The dangers of duplication: a cautionary tale

Written on 16 November, 2018 by Jen McKinnon
Categories Search Engine Optimisation

What you say on your website is paramount. Not only does it provide your visitors with the information they are looking for, it gives them a sense of your brand. Your content also serves an important technical purpose: it is Google’s primary source for sorting websites and ranking them by relevance according to the search query.

If you want to increase your organic traffic, you’ll need to improve your Google search ranking using SEO techniques, but duplicated content won’t help you. In fact, it will work against you.

What is duplicated content?

Duplicated content refers to any large chunk of text on your site that appears elsewhere on the web. For example, you may copy and paste some paragraphs of content across a number of pages on your site. Some people also copy excerpts from Wikipedia or other sites onto their own pages.

What’s wrong with duplicated content?

Not only is it a bit cheeky to copy from another site and just plain lazy to copy text across multiple pages on your own site, any time text is copied, Google knows. While Google has never specified that there is a penalty for duplicated content, it does dilute the authority of your page.

Duplicate content confuses the search algorithm

Google’s core algorithm works to provide the best experience it can to the user and, as such, prioritises fresh, original content. When it comes to SEO, the main goal is to please this algorithm and progress up the search engine results pages (SERPs) for related keywords. It will rarely display multiple versions of the same content. If the content on your page is the same or similar to other pages on other websites, Google will have trouble distinguishing which is the most relevant to the search query. This means that it will chose only one of the duplicates to display, significantly reducing your chances of being found by the searcher. You want your content to provide distinct value to your site visitors so that it’s clear to Google why and when your content should be prioritised.

Backlinks are split between duplicates

The other consideration to make is that backlinks, which provide authority to your site in the eyes of Google, will be fewer, as the linking site has to choose between the duplicates. Rather than all links being directed back to your site, you will have to share your “link juice” with other sites with the same content. Backlinks are a major ranking factor, so this will restrict you from reaching your ranking potential.

What if the content was mine first?

Unfortunately, regardless of who was first to publish, both sites will be impacted if your content is duplicated. Google struggles to distinguish which content is the original, so, even if you were first to publish, it doesn’t guarantee that your page will be prioritised. It becomes the luck of the draw.

How do I know if my content has been used on another site?

You can use a free online content checker, like CopyScape to find out if any of your content has been plagiarised. By entering each of your page URLs, the checker will trawl the web for duplicate content. If it finds a match, it’s then up to you to adjust the copy on your site so that it’s fresh in Google’s eyes.

What if I have duplicated my own content?

It’s possible that you have copied your own content across different pages on your own website. This can also limit your SEO success. Internal duplicate content can also be accidentally created in a few different ways.

URL variations

Sometimes click tracking, analytics codes and session IDs can inadvertently create duplicate content. The trick here is to minimise the use of URL parameters or variations of your root URL.

Domain prefixes

With the roll out of the SSL security certificate, many sites now have both HTTP and HTTPS versions of all the pages on their site. This effectively creates two versions of every page on your website. The same goes for sites that have a version that uses the www. prefix and one that doesn’t.

How can I fix internal duplicates?

There are a few things you can do to eliminate these issues. These technical tricks will likely need the attention of a web developer.

301 redirect

You can redirect the traffic from one page to another with a 301 redirect. Combining multiple pages won’t just stop them from competing against each other, it will also improve the site’s relevance and increase its capacity to rank well in search engine results pages.

Rel=“canonical”

By giving the duplicate page a canonical attribute in the page header, you are effectively telling Google that the page is a copy. This means that the “true” page will be credited with the content value, “link juice,” and overall “ranking power.”

Noindex

You can also tell Google not to index the duplicate page using meta robots. This means that, although it will still be crawled for links, the duplicate content will not work against you. To do this, you simply need to have a developer add the content="noindex,follow" code to the header of your duplicate page.

 

The jargon in this blog has likely indicated that duplicated content has a far more technical impact on your site than many people realise. If you are currently engaging in SEO, chat to your technicians about what they are doing to eliminate duplicated content on your site. On the other hand, if SEO is still on your to do list, there’s no better time to start. Chat to an online solutions advisor today about how Netregistry can get your site ranking in the new year.