Is duplicate content hurting your website SEO?

Duplicate content is an issue for many websites, and a lot of site or business owners don’t realise this.

It’s especially a concern for ecommerce websites with product descriptions that may be found on multiple pages, with little or no difference at all. It’s more than likely holding your website’s true potential back, so what can you or I do about it?

Let me take you on a journey back to 24th February 2011.

This was the day Google rolled out it’s first Panda algorithm update, forcing low-quality websites with ‘thin’ content to the foot of the SEO ladder. Meanwhile Google rewarded websites with rich, relevant content and pushed those that were providing great value to their users to the top spots of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

While it really affected spam sites, link farms and affiliate sites (rightly so), it also had a negative affect on innocent sites such as eCommerce stores with short ‘thin’ product descriptions and bad site structures.

Obviously this was a few years ago now and most that could have recovered from the impact of the Google Panda updates, by sorting out thin and duplicate content issues on their websites.

So, back to the present day.

You have a business or eCommerce website and you want to rank organically for your main keywords. You’ve got plenty of pages for the search engines to index and your content is a decent length and adds value to your pages. But you’re struggling to get anywhere in the search results. Why?

“One of the biggest factors stopping your pages from ranking can be thin or duplicate content. It’s a major common problem, especially on ecommerce sites where you may have the same products on several pages, that only have say a difference in colour.
Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin. Examples of non-malicious duplicate content could include:
• Discussion forums that can generate both regular and stripped-down pages targeted at mobile devices
• Store items shown or linked via multiple distinct URLs
• Printer-only versions of web pages”
Google

Google may not see you as trying to manipulate their search results, but you’re not providing the best user experience or presenting your information in the best way possible. So for those reasons, they won’t rank you as highly as you’d like.

Across a website and especially an ecommerce site, there could be thousands of these similar issues to address. But how can you identify them?

Best methods and tools for finding and dealing with duplicate content:

Webmaster Tools: (Now called Search Console by Google, even though we all still call it Webmaster Tools) Most duplicate content issues can be found through Google Webmaster Tools (a free tool that can be set up with your Google account). It can take a bit of time to go through the data but it’s a good way to uncover thin or duplicate content.

Go to Search Appearance > HTML Improvements. It will list any duplicate titles or descriptions that can help you identify problem posts. These pages will more than likely contain very similar content, which you can make a note of to fix.

Search Operators: There are a few search operators that can be used in a Google search that are helpful in finding duplicate content on your website.
Here are some examples to help you:

site:yourWebsite.com intitle:”yourKeyword”

Replace ‘yourWebsite.com’ with your actual domain and ‘yourKeyword’ with the actual keyword of your content to find duplicates of, then put this in to a Google search.

Google will show you the pages on your own website that contain your keyword. Enter a long tail keyword to be more specific and it tends to be easier to discover the duplicate content.

To find duplicate content on your site and other sites – for situations where your content may have been scraped or republished without your permission – just use the intitle: part of the query operator and be very specific with your keyword. You can even try searching for a whole sentence of your content.

Third Party Tools: There are many tools available online that can help you identify duplicate content on your site and across other domains.
Here are two I’ve used that I’d recommend to try:

Siteliner: They offer a quick and easy way to check your website for duplicate content. It checks the amount of unique content on each page against the common elements such as menus, sidebars, footers etc, and presents you with a list of pages with duplicate content as a percentage. Clicking on each list item reveals the pages with matching content so you can easily fix the issues.
Their free version gives you access to search 250 pages of your website, which I’ve found is plenty for most small business websites. www.siteliner.com

Copyscape: This is the one tool you’ll need to use to find your scraped or duplicate content on other websites. It’s great for ecommerce websites as you’ll be able to identify product pages that are using an exact copy of the manufacturers product description. You can then export a list of the offending pages or products and work through fixing the issues. www.copyscape.com

Duplicate content is a natural part of the Internet and Google knows this. While the major search engines are not going to slap you with a penalty for duplicate content, it’s not going to help you reach your audience or market either. So it’s best practice to deal with it.

The best way to combat thin and duplicate content is to be aware of it and the possible limitations it will put on your website, then create your content in the best interests of your users and customers. Make sure you add value to your pages with rich and relevant content, and Google will reward you with some great rankings.

Happy duplicate hunting!

– Peter

This post is an extension of The Truth about Duplicate Content over on Blogglebox

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