What is duplicate content and how can you avoid it?

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Duplicate content is an issue many websites can face and it causes problems for search engines as they won’t know which page to list in search results. But what causes duplicate content?

Poor Site Structure

Poor planning of a sites structure can often force you to repeat pages/content in multiple locations. This was an Issue I encountered while working on 360 entertainment’s website.

The site had many categories and sub-categories containing identical content which was repeated up to as many as 7 times (or more), as indicated by the URL slug i.e. category/page-7, category/sub-category/page-2 or another-category/another-sub-category/page-5.

Avoid repeating content by planning your site’s structure before you start entering content. This requires some thought and if you’re using a CMS like wordpress, you’ll need to be extra careful as you can get carried away adding your sections and sub-sections which can leave your site a bit of a tangled mess!

Take some time to think about the sections you’ll need and ask yourself “Can I lower the number of sections I think I need?”. This will not only help you with possible search engine duplicate issues down the road, but you also won’t overwhelm your site visitors.

Duplicate content makes your site harder to maintain!

If you don’t plan your site structure in advance you may find yourself with multiple categories and sub-categories with those sub-categories also being duplicated across multiple categories.  See how this will make maintenance difficult?

When ever you need to add or update a new page, you’ll need to add/update it in more than one location, which wont be fun. Imagine having to add 10 pages of the same content because it now belongs in 10 sections. It would be a structural nightmare that will only get worse as your site grows!

Having a page accessible by more than one method

If you can access a page by both its dynamic and “URL friendly” links then search engines will see them as 2 different pages. For example, yourwebsite.com/page.php?page=page and yourwebsite.com/page will be seen as different so search engines will have to try and decide which to use.

There are a couple of ways you can fix this issue.

1). 301 redirect to one version of a page

If your page is accessible using a dynamic link, simply redirect it using either php (if your site is using it) or .htaccess. There’s no point using JavaScript for redirects as search engines can’t read it!

Using PHP:

header('HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently');
header('Location: http://yoursite.com/newpage.html');

Using .htaccess

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
Redirect 301 oldpage.html http://yoursite.com/newpage.html

2). Use the the canonical tag

The canonical tag will show search engines the version of the page you would like them to use. This is also good practice as it will also fix issues created by people other than yourself. Some sharing tools or tracking sites may add ?something to the end of your URL, which will also cause problems if it is picked up by search engines.

 <link rel="canonical" href="http://yoursite.com/page" /> 

Avoiding duplicate content should be fairly high on your list of priorities when making your site. It’s better to do your planning before hand than trying to fix it at a later date.