What Lawyers Should Know About Duplicate ContentSearch engine optimization is a big part of doing business in the online world today. With all of the competition out there, it’s crucial for businesses to do whatever they can to give themselves a boost in visibility.

A lot of attention is paid to SEO, keywords, and results pages as firms compete for the best spots. An often overlooked area of SEO, though, is duplicate content. The term “duplicate content” can mean a few different things, but all of them will hurt your firm’s site in search rankings. In some cases, if things are bad enough, it can be grounds for removal from search indexes altogether.

What is Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content is just what it sounds like; content that has been duplicated on multiple web pages. It can be the same content appearing on more than one page on one website, or content appearing on pages across different websites.

Some types of duplicate content are intentional, such as someone stealing or plagiarising something you’ve written and putting it on their own site. Other types of duplicate content might be unintentional, caused by technical problems on a web server, for example.

There are a few problems that duplicate content cause when it comes to search engines:

  • Search engines don’t know which content is the “correct” content
  • Content found on various websites is less unique and therefore less valuable
  • Duplicate content dilutes search results
  • Suspected thievery will get a domain completely removed from search indexes

Generally, there is no deliberate penalty for duplicate content, except when that content is being used or stolen in an attempt to manipulate search results. In the remainder of cases, the real problem is duplicates cause confusion, and the pages that show up in the search indexes might not be the pages you intended.

How Search Engines See Duplicate Content

It should be fairly obvious that the search engines will find duplicate content if it appears on two different websites, or if you’ve got the same content on multiple pages on your own website. Many site owners don’t realize, however, that it is possible to unintentionally create duplicates through website configuration and unintentional linking structures.

The problem occurs because computers don’t see things quite the same way people do. For example, if you create a single web page to display to Spanish speaking visitors when someone enters your domain name into their browser, you could, depending on your server configuration, possibly access that page through any of the 3 following URLs:

  • http://www.example.com/spanish
  • http://www.example.com/spanish/
  • http://www.example.com/spanish/index.html

All of the above URLs would load the exact same web page from your server. To a person, it really doesn’t make a difference which URL is used as long as the result is the same. To the search engines, however, each of those URLs represents a different page. Even though the result is coming from the same place, a search engine would register 3 separate pages, all with the exact same content — duplicate content.

If we make a set of examples without the “www” on the front of the domain and add those in, we could actually have 6 URLs for the same page. Multiply all those URLs by all the pages on your site and you can see how this could start to become a problem for a search engine trying to figure out which pages are the most important.

How To Avoid Duplicate Content

While Google doesn’t talk much about how they decide on search result rankings, they are very open about things that will cause problems, like duplicate content. There are several things you can do to help avoid, or at least minimize, the impact of duplicate content on your rankings.

Use 301 Redirects

A 301 redirect is also known as a permanent redirect. Basically, it’s a way of configuring your web server so that when someone tries to visit a certain URL, or group of URLs, their browser is told that they should go to another URL instead, and then they are forwarded to that URL.

Use Consistent Linking Formats

Google and other search engines discover most of your site through your own internal links. This makes it important to use the same link structure throughout the site. Putting some links with a “www” on the front and others without, for example, will cause duplicate content issues eventually. Make sure all your links have the “www” or all of them don’t. 

Create A Page For Repetitive Information

If you have large blocks of text repeated on many pages, like in the footer, for example, try to create a page for that information and link to it instead of copying it. This can reduce a lot of repetitive information that could otherwise confuse the search engines.

Get To Know Your Content Management System

It’s important to understand how your website’s software functions. Most popular blog software, for example, can display the exact same blog post under two, three, or even more URLs. You could be creating massive amounts of duplicate content without even realizing it. If you have never done so, it could be worth your time to look through your site’s settings or ask your webmaster how things are configured to display.

Luckily, most unintentionally created duplicate content comes from incorrect server and/or software configuration. This means that if you find your site is creating multiple copies of blog posts or other content, getting rid of it is usually as simple as correcting the improper setting(s). Once that’s done, all the duplicates disappear. There’s no need to go through and delete pages manually.

If you, or your site administrator, would like more information on how to deal with duplicate content, you can find plenty of information on Google’s support pages.

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