For many website and blog owners, duplicate content can cause a lot of stress. Duplicate content makes up around 25-30% of the web, and it can cause a range of SEO issues. As a website or blog owner, it’s helpful to understand what duplicate content is, how to identify it, avoid it, and fix it.
Duplicate content refers to two or more pieces of content that are exactly or almost the same, appearing on the web in several places. This can happen across different domains, or on the same website.
How Duplicate Content Can Harm SEO:
There are various reasons why duplicate content can be harmful to your brand’s SEO performance. These include:
- Undesirable URLs Appearing in Search:
People may be less likely to click on undesirable URLs in search results, which may show up if the same content is available on different pages. As a result, this can harm your organic traffic levels.
- Dilution of Backlinks:
When the same content can be accessed at several different URLs, each URL could attract backlinks from other sites. However, it’s worth noting that due to the way that Google deals with duplicate content, this is not always a problem. When Google detects duplicate content, the URLs are grouped into a single cluster, meaning that Google should only show a single URL in organic search.
- Outranking By Republished Content:
There may be occasions where you give permission for your content to be republished by another website. But on other occasions, some websites might republish your content without your permission. Both situations will lead to duplicate content over different domains, however, it’s not usually much of a cause for concern. The only time that it can be harmful is if the republished content begins to outrank the original content on your website.
Common Duplicate Content Causes and How to Fix Them:
- Staging Environment:
Some websites use a staging environment, which is a duplicate or almost duplicate version of the site that is used for testing purposes. For example, if you want to change some code on your website, you might not want to immediately publish this without first testing that it’s going to work the way that you want it to, so you will test it in a staging environment first. However, this can become an issue if Google indexes the staging environment, as it will result in duplicate content. To solve this issue, use HTTP authentication, VPN access or IP whitelisting to protect your staging environment. You can use a robots no-index directive to have it removed if it has already been indexed.
- Search Results Pages:
Many websites will have a search box, which usually take you to parameterized search URLs. Block access or remove search pages from Google’s index by using a robots meta tag in robots.txt. Avoid internally linking to search results pages on your website.
- Paginated Comments:
Some content management systems such as WordPress allow for paginated comments, which leads to duplicate content since it effectively creates several versions of the same URL. To fix this issue, switch off comment pagination or use a plugin like Yoast to noindex your paginated pages.
- Tag and Category Pages:
The majority of content management systems will create dedicated tag pages when using tags. For example, if you’ve published an article on your blog about wooden furniture and use both ‘furniture’ and ‘natural wood’ as tags, you will end up with two pages referring to each of these. While it does not always lead to duplicate content, there is the possibility if there is more than one page on the site with these tags. There are two options to consider for fixing these issues, including avoiding using tags or noindexing your tag pages.
- Trailing Slashes and Non-Trailing Slashes:
URLs with and without trailing slashes are treated as unique by Google. For example, these two URLs are unique to Google:
This can lead to duplicate content issues if your content is accessible at both URLs. You can check if this is an issue for your website by attempting to load a page with and without the slash included. Ideally, one version will load while the other redirects, however, if both load, you should redirect the undesirable version to the desired version. Make sure that your internal linking remains as consistent as possible and choose to either link to one or the other.
- Case-Sensitive URLs:
URLs are case-sensitive, meaning that the same URL that includes capital latter will be viewed as a different URL by Google compared to one that contains all lower-case. To solve this issue, it’s important to be consistent with your internal links and avoid internally linking to multiple URL versions. Redirection might be necessary if that does not solve the problem.
If you are publishing similar content in the same language to users in different locations, this can lead to duplicate content. For example, you may have different versions of your website in English for people in the USA, Australia, and the UK. Since there are likely to be some small variations between the site content, such as currencies and slight spelling changes, they will be almost duplicates. You can use hreflang tags to inform search engines about the relationship between the different website variations.
Checking for Duplicate Content on Your Website:
You can check your site for duplicate content using tools such as Ahrefs’ site audit. The content quality report will inform you about any duplicate clusters and near-duplicates. Once you know where the duplicate content is, you can investigate the reason and take the appropriate action. Google Search Console will also show warnings regarding duplicate content on your site. If you have several similar pages, consider consolidating them into one page or expanding the content on each.
If you want to check outside of your website for duplicate content elsewhere on the web, you can use Google search to search for snippets from your content or an automated tool like Copyscape that will search the web for similarities between your content and content published elsewhere.
Most of the time, some duplicate content issues on your site are not a huge issue. However, when left unchecked it can lead to some SEO problems, so it’s a good idea to be aware of any issues and how to correct them.