Don’t be a Copycat – How Copied and Duplicate Content Hurt SEO

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You may have heard that old phrase, “Don’t be a copycat!” But just in case you haven’t, a copycat is a person who copies another’s behavior, dress or ideas. Or, for the purpose of our humble blog post, content. Copying content can be problematic for many reasons – foremost among them, it can hurt your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and lead to copyright issues. Plain-language translation: the owner of the original content could sue you!

Whether you manage SEO for your website on your own or you employ SEO services with a digital marketing agency, it’s important to follow best SEO practices in order to rank high on search engines like Google and provide visitors with a satisfying user experience that will boost your conversion rate. Copied and duplicate content inevitably lead to the exact opposite results.

What’s the Difference Between Copied Content and Duplicate Content?

While the terms “copied content” and “duplicate content” are frequently bandied about, they are not synonymous. The first refers to text that’s copied-and-pasted directly from its source, without attribution. That means the blog, website, etc., from which it was taken isn’t given credit – nor is the author, if the source material has a byline. Also, copied content isn’t hyperlinked to its source. The website visitor is led to believe the text is all original work.

Duplicate content refers to your own content that appears in multiple places on your website or on other websites. This can occur for several reasons, which we will soon cover.

Copied Content and Duplicate Content Can Drop SEO

There is no question that copying content is bad for SEO. In her article for Gwe Cambrian, Kerry Ferguson notes that copied content is unoriginal and does not provide value for visitors to your website.

“Aside from the fact that it is lazy marketing, it can also have a negative effect on your search engine optimisation, and as a small business, this is an aspect of being online that you are probably relying on.”

So how can copying content negatively impact your website’s SEO? Search engine algorithms are designed only to promote one version of any piece of content, and the original website of the content is much more likely to be ranked far higher than a less popular website with copied content. When it comes to duplicate content within your own website, search engines like Google will have difficulty choosing which of your pages to rank on search engine results pages. Likely, only one page will be selected, thereby drastically decreasing the chances of users visiting other pages on your website, and dragging down page visits.

Causes of Duplicate Content

Copied content is pretty straightforward as content that is directly copied from a website other than your own without proper credit. When it comes to duplicate content, the causes may not initially seem so clear, as many are often technical in nature. According to SEO Trade News, potential causes of duplicate content include:

Improper URL Use Generally, a content management system (CMS), will help run the website. It’s possible that a website’s software allows a specific web page to be retrieved through multiple URLs. While developers see the unique marker for the page as the ID in the website’s database, search engines only utilize URLs to uniquely identify web content. Therefore, it’s important that each page of unique content has only one URL.

Session IDs It can be useful to track how visitors interact with your website, especially if you have an ecommerce site. Sessions are brief histories of how users interact with your website –such as pages visited and items placed in their shopping carts. Session IDs are the specific tracking information to distinguish one user’s journey from another. While Session IDs are often stored using cookies, search engines do not track a user’s cookies. To get around this, some websites simply store session IDs in URLs, but this can also cause search engines to count it as duplicate content.

URL Parameters URL parameters that do not cause a change in the content of a web page can also cause duplicate content. Tracking parameters, for example, may help with discovering where visitors are finding your website, but they can also bring down your search engine ranking.

Content Syndication and Scrapers Unfortunately, you have no control over websites that copy your content without your knowledge or permission. Search engine algorithms don’t know which website is the original owner, thus causing difficulty in ranking against competitors that copy your content.

Order of Parameters Your CMS may generate messy URLs that will bring up the same results in web browsers, but they won’t be as compatible with search engines. Check to see if your CMS will allow pagination for web content – such as comments sections – as a way to avoid search engines tagging unnecessary duplicate content on your website.

Printer-friendly Web Pages If your web pages link to printer-friendly versions of those pages, search engines will locate these pages unless otherwise blocked. To search engines like Google, linked printer-friendly page versions count as duplicate content. Block search engines from accessing those pages.

“WWW” or Non-“WWW” When developing your website, be sure to stick to one version using either “WWW” in the URL or not using “WWW,” but not both. Both versions are equally accessible by most web browsers, but search engines can sometimes count them as two separate duplicate entities. The same can also happen with “HTTP” and “HTTPS.”

Canonical URLs It is possible for multiple URLs to direct to the same content. For search engines, there can only be one correct URL for a piece of content, which is referred to as canonical URL. Therefore, make sure only one URL directs to each unique page of content.

Repairing Duplicate Content Issues

The best way to fix copied content is to remove it and create original content. Moz recommends the following steps for fixing duplicate content issues originating from your own website:

301 Redirects Use 301 redirects to direct web browsers to the original content’s web page. These redirects can consolidate multiple pages of web content into a single page, thus decreasing internal web page competition in search results and improving your content’s overall ranking.

Rel=“canonical” The rel=canonical attribute allows search engines to know that the linked content should be considered as part of a specified URL. This causes all links on the overall page to be counted as contributing towards the main URL.

Google Search Console You can visit Google Search Console to set your preferred domain and specify Googlebot to crawl other URL parameters differently. This is known as parameter handling. You may need to set up your preferred domain, parameter handling, or both, depending upon what’s causing your duplicate content problems. However, it’s important to do the same for other search engine webmaster tools, as well.

You can prevent further duplicate content problems by keeping internal links consistent within your website, ensuring your webmaster adds the link back to the original page for syndicated content and adding a self-referential rel-canonical link to your web pages to prevent others from attempting to steal your content for SEO purposes.

The Take-Home Message and Our Blatant Self-Promotion

While you may be able to attempt some basic SEO practices for your website on your own, it can be difficult to ensure all your bases are covered. Our wheelhouse at Virtual Stacks Systems includes SEO services and all the elements that integrate to ensure seamless optimization – such as website design and website redesign, social media marketing and PPC services. Contact us to learn more and get started!

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