Duplicate content is bad. Using the same content, either in total or partial form, on your website leads to a poor user experience, and triggers a red flag in Google’s search algorithm. In the old days of SEO, duplicate content was often used as a cheap trick to get more keywords and more content on your website, so Google evolved a system to weed out the spammers who violated best practices by doing this. Today, if you’re caught using duplicate content, your domain authority could suffer and your keyword rankings could drop.
Fortunately, Google is pretty fair about the issue. The company understands that the majority of duplicate content issues don’t come about as a malicious attempt to cheaply increase rank. In actuality, most instances of duplicate content are accidents or are overlooked by webmasters. Still, having too much repeated content on your site can be damaging, and it’s in your best interest to run a test to see if there is any duplication on your site.
Your first reaction to this evaluation may be one of dismissal. You don’t copy your content from one page to another. You take meticulous care to make sure every page of your site is originally written, with no duplicated phrases or sections.
Unfortunately, there’s still a risk for you. What Google registers as “duplicate content” isn’t always what a user sees as duplicate content. A user browsing through your pages may never encounter a repeated phrase, but Google may crawl your site and find dozens of repetitions in your title tags, or you may have multiple non-canonized URLs hosting the same on-page content. Even if you feel confident that you haven’t directly influenced some form of duplicate content, it’s worth checking your site just to be sure.
Fixing duplicate content is relatively easy. Finding it is the hard part. Like I mentioned above, duplicate content can be tricky to detect—just because you don’t have any repeated content from a user experience perspective doesn’t mean you don’t have repeated content from a search algorithm’s perspective.
Your first step is a manual one; go through your site and see if there are any obvious repetitions of content. As an example, do you have an identical paragraph concluding each of your services pages? Rewrite it. Did you re-use a section of a past blog post in a new post? Make a distinction. Once you’ve completed this initial manual scan, there are two main tools you can use to find more, better hidden instances of duplicated content.
Perform Your Own Search
First, you can perform a search to see through Google’s eyes. Use a Site: tag to restrict your search to your site only, and follow up with an intitle: tag to search for a specific phrase. It should look a little something like this:
This search will generate all the results on your given site that correlate to your chosen phrase. If you see multiple identical results, you know you have a duplicate content problem.
Check Webmaster Tools
A simpler way to check for duplicate content is to use Google Webmaster Tools to crawl your site and report back on any errors. Once you’ve created and verified your Webmaster Tools account, head to the Search Appearance tab and click on “HTML Improvements.” Here, you’ll be able to see and download a list of duplicate meta descriptions and title tags. These are common and easily fixable issues that just require a bit of time to rewrite.
Once you’ve identified the critical areas of duplication on your site, you can start taking action to correct them. The sooner you take corrective action, the sooner you’ll start rebounding from the negative effects.
Eliminate Unnecessary Duplication
The first step is the easiest and the most obvious, though it can be time-consuming if you have several instances. In any situation where you can rewrite a piece of content in order to resolve the duplication, do it. Put your ideas into different words, use different framing devices, and don’t be afraid to rewrite from the ground up.
Consolidate Your URL Formatting
Some duplicate content errors aren’t due to actual duplicated content. They have to do with the URL structure that Google sees. For example, if you have one page that is associated with thisisyoursite.com/, thisisyoursite.com/?, and thisisyoursite.com/?sessionid=111, Google will see that page as repeating content three times. First, choose between www or non-www formatting and stick to that.
Then, start consolidating your URLs through the use of canonicalization. Google has a great article about how to use canonical URLs, but the gist of it is that you’re going to use canonical tags in your content to tell Google which version of your page is the one it should crawl, thus preventing it from reading your secondary page formats as duplicate pages. You can also set up 301 redirects that take users and search engines to proper pages.
It may take a few weeks for your domain authority and your rankings to return to normal, but stay patient. Once Google sees the majority of your duplicate content instances have resolved, your rankings should naturally climb. Check your site occasionally for duplicate content moving forward to proactively notice any problems and resolve them before they affect your status.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.