The content that you publish on your website is extremely important for multiple reasons. Not only does it allow your site visitors to learn more about you and your business, but it also helps you be seen by search engines. This way, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing can direct the appropriate traffic your way. In short, your content is your first impression, and we all know how influential those can be. This is one reason you should avoid using duplicate content in your website copy.
Creating content that is a clear and authentic representation of your service or product can feel daunting, but it’s of the utmost importance. Although most cases of duplicate content are technological errors and not human ones, there are some cases where it may be tempting to “borrow” content from other sites. Or, to reuse your content over and over again throughout your site in an effort to get your brand message across. There’s a lot of confusion over whether or not these tactics hurt or help you, so let’s take a moment to clarify.
What is Duplicate Content?
In order to truly understand the implications of using duplicate content, we have to first recognize what exactly it is. Generally speaking, the term refers to any substantial chunk of content which is an exact replica to other content (also called exact duplicates) or has an extremely high level of similarity to another bit of content (referred to as near-duplicates). The two different types of duplicate content that you will come across are:
- Internal Duplicate Content: This refers to content that appears multiple times on the same website through internal URL’s. Internal duplicate content is oftentimes done when trying to repurpose content throughout the same website and not making any changes to it.
- External Duplicate Content: This refers to content that appears on multiple websites and is also called cross-domain duplicates.
Duplicate content is important to pay attention to because it has the ability to confuse search engines so they are unsure which version of the content they should direct traffic to.
Causes of Duplicate Content
As previously mentioned, most cases of duplicate content are not due to human error, but rather technological discrepancies. Developers and search engines don’t think the same way, so what makes sense to one may not necessarily resonate with the other. Here are some of the more common reasons it might occur.
HTTP & HTTPS
If your site has versions at both http:// and https://, that showcase the same content, this could be seen as duplicate content by search engines. This is because the two websites will be seen as different to search engines. This often happens without the website owner even realizing they have two versions of the website.
Www and Non-Www
In the same vein, sites that host versions on both www and non-www platforms may also run into issues. The search engine may recognize them as two different sites, which can pose a problem.
Session ID’s are created as a means of tracking what your customers are doing as they visit your site. As information is collected, it needs to be stored somewhere, creating a Session ID that may get stored in the site’s URL. The next Session ID then creates a new URL, which can appear as duplicate content.
Largely out of your control are scrapers. This term refers to those that scour the internet and copy the content on other sites to repost to their own without properly linking back to the original article or page. The more your site ratings soar, the more likely you are to encounter scrapers.
Other technical reasons include alternate page versions, comment pagination, printer-friendly pages, order of parameters, trailing slashes, index pages, and country/language versions, to name a few.
This seems to be the biggest debate when it comes to duplicate content, particularly as it pertains to big search engines such as Google. There are ample articles available that proclaim this is a surefire way to get blacklisted from the search engine. There are equally as many professing that it isn’t all that big of a deal. So, how you determine which opinion is right? Does it actually hurt your ability to drive traffic to your site?
Well, Google itself does recommend that you avoid creating duplicate content, although they do not seem to specifically penalize offenders when it is a result of a technical issue, such as listed above. It can still affect your rankings indirectly, though, if the search engine misdirects to the wrong site out of confusion. If, the Google algorithm detects that the content has been duplicated in an effort to manipulate the search engines to drive a site higher up in rankings, “appropriate adjustments” will be made “in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved.” In other words, it’s not recommended. Once you’ve lost your ranking on Google, it’s a hard place to climb back from. So, how do you avoid falling into the trap of duplicate content?
If you think any of the above technical issues could be hindering your performance, ask your website developer to take a look at it. They should see if there are issues that could be addressed. You can easily fix most of the issues above, and it’s well worth the effort to do so.
In some situations, if you have duplicate content on your website, you can use a 301 redirect to point search engines and users to the correct page on your website, that displays the original and most relevant content. This way, you are giving the original source recognition for the content. This is something Google will appreciate.
Use Links in Duplicate Content
If you “borrow” content from another site, be sure to properly credit the author by including link-backs to the original article or site. This is also called hyperlinking or backlinking. Here is an example of linking to another website to give them credit for information. Don’t be afraid to link to another website, as it can help your SEO efforts if the website is seen as high-quality by search engines.
Use domain names that are appropriate. Particularly when using content that is specific to a particular country or region.
Don’t publish your pages until you have significant content on them. The more content you have, the better it is for SEO. So, don’t use placeholders in your content. Expanding on the content is a great way to add your own opinions and thoughts on a subject, rather than duplicating content.
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Know Your Content Management System
Different systems will display your content differently, sometimes in several different formats. “For example,” says Google, “a blog entry may appear on the home page of a blog, in an archive page, and in a page of other entries with the same label.” This can skew your rankings, so be mindful of it.
Consider Syndication for Duplicate Content
If you choose to display your content on other sites, make sure to link back to the original article. Using syndication tools can be very helpful to let search engines know your content is not duplicated.
If you publish content from another source [after getting permission, of course], such as sharing a blog post from a different website, make sure to include a canonical URL. This type of URL is designed to tell search engines where to go to find the original version of the blog post. At the same time, it tells Google you aren’t the original author and to not treat your content is a plagiarized duplicate.
Pay Attention to Similarities
Peruse your content and look for similarities that might confuse users and/or search engines. Try to ensure your content is diverse enough across your site that it does not appear as duplicate content.
The Overall Opinion About Duplicate Content
At the end of the day, duplicate content doesn’t necessarily directly affect your relationship with Google and other search engines. Of course, this is assuming you aren’t doing it maliciously. However, it is a very real possibility it can indirectly hurt the performance of your site. It’s a good practice to get into the habit of consistently writing original content. Also, staying diligent and aware of the technical issues that can arise for your site.
If the technical end is too much for you, find a developer who is comfortable searching through your site for any red flags. You may also choose to check out some of the internet tools available to help you manage your site. A great one is Copyscape. Completely free, this tool allows you to scan your site for any duplicate content that is showing up on other domains. Not only does this help you remain authentic and original, but it also allows you to see if any scrapers have taken it upon themselves to steal your content. Overall, you’ve worked hard to build your site and your business. They are both fully worth the time and energy it may take to protect them.
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