Should duplicate web content be avoided?

One of Web-Translations’ main objectives is to offer highly targeted solutions for reaching international web users. Often, we run into the question of how far to go down this road – does the site need a separate US and UK portal? How about Portugal and Brazil? But one of the most frequent questions we’re asked is about duplicate content – in other words, is it acceptable from an SEO perspective to have the same content on a New Zealand-targeted site and a UK-targeted site? Here’s our take:

Ask yourself if tailored content would work better

Sometimes this just isn’t cost effective, and other times (though rarely) there’s no difference in your messaging from one territory to another. But if you can afford to tailor your message, you should do it – users appreciate it and it’ll have a positive effect on your conversion rate.

Duplicate Content won’t kill your rankings, but it’s not great

There’s a myth that duplicate content will get you hanged, drawn and quartered by Google; the truth is that unless you’re doing it in an obviously malicious way, it’s unlikely to result in anything more than collateral damage and one of the results being filtered from the SERPs. But that’s something of a false flag when it comes to SEO; best practice is best practice for a reason, and too much collateral damage will add up to a big deal. Duplicate content can see your pages competing against each other for rankings, battling to be the page displayed (if they’re on the same site), and other such negative impacts.

It’s okay to reuse sections, but think about your users

Your content should be organised in a way that doesn’t make repetition necessary. Parts of your website are repeated on every page – your header, footer, navigation menus etc. – but the rest of it should be used for one purpose in one place.

If you want to use duplicate content for different locales, use hreflang

hreflang is an HTML tag which allows you to flag who the current content is designed for and what other pages on the web are essentially the same content for people with different languages or locations. Google can explain this in more depth than I can but the crucial things to remember is that every version of a page must have its own hreflang tag on every version of the page. So, if you have three pages – an Italian, German and French page for your content – you need to use the following code on each page.

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/it" hreflang="it" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/de" hreflang="de" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/fr" hreflang="fr" />

hreflang tags will solve the vast majority of legitimate duplicate content problems for you; if you run into anything that isn’t base on locale or language, you should consider what you can do to avoid it, because there’s usually a better way than repeating yourself.

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