How to Improve SEO by Addressing Duplicate Content

Ashley Wilson-Rew

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Today we'll tell you how to improve SEO by addressing a common problem: duplicate content.

What is duplicate content?

Google defines duplicate content as: "substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar."

In other words, when the search engine spider/bot crawls your site and finds multiple pages containing the same information, that's duplicate content.

Duplicate content is confusing for Google. It's like throwing two balls in different directions and telling your dog to "fetch." Which one do you want them to chase? How can they please their strangely-shaped, two-legged friend? Which ball do they bring back to be a Good Dog?!

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That's pretty much how it works, except Google doesn't care about your opinion, and there are ways you can point Google towards the right piece of content. More on that in a minute.

How does duplicate content happen?

Sometimes duplicate content is created accidentally, or it's an unavoidable side effect of the way a site is built. Examples of non-malicious duplicate content could include:

  • Discussion forums that can generate both regular and stripped-down pages targeted at mobile devices
  • Store items shown or linked via multiple distinct URLs
  • Printer-only versions of web pages

However, sometimes people create duplicate content intentionally or maliciously. Some people know what they're doing when they do it; others simply want to generate as much traffic as possible and don't understand the consequences of duplicating content. Google categorizes both of these instances as "malicious."

Duplicating content is a tactic often used by black-hat SEOs. You can think of these types as the outlaws of the SEO world - the Joker to our Batman. They don't care about the potential consequences of unethical SEO practices, as long as they produce short-term results. Here are some horror stories of people who have worked with shady or cheap SEO providers.

Long story short, while Google has stated it won't directly penalize you for content duplication, there are "penalty-worthy" things surrounding duplicate content that will cause Google to adjust your website's rankings accordingly. (Read: they're not afraid to drop your site like a hot potato.)

The good news is it's easy to avoid issues caused by duplicate content. Here's how.

How to Avoid Issues with Duplicate Content

Don't Duplicate Your Content

We'll start with the super obvious solution, because it's also the easiest one. It doesn't require any technical SEO knowledge to create unique content or rework current duplicate content.

  • When you're filling out your webpages or writing blogs, don't copy and paste information.
  • Don't put a long paragraph of content in your website footer. Keep your footer simple, and add links to more information.
  • If you want to repurpose content, put it into a different format: video, infographic, eBook, etc.
  • Use a different keyword for every page and post.

Practice creating original, unique information on every page and blog post. This will assist your SEO as well as provide more valuable information for your visitors.

URL Canonicalization

(Gesundheit.)

In the case of non-malicious duplicate content, canonical URLs tell Google's crawlers which version of the content you want to index. You can read up on canonicalization here at Google (warning: technical lingo). If you're having trouble navigating this information, give us a call and we'll help you figure it out.

301 Redirects

301 redirects tell Google "if someone goes to this URL, take them to this other URL instead." So, if people don't know your website address has changed, the 301 redirect will automatically reroute visitors to the new site. 

You also need 301 redirects to create a linking bridge between "http://www.example.com/" and "http://example.com/". Google technically considers those two different sites (and thus, duplicate content), so the SEO juice is split between them. That means weaker SEO for both sites without a 301 redirect.

PSA: Never ever ever switch domains without setting up a 301 redirect. Read the section on Toys 'R' Us in this article to find out why.

Proper Interlinking

Interlinking refers to the practice of linking pages/posts on your site to other pages/posts on your site. When content is very similar on two different pages, linking the secondary page back to the primary page tells Google "this is the one I want people to see." 

If you follow these best practices, you shouldn't have any problems with duplicate content. In summation:

  • Use unique, original content as much as possible
  • Use canonical URLs to direct Google to the right page
  • Use 301 redirects when changing domains or URLs
  • Use proper interlinking practices to create "road signs" for Google's crawlers

Although duplicate content can cause issues for your website rankings, it's far from the worst thing you can do. Check out this eBook on Why You Can't Afford Cheap SEO to learn about other SEO pitfalls.

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