Duplicate content – What’s new?

By now you’re undoubtedly well aware of the fact that duplicate content is strictly a no no, both in terms of search engine optimisation and user experience. Chances are you’ve already run into some problems with it, and may even be suffering the negative effects of this at present. In fact, according to data derived from 200million page crawls by site auditor Raven (and recently referenced by SEO guru Neil Patel), approximately 29% of pages suffer from duplicate content issues.

Fortunately, virtually all duplicate content issues can be sorted out, so read on to get up to date on the latest fixes, issues and techniques.

Defining duplicate content in 2016

Before we go on to some of the potential duplicate content issues you may face, and the fixes for dealing with them, we should revisit the definition for duplicate content, to ensure we’re on the same page (pun entirely intended).

In 2016, though there are new issues to consider, the definition and meaning of the term ‘duplicate content’ has stayed much the same. That is, content which is more or less the same as content elsewhere on the web or even within your own website. In Google’s own words, duplicate content may “either completely match other content or [be] appreciably similar”.

For a more in-depth look at the nature of duplicate content and the Google Updates that have played key roles in its development as an SEO factor, read our post ‘What is Duplicate content?

What are the current issues and how do I deal with them?

Here we want to answer some of the questions we’re currently hearing a lot from webmasters, so you can understand what the field of play looks like regarding duplicate content.

Is there a duplicate penalty or not?

Even today, there still seems to be some debate over whether there are specific SEO penalties that are doled out to websites for having duplicate content.

In an article published on Business2Community in February, Emma Labrador says “duplicate content or near duplicates can lead to SEO penalties.” Take a look at the web and you’ll probably encounter numerous other articles which refer to a ‘penalty’ for duplicate content.

However, in another recent article, Neil Patel states that 25-30% of the web is duplicate content, “and Google gets it. Therefore, there’s no such thing as GOOGLE’S DUPLICATE CONTENT PENALTY… Google doesn’t penalise sites that use duplicate content. That Google goes after sites that have X% duplicate content is another SEO myth.”

To get to the bottom of the issue, perhaps the wisest thing to do is go to the source itself. In a post some time ago on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, Google’s webmaster trends analyst Susan Moskwa said, “Let’s put this to bed once and for all, folks: There’s no such thing as a duplicate content penalty.”

So why should I avoid duplicate content?

While there may be no ‘penalty’, there are quite definitely some excellent reasons why you should avoid having duplicate content on your site.

Firstly, if your content is the same as another piece of content (or even multiple pieces of content), there’s a high chance that it won’t appear in the search results and will be effectively invisible as far as organic search is concerned. If a lot of your content is duplicated in this way, even with the best intentions, your website is going to struggle to show up in any meaningful way in the search engine results pages.

Secondly, while there is no penalty per se, if your site is made up of large quantities of duplicate content, Google will view it as having little value to its users, and rank it poorly accordingly. In an article on Hobo Web last month, Shaun Anderson says:

“The reality in 2016 is that if Google classifies your duplicate content as THIN content or BOILER-PLATE content, then you DO have a severe problem that violates Google’s website performance recommendations and this ‘violation’ will need to be ‘cleaned up’.”

‘Cleaning up’ needn’t be a lengthy or complicated process. All you need to do to apply this fix is first to identify any duplicate content that is currently on your site (online analytics tools like Siteliner will enable you to do this quickly) then talk to a copywriting agency to create original content in its place.

Apart from the body text itself, what else is important?

So, having established that you need to replace any substantial duplicate content in the actual text of your website, what else should you be aware of? Again, it’s wise to turn to the undisputed leader of global search for the answers.

In the most recent version of Google Webmaster Help’s duplicate content page, some critical issues are identified:

  • URL issues – Google recommends using ‘301 redirects’ if changing the URL of a page. This will effectively tell the search engines to direct users to the new version of your content, avoiding potential duplicate content issues which might result in older versions being displayed. It also states that you should be consistent when linking internally (eg. don’t link to three different versions of the same URL – /page/ — /page — /page/index.htm)
  • Syndication – If syndicating your content for use on multiple sites, Google recommends including a link to the original on all external copies of it, and asking the relevant webmasters to include noindex meta tags on their versions. They, of course, may not necessarily want to do this, so think through your syndication strategies carefully.
  • Boilerplate content – This refers to content which is necessarily repeated – terms and conditions, copyright notices, etc. – on many different pages. Google’s recommended fix is to minimise this by including shorter summaries which then link to the relevant page.
  • Placeholders – Google’s line on placeholder content (generic content standing in for an upcoming page) is that you shouldn’t use it. The answer is quite simple – keep content which is not yet ready as a draft, instead of publishing generic duplicate content.

Will my mobile site be seen as duplicate content?

With an estimated 33% of global web traffic now originating from mobile devices, you either need to have a responsive website that will automatically adapt to different screens, or a separate mobile-optimised site, as a matter of priority. If you’re using the latter, then you might be concerned that it will be seen as duplicate content and not be indexed.

Fortunately, this is not the case. As long as your mobile site is set up correctly, Google will recognise the fact that you are serving up the same content to users on different devices. Google’s Matt Cutts describes this in a Webmaster Help video, and you can find further information on indexing of your mobile site here.

Of course, it may be worth modifying the mobile content of your site slightly, so that it reads better on mobile devices. You can do this by shortening content and using plenty of sub-headers and bullet points.

Action you should take today

Find and eliminate your duplicate content – There are some useful online tools that you can use to check for duplicate content on your websites. These include Copyscape, Grammarly and Siteliner, and you can read more about these in our post on ‘5 great duplicate content checkers for businesses and copywriting agencies’. Once you’ve identified any duplicate content that may be bringing your website down, you should begin replacing it with original, high-quality content, and this is something that Big Star Copywriting can help with.

When creating content to replace your existing duplicate content, it’s also important not to rush it and just replace it with second-rate copy with no substance to it. Read our post from October to find out more about what thin content is and what you can do if your site is suffering from it.

Have a system for checking for people plagiarising your content – As we discussed in some detail last year, as well as being mindful of duplicates within your own content, you also need to be aware of the risk that other unscrupulous may plagiarise your content as their own. In that piece, we discuss some useful tools for finding instances of this and how to deal with the issue.

In brief, having identified plagiarised content, you should contact the webmaster concerned and request that they remove it.

Furthermore, if you find plagiarised content in Google’s results, you can also file a Digital Millenium Copyright Act complaint with Google to get it removed.

Tackle the technical issues – Earlier in this article we looked at some of the URL-related and other technical issues that can cause you to run into trouble with duplicate content. Though some of these might seem fiddly, it’s worth taking the time to pick them apart in the long run.

Looking for fresh content?

We hope that you’ve found this piece insightful and that it’s given you the confidence to go ahead and tackle any duplicate content issues you may have in 2016. If you require any further advice or need some high-quality original content to replace your duplicates, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Big Star Copywriting.

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