What is duplicate content? A simple guide for website owners who don’t want to lose their Google rankings

What is duplicate content? Here's a simple guide for website owners who don’t want to lose their Google rankings.

What is duplicate content? Here’s a simple guide for website owners who don’t want to lose their Google rankings.

Remember your schooldays?

All that homework – man that was a chore! Let’s face it, it was just so much more fun to spend your afternoons playing with your buddies than slaving over books and numbers and essays. Ugh!

Worst of all was studying for tests.

Perhaps you didn’t want to cram for the test, or you simply forgot about it.

And then, to try and save the humiliation of a Fail, you tried to copy the answers off the brainbox you’d cunningly sat next to in the exam room.

Except, of course, the teacher noticed what you’re up to, and you got a far greater humiliation than the Fail. Perhaps you were made an example of, or made to stand out in the corridor. Or you had to see the scary Headmaster. And, of course, your parents would be notified – horrors!

You soon learned that copying other kids’ work wasn’t in your best interests.

The same lesson about copying relates to your website

When it comes to your website, copying other people’s content is also a bad idea.

While there’s no teacher to punish you, instead there’s Google. (And a punishment from Google, be it a down-graded ranking or total black-listing, is a lot harder and more difficult to recover than even your teacher’s worst punishment.)

Why does Google punish you for copying?

Let’s look at copying content from Google’s point of view.

The bottom line is that Google wants to give its users a good search experience. And a good search experience means that people can quickly and easily find the information they’re looking for. Google also wants the information you find to be helpful and meaningful.

Website content that’s helpful and meaningful is usually unique: it is a bespoke, one-off article that someone has researched and written.

Conversely, low quality content is not so desirable. And over the years, some website owners have tried to “cheat” the Google ranking system by copying other people’s content. And if the internet is full of copies of people’s work, it all gets a bit tedious, spammy and not a very nice or exciting place to be.

Google hates spammy websites. And it hates spammy webmasters who copy content from other people. Google would much rather point to the original source of material – and penalise those who try to copy it. These penalties come in the form of downgrading the rankings of those sites with copied content, or, worse still, removing a website from its search results altogether.

So what is duplicate content, exactly?

You get the general idea that duplicate content is not a good thing, but defining “what is duplicate content” exactly is a little trickier.

If you refer to Google’s official advice, there are some tips there (albeit quite technical), but it’s still not crystal clear. So let me explain some of the more common duplicate content problems in practical terms.

Before I cover common duplicate content problems, one thing you need to be aware of is that duplicate content doesn’t just apply from one website to another, but it also applies to pages on your own website.

The reason for this is that some spammy webmasters create dozens of pages on the same topic, to try and artificially increase their Google rankings. That doesn’t work any more, because of Google’s dislike of duplicate content.

Does Google say what percentage they consider duplicate content?

There are a number of online tools, such as Page Similarity Check Tools, where you put in two website addresses (URLs) and it tells you how similar the pages are as a percentage.

The problem is that Google doesn’t give a percentage in their guidelines, so these online tools aren’t a whole lot of use!

Rather than worry about percentages and other technicalities, here are some practical suggestions on how you can avoid common duplicate content problems.

Common duplicate content problems – and how to avoid them

On a practical level you need to be very careful with the following types of duplicate content:

  • Mobile versions of your website that have the same content twice. The solution here is for your webmaster to use the ‘noindex’ meta tag so that the duplicated pages aren’t indexed. (Or better still, build your website so that it’s mobile responsive, and doesn’t need recreating for handheld devices.)
  • Printer-only versions of web pages. The printer pages should have the ‘noindex’ tag applied so that these duplicated pages aren’t indexed.
  • Similar content that appears across a number of pages. The solution here is to make the copy, order of information and other content as different as possible.
  • On e-commerce sites, avoid using the manufacturer’s generic blurb. Chances are that every other re-seller is using the exact same copy, so be unique and write your own product descriptions.
  • Syndicate articles carefully. Some people think they’re doing you a favour by ‘promoting’ you on their website by repeating an article. Wrong! Their site could get penalised for duplicate content – but so could yours, if Google hasn’t indexed you as being the original source. The way round this is for the other site to use the ‘noindex’ tag, and to include a link back to your original article. So you can syndicate articles, but do it carefully… and if the other website owner doesn’t know what a ‘noindex’ tag is, or they’re not willing to apply it, then don’t do it. (Note: A bigger problem is that some spammy webmasters use ‘scrapers’ to steal content without your permission. If that happens, you can ask Google to remove the scraped content from their search results.)
  • Avoid cheap copywriters. Not all copywriters create unique content; and if you’re buying an article for $5 from someone in India, there’s a good chance that they might have copied someone else’s work. Or they’ve taken someone else’s work, and then put it through a ‘spinner’ which is an automatic software tool that rewrites content. And yep, Google hates ‘spun’ content! If you use a quality copywriter, the content will not only be unique, but it will reflect your tone of voice; demonstrate your company’s expertise; and compel readers to buy from you or otherwise take action.

