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. Nothing fancy.
I didn’t even realize duplicate content could be an issue (or that it even existed). Who would do that?! 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 ‘Google.’
~ ~ ~ ~ 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 things like SEO formatting within pages/posts and not finding SEO issues like duplicate content. So, they had some SEO tool suggestions!
Now let’s get to it!
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, sounds like plagiarism, right? In general, it’s plagiarism if you purposely duplicate content that isn’t yours and then makes it seem like it is. For example, not getting approval to share content from the original creator beforehand and never mentioning them, because you’re leaving it to the ‘audience’s assumption’ to determine. Another scenario will be if you fail to quote the source and make it seem like you wrote it.
The point of all of this = be clear. Be honest. Don’t partake in crappy malicious practices that put you at risk of copyright infringement. If you’re walking a thin line and not sure, consult with legal counsel.
Now, if your duplicate content stems from your work showing up in other places because of social media shares, someone discussing an article of yours on a message board, etc. then this next part is for you. Duplicate content is rather obvious (once you get the hang of it) and can be fixed.
What’s a canonical URL?
Guess what, canonical URLs and duplicate content have something in common! When you publish a new post/page, you consider it the original copy, right? Well, search engine (bots) don’t inherently know that sort of thing. We need to tell them.
This is where canonical URLs come into play!
When distributing content via social media, sometimes the link changes because it’s shortened. 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.) Also, if someone links/shares your post on another website and you haven’t assigned it a canonical URL, it confuses search engines. To tell search engines where an original piece of content resides, original URLs need to get canonicalized. If they aren’t, then you have a duplicate content issue, and the page cannot be appropriately indexed (or indexed at all).
In other words, when a page/post is assigned a canonical URL, search engines can better determine its source. If a canonical URL is missing, it creates a duplicate content error. So when you make it easy for search engines to note a canonical URL, they can index the page. 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 to legitimize your website!
→TIP: if you use the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin, they automagically 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:
webmastertools (Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools) telling you that there’s an issue. In general, if a search engine notifies you of any website issue, they provide instructions. If you don’t see a link in their notifications, do a quick search on Google about the problem. However, keep in mind that if the search engine(s) can’t index a page, then they can’t detect a duplicate content or canonicalization issue. 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) then its 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:
- How to improve website speed
- How to avoid over optimizing SEO
- Does your website need a CDN?
- Are you familiar with these different types of SEO?
- Before you optimize a site, note these 7 SEO tips
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