In the digital marketing era, many companies rely on organic search as a way of fostering interest in their brand and gaining leads. Organic search is popular because of its low cost, high ROI possibilities, with some companies able to rely on search engine optimization as their primary or even sole marketing engine.
Search engine optimization includes targeting specific keywords related to your website – in which you aim to rank for in user-generated searches. In a constant effort to eradicate the SERPs of ‘unworthy’ content, Google penalizes a number of elements that are aimed at taking down those that ‘SPAM’ their websites to trick search engines into ranking them. One of these factors is duplicate content.
In the past, optimizers were able to duplicate keyword rich content on their site. This did several things. It allowed search engines to index a higher number or pages – a ranking factor as well as opened up the number of entrance paths to their website. It also allowed several pages of keyword rich text to be tied to the domain, regardless of how relevant it was or if it were previously on the site. Nowadays, the existence of duplicate content on a website is a ranking factor – so webmasters must do all they can to ensure that content is relevant to a page and that it is unique (both to their own domain and to other sites online, and not just copied from someone else).
There are several tools available to check if you have duplicate content. You want to check both title tags as well as the copy itself. SEOMoz is a great tool that will compare your site to other pages within your domain and alert you to duplicate content. Google Webmaster Tools will also alert you to duplicate title tags.
Sometimes webmasters duplicate content and don’t even realize it. This happens one of two ways. We link to a particular page on our site and that exists in more than one subfolder. For instance, a page links from both the homepage and an inner page. Instead of linking a single URL, the webmaster will make the content available in both sections in an effort to keep the subfolder organized.
While it may make sense to some webmasters follow the URL structure on individual pages, what this does it put the exact same content on two different parts of the site. This is most common on e-Commerce sites, with items in a ‘Sale’ section and their regular parent group as well. Search engines will read this as duplicate content and should be flagged for review. Unique content should only exist on a single page of your domain.
Another common cause for duplicate content issues is URLs themselves. URLs that feature varying upper and lowercase letters can be indexed by search engines, creating two identical pages of content without you knowing. Without checking in a tool, you can try this on your website by simply entering two different ways to write a unique URL. For instance:
If all these URL variants were honored by the site (and you were allowed to visit each variation rather than be redirected), you may have a duplicate content issue. Your next step is to check if these alterative URLs are being indexed.
If you have a small website, you may be able to rel=canonical the URLs with varying capitalizations. It’s important that all URLs canonical to a URL of similar structure. Thus, all should redirect to lowercase URLs (standard) and no uppercase letters should be honored.
It is possible that your URLs are too long or the site is too big and it’s not reasonable to rel=canonical URLs. A simple IIS rewrite rule (dotNetNuke) or script written for your .htaccess file can correct this by ignoring cases and matching URLs [A-Z].
There are several other instances of where duplicate content can appear, but these among the most common. Duplicate content can have very negative implications. While SEO is a long term plan of optimizing several smaller parts, fixing duplicate content issues is one of the few things you can correct and almost immediately see a positive impact. A duplicate content audit should be one of the first tasks undertaken in an SEO undertaking.