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For someone new to search engine optimisation, terms such as redirects and canonical links can seem pretty scary. However, these processes can be essential in tackling duplicate content, a serious SEO issue which can have a huge impact on the site’s search engine rankings.

What is it duplicate content, and why do we have it?

Duplicate content refers to a page that is either very similar or identical to another page on the web or your site. When duplicate content exists, Google doesn’t know which version to index. It also won’t want to rank several versions of the same page, as this could affect the quality of search engine results and user experience.

There are several reasons why duplicate content may occur. A common cause is printer-only versions of web pages, which are sometimes preferred to your original URL by Google. This could be due to them being free from ads and other content which might not be relevant to the search query. Product variations can also occur depending on how the developer has created the site, and tracking URLs can also result in different URLs for the exact same page. It is very rare that duplicate content is ever intended to be on the site, however this can happen on occasion. For example, a descriptive blog post could be used as a base for creating a web page.

Does Google Penalise Duplicate Content?

Google won’t penalise duplicate content, however it really won’t help your site. Think of it as a missed opportunity. For example, one of our clients is struggling with a large duplicate content issue across their product pages. Google might not tell them off, however it will prefer a competitor who offers a detailed, product specific and keyword targeted page than a fairly empty one.

Although a lengthy process, creating unique content with personalised descriptions can lead to a greater level of trust with potential customers, as they will have more information and assurance about the product or service they’re looking to buy. By creating page-specific content, we are removing duplicate content issues and distinguishing our clients from competitors, maximising their chances of conversions.

Can we fix it? Yes we can!Fixing duplicate content - Bob the Builder

Fixing duplicate content depends on the cause of the issue. As stated above, if content is flagged as duplicates due to lack of unique information, the best way to tackle it is to write a unique description.

Often with site wide problems, such as URLs  for both http and https versions of pages, the best solution is to implement 301 redirects which permanently moves pages to the desired URLs. However, if this isn’t possible and we can’t delete the duplicate page, then we tend to use a canonical link, also known as a rel=canonical tag. Zelst’s very own Digital Marketing Glossary offers an excellent definition of this:

If there are multiple versions of similar pages, the canonical rel tag tells the WebCrawler that the page linked is the definitive version. Each non-canonical page must link to the canonical version with this link.”

To summarise, a canonical link tells Google and other search engines which page is your preferred version, so that it will index this version instead of other pages with similar or duplicate content. This means that if you choose to put similar information which would flag as duplicates across your site, you won’t dilute the ranking of your preferred page. This should only be done if you don’t want to rank for the other pages.

Imagine we had three different URLs, all with the same content, or with very minor changes:

  1. https://www.example.com/dog
  2. https://www.example.com/mutt
  3. https://www.example.com/puppy

We want to keep these different URLs instead of only having one page. We then decide that the page that we would like to rank in Google is the URL example.com/dog. This makes it our canonical link. We would then input the https://www.example.com/dog as the rel= canonical tag on both the mutt and puppy versions as the page. We would also add this link onto the chosen dog version as good SEO practice.

How can we help?

Zelst are experts in providing an excellent SEO service, tackling a wide range of technical issues across your website. For more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch online, or give our office a call at 01423 701711.