Duplicate Content: The Silent (Rankings) Killer
November 8, 2013
One of the beauties of being an SEO account manager is that I am constantly observing the search engine health of multiple websites. The advantage of this, over say just someone managing their own, is that I am able to track trends and see bigger patterns with what Google is liking and what it may be quietly disliking. While back links have indeed earned their title as SEO’s number one headache, they have also become an easy scapegoat any time rankings begin to decrease. It’s easy to pull a link report any time a keyword starts to decrease and scour anchor text for that one back link that must be still causing problems, but the issue really at hand may be repeatedly staring you in the face.
Duplicate content. Yes, this is one of the golden rules in the search engine world (as in, don’t do it), but it is also an issue I see popping up more than ever with sites whose performance is less than ideal. Coincidence? If there’s one thing I’ve learned, there’s rarely a coincidence with Google. While Google hasn’t made anything official, these last couple months it seems they are really cracking down on the on-site quality just as much as the off-site. But duplicate content is kind of a no brainer right? Keep it original, don’t repeat. While simple and true, it goes a little deeper than most seem to realize.
The written information is content in its simplest form. This should be the first and most obvious of the items you want to keep unique and the more you can individualize the better. This includes product descriptions and category descriptions. While back in July Matt Cutts made a point of saying that this kind of duplicate content wasn’t something that would hurt you, it is also could not be doing you any favors. Case in point: A client was remaining steady on Pages 2 & 3. While not penalized by any means, there was clearly something holding them back from obtaining higher rankings. They had several gallery pages that used the same descriptive intro so we went through and updated them all to have unique content. Shortly thereafter, they soon saw several page 1 rankings.
While updating content throughout the site is pretty straight forward, you could be causing duplicate content without realizing it as you adjust the structure and organization of the site. Do you work with a platform that updates a URL when you change the title? If so, there’s the potential you are creating a duplicate page with every change you make. Updating pages to give them fresh look? If URLs are changing, make sure that all redirects are properly in place. Same goes for any URLs you’ve purchased that you want redirected to the site (i.e. different spelling variations of your URL). If you see any of these coming up in search results, this is a huge red flag they are not being redirected properly and you have a potential duplicate site penalty coming your way.
All of these items aren’t hard to track down or fix, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look, and taking the time to do so. Webmaster Tools is a great place to target duplicate pages. HTML Improvements will alert you of any duplicate title tags or meta descriptions which often leads you to pages that share the same content. There are also several tools online that help you look for duplicate content both off and on site. I highly suggest taking the time to go through your site, particularly if you have rankings that seem to be stagnate. Most likely there is a little housekeeping to be done.
Elisa Houghtelin is one of the Account Managers at SEOhaus. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest SEO industry news and tips, you can subscribe to our blog here. Thanks for reading the SEOhaus blog!