Treating Duplicate Content: Know When to Canonicalize, Noindex, or Do Nothing

Whether you’re starting in a new position and inheriting legacy content or scaling your marketing team and publishing a few hundred articles, it’s common to encounter similar (if not duplicate) posts.


While it doesn’t seem like a big deal, it’s a critical aspect of your search engine optimization (SEO) you cannot ignore.


Having similar topics or information across all your websites could lead to rankings lower than they should be and a decrease in traffic. If you’re to make any real progress, focus beyond publishing content and the technicalities of your website.





To avoid this scenario, ask yourself these questions before deciding what to do:


1. Is the duplicate content intentional or accidental?

2. How important is it to rank for this particular keyword or phrase?

3. What other factors should you consider?


Let’s unpack each question:


1. Intent

Duplicate content is intentional or accidental. If the duplication is on purpose, canonicalize the pages so that Google only indexes one version. If the replication was unexpected, consider using noindex instead of canonicalization so that Google still indexes all page versions.


2. Importance

If the keyword or phrase you’re targeting is important, you’ll want to rank for it on as many pages as possible. In this case, consider canonicalizing the pages instead of using noindex.


3. Other factors

Several factors can come into play when deciding whether to canonicalize, noindex, or do nothing.


For example, canonicalization might be the best option if the duplicate content is on different domains. If there are significant discrepancies between the duplicate pages, noindex might be better; and if the pages are similar but not identical, doing nothing might be best.


What do these options mean, and when and how should you use them as part of your content development strategy?


When to canonicalize similar content

Canonicalizing similar content ensures search engines understand which page is the original. When you canonicalize pages, you’re telling search engines that the page’s canonical version (master copy) is the one you want them to index and rank.


It can be helpful if you have two pages with similar content and want to ensure that only one ranks in search results.


Here are a few things to remember when canonicalizing pages:


1. Only canonicalize pages that have duplicate content

Canonicalizing only similar pages can harm your SEO content development efforts. If you have multiple pages with similar or identical content, canonicalizing only some of them can confuse search engines. It can cause them to rank the non-canonicalized pages lower than they otherwise might. To avoid this, ensure that all your pages with similar or identical content are canonicalized.


2. Always use a 301 redirect when canonicalizing pages

A 301 redirect tells a web browser or search engine that a page has been permanently moved to a new location. In canonicalizing pages, using a 301 redirect ensures that any link equity to the old page is redirected to the new page.


3. Remember to canonicalize your homepage

If you have multiple versions of your homepage, canonicalize them all so that only one version appears in search results. You can do this by setting a canonical tag on the page or using a 301 redirect to steer all other versions of the page to the canonical version.



When to noindex similar content

If you don’t want search engines to index and rank certain materials on your website, use the noindex tag to tell them not to include these in their results.


Adding the noindex tag to a page will help ensure that it’s not included in search engine results pages, even if it ranks well for specific keywords. It’s helpful if you have a page not for public consumption, such as one with private information, an out-of-date version of your site, or low-quality content. So, make sure to include this in your content development process.



Remember these when using the noindex tag:



1. Only use the noindex tag on duplicate pages or those with low-quality content

Using the noindex tag on high-quality content can hurt your SEO endeavors and ruin your content marketing goals.



2. Remember to paginate

If you’re using pagination on your site, ensure you noindex all the pages except for the first and last pages. Doing this will help ensure that only one page from your site appears in search results for each query.



3. Be careful with robots meta tags

The robots meta tag controls how search engines crawl and index your website. There are three possible values: “noindex,” “nofollow,” and “none.” If you’re using the “noindex” value on certain pages, make sure you don’t use the “nofollow” value on those same pages. Doing so will tell search engines not to crawl and index those pages and not to follow any links.



Doing nothing with similar content

This stance is generally not recommended, as it can lead to duplicate content penalties from Google. However, there are cases where it may make sense to allow similar content to exist on your site.


If the content is high quality and provides value to users, then there’s no need to canonicalize or noindex it. Instead, focus on creating unique and valuable content to set your site apart from the competition.


What to do when

So, what’s the verdict? Canonicalize similar content when it’s hurting your site’s performance. Noindex it when you think it might be causing duplicate content issues, and do nothing when you can live with the inconsistency.


If all this still sounds complicated, consulting with an SEO expert can assuage your concerns. SEO specialists at Search Leads can help ensure your website runs smoothly and visitors get the best user experience possible. Contact Search Leads today!

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