Duplicate Content and Canonical Tags – Technical SEO Checklist Part 1

Duplicate Content and Canonical Tags

By now, folks are realizing how utterly complex SEO really is. There isn’t one calculation of efforts that will create the holy grail of search engine rankings, and there certainly isn’t one element that will shoot your website to #1 on Google. If you’ve been told so, you need to start talking to someone else about your website optimization.

There are, however, buckets of web elements that will make or break your optimization. When neglecting one of these buckets such as on-page optimization, usability optimization, link development or technical updates, your other efforts will be in vain.

The SEO category often left out, or undermined, is the technical portion of a website. No matter the reason for neglect, there are certainly remedies to help your website operate more efficiently for users and for search engines. (And yes, users benefit from these modifications.)

Duplicate Content

Don’t roll your eyes – this isn’t about the plagiarism itself so much as the option you have to avoid a Panda-responsible penalty.

Here’s the scenario: the individual who provides copy for your website wants the same copy uploaded to multiple pages. Even swapping words out for synonyms won’t help. Here are the steps to take:

  1. Check to see if you have duplicate content on your existing site by using tools like Plag Spotter, or Copyscape. In addition to finding duplicate content elsewhere, check that new content to be uploaded is original.
  2. If the content is duplicate, ask to rewrite the content. If it’s used on multiple pages, it sounds like there should just be one page to reference.
  3. If the text is for a different audience, then rewrite it specific to the audience; audience segments have different needs and different personalities, so the text is customizable to them.
  4. If there is resistance, or no other option, and you must use the same copy in its entirety from a different page, then utilize the rel=canonical tag.
    -If the content exists in multiple places, but is vital to the page (such as product pages with filters) you can add a rel=canonical to avoid multiple variations of one page in multiple URLs. Ecommerce is notorious for duplicate content.
    -Other applications where this applies are blog post tags and syndicated content.

How a Canonical Tag Works

Canonical tags say, “Hey Google, I have this content here, but its place of origin (where credit is due) is over there.”

Add this tag on the page you’re borrowing from, in addition to the page where you will find the duplicate content:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.org/blog” /> 

Make sure that if you are using a Content Management System, or an “include file” to double, triple, and quadruple check that the tags are only on the two pages they were intended to be placed on.

Keep In Mind

This does not work for sections of text; it’s intended to be used when the entirety of text is borrowed. If only a portion of the content is duplicated, then rewrite it, or else the rest of your unique page content will be avoided by Google once it sees the canonical tag. 

Additionally, you cannot add multiple canonical tags to one page, so if you’re trying to combine paragraphs from multiple websites, it doesn’t work. If that is what you’re doing, it sounds like you have a wonderful opportunity to create content that is not yet out there. 

Arm yourself with unique content and your site will go far. It could be a go-to source of knowledge for your customers, or your audience if you’re able to provide them with information the rest of the web doesn’t quite have. However, if you must use someone else’s content, use the rel=canonical tag to help avoid a duplicate content issue.