Those are some of the main duplicate content issues I’ve come up against. There are others, too (as listed in the Google article I linked to) but they are there for your web developer to action, rather than a copywriting issue.

Ask your website developer to help you

The best advice I can give you is to focus on creating unique content, and that your website developer does their part in the programming. Go through the list of action points in Google’s article point by point.

Don’t assume that your web developer knows all this stuff, or will automatically do it: I’ve come across numerous web developers who have never heard of 301 redirects, or will only do them for an extra fee.

Remember that it’s YOUR website and your business at stake, so you have every right to ask questions of your suppliers.

If you play nicely, you should be fine

Just like schoolteachers punish only the naughty kids, Google only intends to punish those website owners who deliberately engage in deceptive practices. Google doesn’t like people who try to cheat the system and take shortcuts; they’ll be punished, sooner or later.

So if you focus on creating unique, high quality content for your website (and have a web developer on side who’s clued up in this area), you should be absolutely fine. (And if the worst does happen, and your site gets blacklisted by Google, you can submit your site for reconsideration.)

Summary

Here are some of the steps you can take so that your website doesn’t suffer from problems with duplicate content:

  • If there is a separate mobile version of your website, ensure that the ‘noindex’ tag is used for them.
  • If your website has printer-only pages, use the ‘noindex’ tag for them.
  • Avoid using similar content across a number of pages.
  • On e-commerce sites, avoid using the manufacturer’s generic blurb and write your own.
  • Syndicate articles carefully, and get the other website to use a ‘noindex’ tag, and also link back to your original article.
  • Avoid cheap copywriters who might steal or ‘spin’ content.
  • Ask your web developer which steps they’ve taken to avoid duplicate content issues. Go through the Google article with them as a starting point.
  • Focus on creating unique, high quality content for your website.

Need unique copy for your website? Contact Cornelia today →

Bye bye Google Keyword Tool – and hello Keyword Planner

Yes, Google has now retired its Keyword Tool has gone… in its place is the new Keyword Planner.

And if you’re anything like me, you went ‘ugh’ when you saw the interface

Let’s just say that the interface of the Keyword Planner isn’t exactly intuitive.

After all, it’s designed primarily for Google AdWords advertisers, and it has a bunch of features you don’t even need to touch for SEO keyword research!

Luckily for you, I braved it and have written step-by-step instructions (and made a step-by-step screencast video) on how to use the new Google Keyword Planner for organic SEO keyword research:


 
 
 
How to master the Google Keyword Planner for organic SEO keyword research – quickly and easily.

How to master the Google Keyword Planner for organic SEO keyword research – quickly and easily.

The Keyword Research eBook is written by me, Cornelia Luethi, a specialist SEO website copywriter.

In ‘Keyword Research: How to use the Google Keyword Planner for SEO: a step-by-step guide’ you’ll discover the technique that I use when creating SEO website content for my copywriting clients.

The Keyword Research book covers:

  1. The brainstorming process, to generate keyword ideas. Time spent on this yields better results, or you could miss out on some important keywords.
  2. How to use the Google Keyword Planner: step-by-step instructions with screenshots.
  3. How to format the data in Excel. You may end up with thousands of keywords, some of which will be duplicated or irrelevant. Find out how to deal with them!
  4. Formulating a keyword strategy: Now that you’ve got the data, you need to make some sense of it. I cover my keyword strategy techniques, including how I use keywords in SEO website copywriting.

Training

 

Get up-and-running with Google’s Keyword Planner in minutes, with Cornelia Luethi’s training.

