Your meta descriptions need to be shorter. I know, just a few months ago, we told you that your meta descriptions could be longer. Now we’re saying that they should be shorter. I understand the confusion. But Google changed its mind. And whenever Google changes its mind about something, we need to adjust accordingly. It’s almost like if Google says jump; we reply with ‘how high?’. But, for better or worse, that’s the way this SEO game works. Here, I’ll explain what Google has changed concerning the meta descriptions and what the consequences will be.

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What has changed?

While Google showed snippets with long meta descriptions (around 320 characters) in the past few months, the snippets are now back to their old length (between 150 and 170 characters). A few weeks ago, we published the results of our research in which we experimented with long and short meta descriptions on Yoast.com. All of the long meta descriptions we added to articles on Yoast.com, that were visible in the search results pages earlier, are now all replaced by short ones.

Google’s Danny Sullivan confirmed that Google, in fact, has changed the meta descriptions.

However, he does not say how long the new meta descriptions will be. He says that the length will be shorter, but variable. Research of Moz shows that most meta descriptions are about the same length as they were before Google decided to increase the number of available characters.

What should you do?

Don’t panic. If you’ve made your meta descriptions longer than 155 characters, I’d advise to make them shorter though. At least for your most important articles. In most cases, Google will not show the long descriptions anymore and you don’t want Google to cut off your meta descriptions in the middle of a sentence. So you’d want to rewrite these meta descriptions, making them fit Google’s new rule. If you decide to rewrite them, always keep in mind that it’s best to start with the most important information first. That way, if the length changes again, you’re pretty sure that that part won’t be cut off.

What about Yoast SEO?

If you go to the snippet editor in the Yoast SEO plugin now, you’ll see the old meta description length. By ‘old’ we mean the ‘new’ one – about 320 characters – which is outdated already. So we’ll change the meta description length. Again. It will go back to what it was: about 155 characters. This change is scheduled for the 7.6 release which will roll out in two weeks. And then, hopefully, it’ll stay the same (at least for a while).

Read more: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

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Internal linking should be one of the key focus points in your SEO strategy. It’s actually my favorite aspect of SEO because it’s so very actionable. The Yoast SEO Premium plugin helps you set up a great internal linking structure very easily. And today, you get a 20% discount on the Yoast SEO Premium plugin! So let me explain the importance of great internal linking structure. Learn how to get your site indexed by Google AND get a good ranking.

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Context is the SEO word of 2018

A lot of information about how Google works comes from patents. Whenever Google comes up with new technology, the next step is oftsonen to claim a patent. Studying these patents gives us lots of information about what Google is up to. These days, what keeps coming up is context. Bill Slawski, an SEO veteran, calls context the search term of the year.

In my opinion, Bill is right. Context is what helps Google make sense of the world around us. For instance, Google does not rank a text on the term ‘ballet shoes’ just because you use the word ‘ballet shoes’ in every other sentence. Google is getting better and better at figuring out what a text is about and how to fit it in the grand scheme of things. Google can read texts, so understanding of the context, synonyms, related words and concepts becomes critical. My post about related entities contains some more thoughts on this matter.

The context of internal links is important

The context in which we embed internal links is also becoming increasingly important. Google can determine whether or not links are useful to a reader, on the base of the text in which we’ve embedded these links. Relevant links are helpful for the user. Links that make sense will help with rankings of a post. If a post has lots of good contextual links from other pages, it will have a higher chance of ranking. So the context of a link, for example, the sentence in which we use a link is crucial for Google to establish whether or not a particular page should rank well in the search results pages. Text links within blog posts are, therefore, more valuable than random links in a footer.

Internal linking matters in two ways

Internal linking is imperative for SEO because of two reasons. For one, it is essential to get your site indexed. As Google crawls links, you’ll need links to every post and page on your site to make sure that Google comes around often enough to get your site saved in the index. Two, and more importantly, you need internal links to get your site ranked well. And that’s where the context of the internal links comes in. Links embedded in a meaningful context will help rank your site more than links in the footer of a text.

Internal links are a necessity to get your site indexed. The context of internal links is essential to get your site ranked — and how it gets ranked.

Yoast SEO helps with internal linking

Linking related content can seem daunting, especially if you’ve written a lot of articles. The internal linking tool of Yoast SEO Premium will help you set up an excellent, coherent and contextual internal linking structure. Our internal linking tool analyzes your texts and uses word analysis to determine which blog posts and articles are on similar topics. We show these suggestions to you in the sidebar, making it very easy to add related text links to these articles in your blog post. We have a couple of posts on why you should use it and how to use the internal linking tool.

Get started right away!

Improving your internal linking structure isn’t that hard. You can start enhancing your site today! Yoast SEO Premium will analyze all of your blog posts and makes suggestions for internal links to add to your posts. So, stop making excuses and get to it! And if you buy Yoast SEO Premium today, you’ll benefit from a 20% discount!

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

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We regularly receive questions about category pages and similar pages. It seems some of you are unsure of how to properly implement these. And sure, it’s good to think about this, as pages like category or tag pages can be thin content, if you do nothing to improve them. But you can also use these pages to your advantage!

It’s a good idea to give your category and tag pages some TLC, so there’s sufficient content on them. For product category pages, that means adding some text about that particular type of product, for example. So, what about food blogs? What should you do with your category and tag pages to help your recipes rank as best they can?

Analida Braeger emailed us her question on the subject:

Is it true that leaving tags, categories and paginated content open on a food blog hurts the ability of existing recipes to rank effectively? Should these be blocked with a ