5 ways to avoid duplicate content penalties

But I haven’t copied anyone else’s website, how can I have a duplicate content penalty?
Unfortunately, it is very easy to end up with a website with duplicate content, without even being aware you have a problem.

Google is constantly looking for ways to provide searchers with interesting, unique and valuable content. If Google thinks too much of your site content is a duplicate, it will penalise you. So be alert for emails from Google and keep an eye on the messages in your Google Webmaster Tools account.

If your site contains the same information as other websites, it is likely that at least one of them will get a penalty. Even if you are the original author, it still might be your site that is hit. This seems very unfair. It feels very unfair. In fact, it is unfair!

Resenting Google for being unfair does not fix the problem however. I often say to clients that Google makes a judgement about a website’s status based not on the genuine authority my clients have in their field but based on Google’s interpretation of a website’s value measured against their own set of criteria. The key is to check for duplicate content on a regular basis (we do this every month for our clients) so you know if any problems arise. If you find duplicates, you can then take steps to fix it.

5 common types of duplicate content that cause Google penalties

All of these points can cause problems for your website and trigger a Google penalty. This isn’t an exclusive list but it will help you start working out which ones have caused you to get a penalty and then you can think about how to deal with it.

1. Forgetting to use canonical redirects for content shared through PR agencies: It used to be a good thing to share press releases online and we used to be delighted if articles were published on press websites and provided links back to our own sites. This isn’t the case now though. Whenever you distribute news or press articles to other websites, you must always request a canonical header for that page which redirects traffic back to your site. This lets the search engines know that you are the original author of content that appears on both websites and it allows you to harness the SEO benefits of that page.

2. Avoid the site loading in multiple different ways: You would probably never even consider typing different versions of your own website URL into the address bar. Why would you? Most human beings wouldn’t but the job of a search engine spider is to find every possible path through the internet and track down every website possible. Normally we are delighted by this but, unfortunately, these spiders will find these different routes into your site and they don’t like it. They think you are trying to trick them by having lots of different versions of your site so you can get better rankings. So check if you site will load with and without the “www” or if you can add file names to your URLs and still load the page. If you can, you will need canonical redirects to point to a single version of the site. To find out which is the best version, go to google.co.uk and search for your website. The one that is listed in the search results is the one you should use.

3. Get rid of keyword-rich domain name duplicate sites: There is less and less benefit to having keyword-rich domain names anymore. If you have bought these domain names in the past and then populated them with content which you copied from all or part of your main site, then you have a problem. You will need to review the website traffic and rankings and then assess which website is most beneficial to your business. Once you are certain you have identified the right one, you can close down the duplicates and use 301 permanent redirects to funnel the traffic into your surviving website.

4. Don’t plagiarise other people’s work: This always feels like stating the blindingly obvious but it is often overlooked. Clients assure me their website content is unique and they are the authors but then we begin to find the problem areas. Pages like website terms and conditions are often copied; if you have a local business, it’s unlikely that your information about your local area is unique; if you sell products online, do you sit and write your own product descriptions and commission bespoke images? These types of duplicate content can be managed in a variety of different ways but the best way is to make sure that everything you write is unique to your business or is clearly attributed to the original author through our old friend, the canonical redirect.

5. Regularly check that your own content hasn’t been plagiarised or scraped: Once you’ve got your website in good shape, you’ll want to keep it that way by adding great quality content on a regular basis. You’ll want to promote this through social media and, the next thing that happens is someone has copied your material and added it to their own site. Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery but it’s a real headache for website owners. You need to use tools like Plagspotter, Copyscape or our current favourite, Siteliner to help you find anyone who has been copying and you can then tackle this problem. If you get stuck, we are always here to help.

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