Duplicate content is a common SEO issue which most website owners often face. As website owners you all consider it to be something bad, and something which should be avoided at all costs. However, the entire concept of duplicate content is not very clear to most of us.
We have a notion that major search engines like Google penalize website owners with duplicate content. However it needs to be clearly understood that search engines don’t have any policy for penalizing websites, rather they discourage duplicate content. Website owners need to clearly understand why duplicate content is discouraged and how search engines handle such issues.
What is duplicate content?
Before understanding how search engines handle duplicate content issues, we need to know what exactly duplicate content is. According to Google, duplicate content is the appearance of ‘appreciably similar’ content on more than one web page either within or across domains.
What is wrong with duplicate content?
There are many instances when websites end up with duplicate content unintentionally. Technically, there is nothing wrong in it. This can happen in a number of ways and ideally website owners should not be penalised for this.
However, there are cases where content is duplicated purposely with the intention of enhancing search engine rankings and increasing website traffic. This will result in the same content being repeatedly displayed on search results. This will have a negative impact on the overall user experience. Hence, search engines discourage duplicate content in order to cut down on such fraudulent practices.
What gives rise to duplicate content issues?
Duplicate content issues can arise in a number of ways within and across domains. Let’s take a look at a few instances of such issues.
Duplicate content issues within the same domain
- Boilerplate content can give rise to duplicate content issues. This happens when the same content appears on different locations of your website.
- Duplicate content issues can also arise if there are different URL variations for the same website. Your website might have URL variations like www.xyz.com, xyz.com, https://xyz.com or https://www.xyz.com. The target URL is the same in all of them. So, when we read these URLs, we know that it is the same website.
However, this is not the case with search engines. They will consider each of the URLs to be a different website. Thus, when they will find similar content on these URLs, they will consider it as duplicate content.
URL parameters with click tracking and certain analytic codes can also give rise to duplicate content issues.
- Creation of localised domains can also give rise to duplicate content issues. You will certainly create localised domains if your website serves different countries. For example- you might add .ca if your site is for Canada and .de if your website is for Germany. However both your sites will have the same content unless it is translated for each country. Hence, search engines consider such content as duplicate.
Duplicate content issues across domains
- A duplicate content issue can arise if you copy content from one site and share it on your own website.
- Duplicate content issues arise when manufacturers provide the same product information to a number of e-commerce websites and the same information is displayed across websites.
- E-commerce sites also have sorting options and multiple pages for the same product. So, each time when a product is sorted a different URL is generated. This is also considered duplicate content by search engines.
- Content scraping or taking out information from sites to publish it on your site can also lead to duplicate content issues.
Does Google penalise for using duplicate content?
As already mentioned earlier, Google does not have any particular penalty policy for duplicate content. However, it does discourage content duplication. When there is duplicate content, it becomes very difficult for Google to decide on which version of the content to index. They might also be confused as to which version of the content they should rank first in search results. In such cases they might choose to rank only one version which may not be the one which you would prefer for your website. This will adversely affect your rankings and website traffic.
Moreover, if Google thinks that the duplicate content is being shown to mislead users and fiddle with search engine rankings, then they will take proper steps to alter the rankings of the website and in certain extreme cases even remove the website from the Google index. As a result of this the site will no longer appear in search results.
However, there are various steps which can be taken to avoid such issues from arising.
How to handle duplicate content issues?
With so many duplicate content issues cropping up, your obvious question now would be how you will handle such issues. Well, there are many ways to handle duplicate content issues. Let’s take a look at them.
- Duplicate content issues arising due to URL variations of the same site can be avoided by using canonical tags. The search engine should be told about your preferred URL and all other variations of the URL should be treated as a copy of it. Hence, the preferred URL should be credited with a higher ranking on search results. This solution also works well if your webpage has sorting options or multiple pages.
- A 301 redirect can also be used to redirect a webpage which is not preferred to the original preferred web page. This is an effective solution when your website can be found at www and non www URLs.
- When manufacturers provide the same product information, it is better to provide unique product descriptions by using the specs and other details provided by them. This eliminates chances of content duplication.
- Duplicate content issues arising due to copied content can be fixed by a cross domain canonical tag. A tag should be added to the page indicating the original source of the content which is in a different location.
- For websites with localised domains, search engines usually filter search results depending upon the status of the searcher.
- A no index meta tag can be used on a duplicate page to tell the search engine not to index that particular web page.
- The Google Search Console can also be used to set the preferred domain for your website.
So, while duplicate content issues do arise, and more often unintentionally, there are a number of ways in which these issues can be handled effectively. There is actually nothing to fear about duplicate content issues. Even search engines know that such issues do happen accidentally. You simply have to take the right steps to ensure that these issues do not adversely affect your website rankings and traffic.