Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
How I unexpectedly discovered (and solved) my first duplicate content issue
When I first learned about duplicate content, it was due to good ol’ fashioned trial and error.
The funny thing was, I didn’t even realize duplicate content could be an issue or, for that matter, its sheer existence. Anyway, due to my never-ending curiosity on all things SEO, tons of research, and in sheerly-devastating-absolute-total-frustration, I resorted to one last Googling.
~ ~ ~ ~ I was then catapulted (redirected) to a WordPress plugin called Yoast. ~ ~ ~ ~
The funny thing is, I was already using Yoast! However, they mostly focus on SEO formatting within pages/posts versus finding SEO “outside” issues like duplicate content. So, they had some SEO tool suggestions!
So what IS duplicate content?
What comes to mind when you hear the words “duplicate content”?
For me, at first, I associated it with plagiarism
Come to find out; it has to do with the way search engines interpret website content!
Duplicate content usually occurs when a search engine detects the same media (posts, pages, images) on a site and then notices that exact (or very similar) content somewhere else. The content as mentioned above doesn’t have to be on the same website either. (In general, it can be, but usually not)
Anyway, it sounds like plagiarism, right? In general, it’s plagiarism if you purposely duplicate content that isn’t yours but then make it seem like it is because you didn’t give credit to the original author.
Then there are other situations like… not getting approval to share content from the original creator beforehand, as per their request, and never mentioning them because you decided to “leave it up to the audience to decide.” Because, you know, people are smart, can put two-and-two together, and have tons of time to do the extra research (that you didn’t do) to gain more insight into something.
See the differences and the problems here?
Now, if your duplicate content stems from your work showing up in other places because of social media shares, someone discussing your article on a message board, etc., then this next part is for you.
What’s a canonical URL?
Guess what? Canonical URLs and duplicate content have something in common!
For example, when you publish a new post/page, you consider it the original copy, correct? Well, search engine bots don’t inherently know that sort of thing. We need to tell them. If we don’t, then there can be issues.
Queue, canonical URLs!
When sharing and distributing content via social media, the links can sometimes change because they get shortened from using a social media sharing tool. On the opposite side, the link could get extended if it is part of a UTM campaign. Another scenario is when someone posts your work on a discussion board (like Reddit) or added to a save-for-later site (think Pocket, Feedly, etc.)
To get to the point, if someone links/shares your post to another website and you haven’t assigned it a canonical URL, it can confuse search engines. Hence, we need to tell search engines where an original piece of content “lives.” To do that, original URLs need to get canonicalized. If they aren’t, you have a duplicate content issue, and the page cannot be appropriately indexed (or indexed at all).
The good news, if you use a tool like Yoast, it automatically, albeit initially, assigns each published page and posts its own canonical URL (typically, whatever the slug gets set to.)
In other words, when a page/post is assigned a canonical URL, search engines can better determine its original source. However, if a canonical URL is missing, it creates a duplicate content error.
So when you make it easy for search engines to find the canonical URL, they can index the correct page. Then, once they index the page, it can start ranking. Plus, if someone shared your (canonicalized and indexed) content on their page, a backlink to your site can be generated. P.S. Backlinks are an essential piece of SEO, and they help add credibility to your website!
→ TIP: if you use the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin, they automatically populate canonical URLs on new (published) posts/pages. Go to this URL for more info: https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/canonicals-in-yoast-seo/.
How to detect AND fix duplicate content issues
There are many ways to do this, but to keep things simple, here are two routes, via:
Webmastertools (Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools) telling you that there’s an issue. In general, if a search engine tool notifies you of a website issue, they provide instructions. If you don’t see a link in their notifications, do a quick search on the corresponding search engine notice. However, keep in mind that if the search engine(s) can’t index a page, they can’t detect duplicate content or canonicalization issues. To give you a jump start:
- Here are canonical URL instructions from the Google Search Console webmasters page.
- Here is part of Bing Webmaster’s instructions on canonical URLs.
- Use an all-in-one SEO suite like Ryte – P.S. it works with Yoast (that’s how I discovered it!), and it lets you know what’s wrong with specific pages, why they aren’t indexing and how to fix each issue. BONUS: if your site is under 100 pages, it’s free!
More on fixing duplicate content issues
Remember that the above examples aren’t the only instances that can cause duplicate content issues. There are many reasons! The easiest way to start fixing them is to follow the recommendations in your search engine accounts.
Some of the most common instances happen when you haven’t assigned a preferred URL for your site. For example, you either have an HTTP or HTTPS protocol at the beginning of any URL. If you haven’t set a preferred URL, you can set it by going to Settings in WordPress, etc.
Another instance is if you have an e-commerce site. If a product description is too similar to another product (on someone else’s website), it’s usually considered duplicate content. You’ll, of course, want to change the wording (do keyword research!) and follow the instructions based on your preferred tool’s suggestion.
So there you have it, some general info on finding and fixing duplicate content issues on your website. If you’re looking for more optimization or website content ideas, check out these posts: