Learn SEO – Duplicate Content and How it Affects Search Results

We have been regularly posting Basic SEO Tutorials in our blog and this time we have a specialized article to improve your SEO learning by understanding Duplicate content, its impact on search results and fixes.

What is Duplicate Content in Websites?

Duplicate Content, in the context of SEO, means the same content appearing in more than one webpage (URL) within same or different domain (web site). The most common problem with duplicate content is that, Search Engines can’t decide which content to index, eventually not showing this web page in search results.

What Search Engines do with Websites having Duplicate Content?

Sometimes, due to duplicate content errors, search engine may think that you are practicing some wrong methods to increase the search rankings and may even penalize your website.

What are the Reasons for Duplicate Content and How to Fix them?

There can be mainly 2 reasons for duplicate content error

a. Either the same webpage is linked with multiple URLs

1. Use cookies instead of Session ID
Duplicate content error due to session IDs in URLs

Some websites (like e-Commerce) use session IDs which are appended to the URLs, creating multiple URLs to same content. In order to avoid such scenarios, cookies can be used, it can be also applied to the websites using timestamps in URLs.

2. Avoid alphabetical casing errors in URLs
Duplicate content error due to alphabetical casing error in URLs

Sometimes, we link webpages having URLs written in different alphabetic cases, creating multiple URLs for same content. Try to maintain same alphabetical case format when linking to webpages as the search engines are case sensitive.

3. Keep the URL pattern and internal linking consistent

When a page is linked using different URL patterns as shown in the example, it makes search engines think that they are actually different web pages.
Canonicalization can solve this problem which we will explain in upcoming blog post. For URL errors caused due to links ‘with www’ and ‘without www’ in them, can be fixed with a server-side Permanent 301 Redirect.

Permanent 301 Redirect example
Canonical tag for redirecting example

To implement redirect ref: Redirect Code & Snippets

4. Define how to index your website

You can and should define, how the search engines index your website by defining a Robots.txt file. Blocking search engines from indexing certain pages can help in reducing crawl errors like duplicate content.
You can read more about robots.txt in our previous blog “What is robots.txt – A quick tutorial”.

what is robots.txt example

Ex : You can block the dynamic search results page from getting crawled which would unnecessarily create problems of duplicate content.

b. Different webpages having nearly similar content

1. Remove Duplicate Title, Body and Meta Description
Example of title, body and meta tags.

Different web pages which have entirely same or nearly similar content by having same title, description and body content are marked as duplicate from search engine perspective. Check and change all the pages with duplicate title/body to something relative and distinct from other pages. Although probably there is no penalty for duplicate meta tag errors, you can get ‘warnings’ from Google Webmaster Tools that you should change the data in meta tags as it increases the usability from the visitors’ perspective. Try to differentiate every page from other page and try to have distinct content. This will for sure reduce the problems similar web pages getting identified as duplicate content.
From SEO perspective, having different titles, descriptions and body gives more opportunity to rank webpages for different keywords and driving additional traffic.

2. Understand your content management system
Popular content management system (CMS)

If you are using content management system like WordPress, Joomla, you should try to understand their working on, how they link keywords, tags, categories and generate URLs, because many of your site crawl errors might be result of their working or mis-configurations.

3. Minimize content in footer
Duplicate content error due to overstuffed footer

There is a trend of big fat footers going on these days and many of the websites have huge disclaimers and links included in their footer, avoid that by writing off that content in a whole new page and just giving its link in the footer. Websites even get penalized for keyword stuffing in footer.

How can tools help in tracking and reporting these issues?

Duplicate content error shown in SearchEnabler tool

Finding the duplicate content in your web site can be a huge and daunting task. To some extent Google Webmaster also points out duplicate content discrepancy, but the next generation SEO platform and tools automagically analyze and report duplicate content issues on a weekly basis so that you can easily fix them.

Further references
1. Using Redirect – SEO Best Practices
2. Redirect Code & Snippets

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