What is duplicate content?
In a nutshell, duplicate content is content which exists at more than one URL at the same time, notice I said URL and not domain. This generally happens in one of the following ways.
- Someone “borrows” text from another web site and posts it to their own with out significant modification. Regardless of which site has the original content, when this is discovered by the search engines they will both be penalized. Potentially by being dropped from the listings. Obviously, this would be bad.
- You sell products online, and those products can be sorted into different categories, colors, groups – whatever. These variations on the URL can create problems for your rankings since the search engines think each variation in the URL, regardless how minor, is a new page.
- Using session or other tracking codes in your URLS. Believe it or not, this is still considered duplicate content.
- You run a blog and your posts are available from the home, archive, tag and categories areas of your site. By default, each of these areas will generate a unique URL for each post and even though they are all on the same domain, it’s still considered duplicate content. While still bad, this is not as severe as having content on more than one domain and it is unlikely you would be penalized. However, your rankings are probably being affected. Because Google and the other engines will have to try to figure out which URL is the best to display, it requires them to look at other criteria as well, incoming links and internal links for example. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes not.
- You run more than one site with very similar content hoping to get more links, visits and rankings. Yes, the engines know you do this, and yes it is duplicate content.
Protect and Correct your content
There is nothing you can do to stop someone from stealing your content. However, it helps to know that most of the time people (or robots) that do this are idiots and don’t bother updating the links. If you use full URL links, which include your domain it’s unlikely that the thief will notice. By using full URLs, when someone follows a link on the duplicate site, it will go to yours. Also, in the event you get banned from an engine, having those links will help you make a case for re-inclusion.
For e-commerce sites, or those using other dynamic URL parameters, help has recently arrived from the major search engines in the form the “canonical tag”. This tag is a bit of code you insert within the non-viewable ares of your pages that tells the search engines which URL to consider the correct one. It works likes this:
You may have the same content available for a blue colored “widget” at three different pages:
By adding the canonical tag code to the pages, Google knows what URL is the best one to use and to include in it’s index. The code tell the search engines what page is the right one might look like this:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.widgets.org/blue-widgets" />
If you are running a blog, particularly a WordPress powered blog, you are in luck. There is a great plugin available called the “All in one SEO pack”. Aside from its other useful SEO features, this tag allows you to define whether or not the various sections of your site are to be indexable by the engines. The SEO pack even creates and inserts a properly formatted canonical tag into your posts for you. It’s not rocket science, but do be careful and properly configure the all in one SEO plugin, or you could end up causing your rankings to go down instead of up.
If you run multiple, similar sites – just stop. Seriously, stop, you are only hurting yourself. In years past, it was thought that running multiple sites like this would create more rankings, all at the same strength – giving you greater visibility. In fact, what this does is split your rank strength into multiple smaller pieces – reducing your viability. To fix this you need to determine which site currently has the best ranking and consolidate all content to that one domain. Then use 301 redirects on the old ones to send all traffic and rankings to just one place.
Should you be worried about duplicate content?
Yes. Yes, you should be worried, you should check your site and try and minimize your risks. Thankfully, you now have the tool you need to conquer duplicate content.