Duplicate content is one of the big issues that has long been causing headaches for website owners. The basic premise is that you have the same content on different URLs, and the search engines do not like it.
It’s obvious why-Google and other search engines want to provide the most relevant results in response to search queries. They do not want to provide pages and pages of the exact same content.
As a result, Google will only show one of the duplicate pages in its results pages, and the other pages will not show up.
Clearly, you want to avoid this—and this is where it becomes important to make sure duplicate content is not a problem.
Don’t Copy Content
The simplest way to avoid duplicate content is to avoid copying content in the first place. This is normally done intentionally, sometimes to try and cheat the system. For example, you take content from somewhere else and paste it on your website.
However, even if you have permission from the copyright holder, you will not improve your rankings in the search engines by doing this.
That doesn’t mean you should never do it. Content syndication is an effective way to gather high-quality content that your website users will find valuable-just don’t expect to get any SEO benefits from it.
SEO companies like https://www.poet.co/poet-media/ will often recommend getting rid of duplicate content like this, or at least limiting it, to enjoy more SEO benefits.
Technical Causes of Duplicate Content
While the above issue is one you will probably know about, there are other more common causes for duplicate content issues that are much more technical.
If you don’t know much about websites, then this can be confusing. But essentially, your website is powered by a database, and even though you may only have one original piece of content, the software of the website may allow the article to be retrieved by different URLs—and this can cause problems.
One area where problems can arise is with Session IDs. When someone shops on your site and stores something in their shopping card, you provide them with a session. This is like a short history of their activity on your site.
The Session ID needs to be stored somewhere in order to maintain the session, and some systems use the Session ID in the URL. This creates a new URL, leading to duplicate content.
A similar problem occurs where URL parameters are used for tracking and sorting (for example, when you track the source that people come from). Again, it’s a technical issue that you want your developer to sort out.
Other similar issues occur with comment pagination, and sometimes even with printer friendly pages, where your CMS actually creates separate pages to print from.
If your website has a “www” version and a “non-www” version, this can also cause problems, although it is not so common.
And then there is a problem that you may not be able to control where other websites may scrape your content. They may not link to your original article, and in this case the search engine does not know which is the original, which could affect your ranking. This one is a hard one to stop, but you will want to find out if it is a problem.
So How Do You Spot Problems?
The first thing you have to do is work out whether you have a duplicate content problem in the first place. The best way to do that is to head to Google Webmaster Tools, which can help to identify it. Alternatively, ask a developer to do this for you.
You can also search on Google for duplicate content. Search your site using the “site:yourwebsite.com” phrase followed by a keyword. This will then search for all the pages with that keyword in, helping you to spot duplicates.
You can also search for your exact titles contained in speech marks to find duplicate content that has been posted on other websites.
If the same content can be found on different URLs, your developer can help you here, often by using a 301 redirect.
This redirects from the duplicate to the original, and it stops the pages from competing against each other in the search engines.
Avoid Duplicate Content Issues
Duplicate content can hurt your search rankings, but it is surprisingly common. If you are having difficulty working out whether you have duplicate content issues, or you don’t know how to solve them, an experienced web developer is usually the best option.
So find any duplicate content issues, get them sorted, and improve your chances of ranking in the search engines.
Robert Atkins is an independent website consultant who works with startups as well as already established small-medium businesses. He shares some tips with an online audience most weeks through his articles and online discussions.