Get up-and-running with Google’s Keyword Planner in minutes, with Cornelia Luethi’s training.

Cornelia

Cornelia Luethi  BSc (Hons), DipM
Copywriter, marketing consultant and author of Keyword Research

PS. There’s a 60-day money-back guarantee!

You can evaluate the Keyword Research eBook risk-free to see if it’s right for you.

See details and buy online.

 

Why I love the Yoast SEO plugin for SEO website copywriting

If you have a WordPress website, the Yoast SEO plugin can help boost your Google rankings. Here's how to use it...

If you have a WordPress website, the Yoast SEO plugin can help boost your Google rankings. Here’s how to use it…

One of the benefits of WordPress websites is that you can add so much functionality, by using plugins.

A WordPress plugin that’s on my “must have” list is the Yoast SEO plugin. (This article relates to version 1.4.x of the plugin.)

Now, I know that the Yoast SEO plugin does a heap of cool stuff, and the features I use are just the beginning. So there’s a lot more to it than this article covers. What I’m going to be talking about is specific to SEO website copywriting.

How to use the Yoast SEO plugin to help you with your SEO website copywriting

Using the Yoast SEO plugin for SEO website copywriting has two main stages:

  1. Inputting the focus keyword and meta data
  2. Analysing the content and making tweaks.

Let’s look at each of these in turn…

1. Input the focus keyword and meta data

First of all, you need a focus keyword (derived from your keyword research and keyword strategy). You need just one focus keyword for each web page or post.

As an example, let’s use screenshots from this actual blog post, where I’ve chosen “Yoast SEO plugin” as my focus keyword… That makes sense, yes? Seeing as this is an article primarily about the Yoast SEO plugin. (Oh, look at me dropping the keyword in yet again!)

(Note: “Yoast SEO plugin review” would probably be an even better keyword, but it’s kinda hard to write that naturally in the copy. The golden rule of website copywriting – even SEO website copywriting – is to write for human readers first of all. If something sounds stilted and awkward, don’t write it that way.)

You input your focus keyword in the “General” tab of the plugin window… which is on the same page of your WordPress admin as the page or post you’re writing, so all you need to do is scroll down.

The orange “1”, below, indicates where you put your focus keyword (and it even comes up with some suggestions… though personally I always ignore these!):

yoast-seo-plugin-1

As you can see, the plugin automatically generates a Meta Title and Meta Description (see the orange “2”), but you should re-write these… you can do oh so much better!

(a) The Meta Title (called the “SEO Title” in Yoast)

The Meta Title will show up in the search engine results, so you need to make this an enticing headline that grabs readers’ attention.

AND it needs to include your focus keyword… and you get extra Brownie Points if it’s at the very beginning.

AND you should stay within the 70 character word limit. (Something that’s a little too short is better than it being too long.)

AND every page on your website needs a unique Meta Title, or Google will penalise your site’s rankings.

You can see the Meta Title I’ve written for this article in the image below, next to the orange “3”:

yoast-seo-plugin-2

(b) The Meta Description

The Meta Description may show up in the search results… or else Google may just use a random bit of text from your web page. Assume that it will show up.

Also, apparently according to Google, it doesn’t matter if you use your focus keyword in the Meta Description or not… but let’s face it, it’s not going to hurt. So I’d always suggest using it (as does the Yoast SEO plugin).

So here you can write a short (156 character max.) blurb. Make it a bit of a teaser; make it enticing so that people want to click through.

Do make the description accurate and relevant to your web page, too. And every page on your website needs a unique Meta Description.

You can see the Meta Description I’ve written for this article in the image above, next to the orange “4”.

Stick to the character count!

What’s super handy about this plugin is that a character count is included… there’s nothing worse than having your copy cut short in the Google search results. (That looks very unprofessional.)

And the character count saves you so much time, rather than using the word count in Word, and copying and pasting and all those shenanigans.

2. Analyse the content and make tweaks

OK, now that you’ve loaded your content and entered the focus keyword, Meta Title and Meta Description you can see how your content stacks up.

As soon as you hit “Save Draft” you’ll see some information come up in the “General” tab of the Yoast SEO plugin (highlighted in yellow, below):

yoast-seo-plugin-6

… But it can do much, much more than that.

