — even when that content appears elsewhere online.
Essentially, a canonical tag is like a signed original in Google’s eyes. Referencing canonical tags is a critical part of recognizing and eliminating multiple versions of the same content.
Another aspect of your website’s technical SEO that should be analyzed is your meta robots tags. These are useful when you want Google to exclude certain pages of your website from its indices. Adding a “no index” meta robots tag tells Google that you do not want this page to be served in the search engine results pages.
In the Google Search Console, you can set the preferred domain of your website. This helps specify whether the Googlebot should crawl various URL parameters differently. Depending on the underlying cause of your duplicate content issues, parameter handling may provide a solution.
Note: Parameter handling only works for Google. Any rules specified on the Google Search Console will not affect how other search engines (i.e., Bing) crawl and interpret your website. You will need to use the webmaster tools associated with other search engines to adjust the settings in each console manually.
Setting up a 301 redirect is an excellent way to deal with duplicate content. This redirects users from the duplicate page to the original content. By combining multiple pages with high rank potential, they no longer compete with one another to be served in a query.
Implementing these changes can be difficult without the right technical SEO training or expertise. At Word Nerd, we have years of experience helping business owners rethink their SEO strategies to avoid duplicate content. We provide a full site audit during our initial consultation to let you know upfront exactly what areas you need to improve. Contact us today to have our team perform a free SEO audit for your website!