Duplicate Content: What It Is, How To Spot It, and How To Prevent It

The term “duplicate content” often has a negative connotation to new website owners.

As soon as people start reading about what duplicate content is, they sometimes start believing that every piece of content on their website could trigger Google penalties. While that isn’t true, duplicate content does cause SEO issues.

Thus, it’s helpful to learn:

What Duplicate Content Is

Otherwise known as identical content, duplicate content refers to content that appears in more than one website URL. People use the term to describe an exact match of the original content found on other websites.

Google’s Matt Cutts says that an estimated 25-30% of all web content is duplicate, though most of it is not deceptive.

According to Google, examples of non-intentional duplicate content include:

  • Content on regular and stripped-down pages (such as those in online forums)
  • Online store product pages
  • Printer-only versions of webpages

How SEO Duplicate Content Occurs

The majority of website owners don’t know what duplicate content is, let alone how to create it. Most duplicate content isn’t intentional; it just happens.

These are some of the ways duplicate content occurs:

1. URL Variations

URL variations are an example of unintentional duplicate content. URL parameters such as click tracking and analytics code often cause these variations.

Session IDs and printer versions also commonly cause URL variations. Duplicate content occurs when each user visits a website assigned a different session ID than what is stored in the URL or when multiple pages of printer versions get indexed.

2. Scraped Content

If we were to ask you what duplicate content is, the first thing that’s likely to pop in your mind is copied or scraped content.

After all, it’s content that gets intentionally plagiarized, and although it is a common practice, it isn’t the sole reason behind duplication.

You can usually find copied content in blog sections and e-commerce product information pages.

3. Different Website Versions

Another cause of SEO duplicate content is websites with different versions.

If your website has similar content on different versions of a page, it’s considered duplicate content. For example:

  • Websites with and without “www”: (e.g. https://www.websitename.com/ and https://websitename.com)
  • Websites with and without “https”: (e.g. http://www.websitename.com/ and https://www.websitename.com)

Google Penalties for Duplicate Content

People who know what duplicate content is try to avoid it as much as possible because they believe Google enforces a duplicate content penalty. But that isn’t true.

As early as 2008, Google said that it does not impose a penalty on webpages with duplicate copy. However, while Google does not impose penalties on duplicate content, having duplicate content negatively affects SEO.

Duplicate content causes search engines to get confused about:

  • Which content is more relevant
  • Where to direct link metrics such as trust, authority, or link equity — should they direct it to the original page or keep it between the other versions?
  • Which versions to rank in search engine result pages (SERPs).

When the search engines don’t know which version to index, the website suffers because the search visibility and inbound link equity of each duplicate get diluted. Thus, the chances for the website to rank also decrease.

How To Find SEO Duplicate Content

Now that you know what duplicate content is, what causes it, and the penalties for having it on your website, the next step is to check whether your website content has duplicates.

No one is safe. Small websites use content scraping to appear more authoritative and make search engines think they were the original source.

Here are some ways to check for SEO duplicate content:

  1. Use Google to search for a snippet of text from your website. Use quotation marks so that the search engine looks for the exact phrase.
  2. Use tools like Copyscape, Grammarly or Siteliner, which checks for unique content against previously published content.
  3. Check Google Search Console to find URL variations that may be causing duplicate content issues.
  4. Use Google Webmaster Tools to check links to your website. If you notice substantial traffic from a particular website, someone may have scraped your website content. You can also create a Google Alert for similar post titles that have appeared online after publishing your content.

How To Fix Existing Duplicate Content

If you’ve found SEO duplicate content on your website or someone else’s, here are some ways to fix it:

1. Create a 301 Redirect.

A 301 redirect, or a permanent redirect, indicates that a URL has been permanently moved from the duplicate page to the original page. It is the best option if you don’t want the duplicate page to be accessible.

Consolidating separate pages of similar content onto the original page tells the search engine algorithm that this is the correct page to rank, positively affecting the page’s ability to rank well.

2. Add a Canonical Link Element.

Another way to prevent SEO duplicate content is by adding a canonical tag (i.e., rel = canonical).

It tells search engines that the current webpage is a duplicate of the website you linked to in the tag. That way, search engines will know the website you want appearing on the search engine results.

To use a canonical tag, Add the “rel= canonical” attribute to the HTML head of each duplicate page with the URL of the original page. Don’t forget to enclose the URL with quotation marks.

For example:

3. Use the Meta Robots NoIndex Tag.

The meta robots no index tag is a snippet of code you add to the HTML head of the page that enables search engines to crawl links on a page while telling them to exclude those links from their indices.

The meta tag is the best solution for duplicate content issues relating to pagination. Pagination occurs when similar content appears on different pages, resulting in multiple URLs.

To prevent search engines from indexing the page, use the noindex,follow value:

4. Ask Content Scrapers To Remove Content From their Website.

Let’s say someone scraped your piece of content and you’ve found their website. Before resorting to extreme measures, there are a few things you can do to fix the problem.

First, email the website administrator or owner and tell them that you’ve found your content on their website. They may not know the content belongs to you, so give them the benefit of the doubt.

From there, you may consider the following:

  • If it’s a high-quality website, ask them to credit you as the author by linking back to your website. Alternatively, offer to write a revised version of the article in exchange for a backlink.
  • If the website is low-quality, ask them to take down the content immediately.

How To Prevent Duplicate Content Long-Term

Once you know what duplicate content is and how to find it, you can then enforce measures to prevent it.

Here are some tips for doing so:

1. Be Consistent With Internal Links.

Follow a consistent internal linking structure.

If you use https://www.websitename.com/page, don’t link to different URL variations such as https://www.websitename.com/page/ or https://www.websitename.com/page/index.html.

2. Use Top-Level Domains.

If you have country-specific content, use country code top-level domains (ccTLDs).

For example, https://www.example.com/fr or https://www.fr.example.com would work better than https://www.example.fr for French-focused content.

 

3. Minimize Similar Content.

If you have many similar pages, consider expounding the content or consolidating all the pages together.

4. Set the Preferred Domain on Google Search Console.

One preventive measure to avoid pagination is to use Google Search Console.

Go to Site Settings. Change the settings under Preferred Domain to choose which format to display your website URL as.

However, one thing to note is that changing Google Search Console settings only works for Google; there is no guarantee that it would work for other search engines.

Using Google Search Console to prevent SEO duplicate content

5. Add a DMCA Badge.

Protect your website from SEO duplicate content with DMCA badges

A DMCA badge is a seal of protection that prevents content scrapers from copying content on your website. DMCA states that they will do a takedown free of charge if you have the badge on your website.

Final Thoughts: What Duplicate Content Is + 9 Steps To Fix and Avoid It

When you work hard at optimizing your content, encountering duplicate content issues can be a pain. Although Google has confirmed that they do not penalize websites for duplicate content, it does contribute negatively to SEO.

Now that you know what duplicate content is and how much of it isn’t intentional, use the tips to fix and prevent SEO duplicate content issues.

Dealing with duplicate content can be a pain, but your web hosting provider does not have to be. Sign up for a Bluehost web hosting plan today.

Machielle Thomas
Machielle Thomas | Content Manager
Machielle Thomas writes and curates web and email content for marketing professionals, small business owners, bloggers, and more.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*