Click on the “Page Analysis” tab and you’ll see something like this:

yoast-seo-plugin-3

As you can see, it uses a traffic light system to show you what you’ve done well (indicated by a green circle); important things that need attention (indicated by a red circle); and not-so-important things to consider (indicated by an orange circle).

And if you look at the “Publish” pane, it gives an overall “traffic light” for the page:

yoast-seo-plugin-4

… as you can see, I get a nice, big fat green light for this page. Woohoo!

Important: A green light isn’t a guarantee of success, it’s simply an indicator that you’ve done your job well. After all, the actual Google rankings have so many other variables, like degree of competition for your chosen keywords; your site’s overall Page Rank; number of quality inbound links to your site; etc. etc. But by getting a green light, you’re well on your way.

I’d also suggest that you set up your All Posts and All Pages admin areas to resemble this:

yoast-seo-plugin-5

That way, you can see at a glance the traffic light ranking for each page; the focus keyword; and the Meta Data. Then you can quickly see which pages you’ve optimised well, and which pages need attention.

Do all pages and posts need a green light?

In my view, you shouldn’t worry about getting the green light for all your pages and posts… It just isn’t possible all the time.

Using the focus keyword should read naturally, and if you can’t possibly use the keyword naturally, then leave it be.

At the end of the day it is always better to write quality content for human readers than ticking all the SEO boxes.

What if you’re already using an SEO plugin, such as All In One SEO Pack?

At the time of writing this article (July 2013), the All In One SEO Pack plugin doesn’t come close to the Yoast SEO plugin.

One client paid his web developer to migrate the data from the All In One SEO Pack to the Yoast SEO plugin. Then I carried out an Analysis of all the web pages and blog posts, and made some small tweaks here and there to get that “green light” on as many pages as possible.

This resulted in increased website visibility for the client, and just a year after launching his brand new website (on a new URL), he is ranking naturally on Page 1 of Google for all of his chosen keywords. The Yoast SEO plugin definitely helped with that.

Other cool stuff that the Yoast SEO plugin can help you with

There’s a bunch of other stuff that the Yoast SEO plugin can do for your WordPress site, such as XML sitemaps, and a whole lot more… things that are far too technical for me, and that I get my web designer to look after. You’ll need to read the Yoast website to check out the rest of the features. 🙂

 

PS. A thank you…

A big thank you to my awesome web designer, Trisha Cupra at Blue Owl Web Design Makeovers for telling me about this fab plugin.

 

Major Google algorithm update in May 2013

Have you noticed a change to your website’s Google rankings (and traffic) recently?

If you've noticed a change to your website rankings and visitor numbers in recent weeks, it could be due to a major update in Google's ranking algorithm.

If you’ve noticed a change to your website rankings and visitor numbers in recent weeks, it could be due to a major update in Google’s ranking algorithm.

If you’ve noticed a change in recent weeks, that could well be due to a major update in Google’s ranking algorithm.

The aim of the update on 22 May 2013 is to penalise low quality, spammy websites… and in turn, reward websites that are rich in unique, high quality content. This goes to show that investing in unique, high quality website content is the best SEO strategy!

(I’ve looked at the website statistics for some of my clients, and for the sites I’ve looked at there’s been a noticeable increase in visitor numbers since 22 May.) 🙂

More info about the Google update…

Matt Cutts is Head of the Webspam Team on Google, so he’s responsible for a lot of Google’s algorithm changes. He’s written a blog post about the changes (nicknamed ‘Penguin 2.0’) here, and it includes a link to a video with more information the update. It’s also interesting that Google now lets users report spam websites.

So how do you get unique, high quality website content?

There are a number of ways in which you can add useful content to your website. (And remember, the best content will be helpful to your human readers too.)

  • Resources: Add a resources section with hints and tips for your customers.
  • FAQs: You could have FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page(s) addressing the questions your customers and prospects ask you most often.
  • Blog: If you can commit to adding regular content, a blog (or news section) is the way to go. Do make sure you update it regularly though – an out-of-date blog is not a good look! And make sure that your blog is part of your existing website, rather than a stand-alone site. If your website is built using WordPress, that’s easy to do… otherwise, you may need to ask your website developer to set it up for you.

Like the idea of adding content – but don’t enjoy writing?

If you struggle with writing but would like more high quality content on your website, I can help you with your website copywriting.