Double your pleasure, double your fun!… just don’t double your content.

Duplicate content on the Internet is a problem. Duplicate content on your website is a major problem. Far too often I sit across from a potential client asking me why they are not getting found in the first 50 results (first five pages) of Google. This is a great question and as with all true Internet search engine marketing questions, there are many factors, but there’s one that I see more often than not – duplicate content.

duplicate contentSo what is duplicate content and how does it hurt you?

Duplicate content is just the way it sounds – content on one page that has been duplicated on another. This can be on purpose, as in the case of old SEO techniques of article syndication or someone taking an article from one website and posting it on another, or it can be done accidentally. For the purpose of this post, we’re going to discus the latter.

Duplicate content can be found many ways online. I’ll share with you three of the most common issues I see amongst businesses both small and large that I work with on a regular basis.

  1. Duplicate content being produced by a CMS, or content management system, that’s not properly configured. This typically happens when a page is created and then additional pages are also created with various functions by the CMS, such as print, PDF, share, and category pages. For each of these features, some CMS’ create additional pages to handle these functions that are almost, if not completely, identical with the exception of the URL. If a canonical tag isn’t properly set up, these pages will compete for rankings against each other in the search engines and thus having a lower ranking than they would have if focusing on just one of them.
  2. Not telling Google how your site should be indexed in the Google Webmaster Tools. For example, if I were looking for self storage in the Phoenix area and I came across: http://www.stormystuff.com/storage-locations/phoenix-storage-facility or http://stormystuff.com/storage-locations/phoenix-storage-facility
    Google would see these as two websites competing for the same search engine rankings, or keywords, and would dilute them due to having duplicate content. This seem silly to most, but it’s a common error I see when doing website audits. Luckily it’s an easy error to fix and we see great results once this is done and proper canonical tags are set up.
  3. Using the same content over and over again on a website. I see this mostly in brick and mortar retail websites. An example of this is a website selling hiking shoes. They may have a description of what hiking shoes are on their shoe category page, then the same description on their hiking shoes category page, and then again on the particular shoe page. This content tends to come from the manufacturer, which means that the same content is being used on the manufactures website and probably a host of other retail websites selling the same product.

Although these are the three I see most often and even after I do an audit of a website that’s being run by another SEO company [you’d be surprised at how often I see this happen], here are a few others that I have come across this week alone:

  • Over syndication of articles – especially on product and information sites such as blogs.
  • Not using the User-agent: Googlebot Disallow: /print-versions/
  • Not using 301 redirects to direct visitors to the right pages Another common use of a 301 redirect is to redirect non “www” traffic as per this example: http://example.com > http://www.example.com
  • Using boilerplate repetition. This happens mostly in the footer of a website that is trying to game the system by having a long description that they hope will be keyword rich on each page. It’s better practice to have a short description and a link to a page where the user, and Google, can find the longer, more detailed, information.

So why are search engines so concerned about duplicate content?

Well, for one thing, search engines are in the business of delivering the most relevant content to a user (the person doing the search). If there are 1,000 websites with the same information, then it’s tougher for them to know which website is the authority on that subject. Also, search engines are trying to prevent SEOs from gaming the system and having a keyword rich article with a link to their authoritative website spun all over the Internet, thus giving false impressions of authority. In other words, the marketers are always trying to one-up the system and the search engines are always having to put new “rules” as to the best practices in order to keep the integrity of the search results. This would be similar to using performance enhancing drugs and trying to stay ahead of the the regulators [in this case those drug testers are Google] and the SEOs are the Lance Armstrongs of the sporting world.

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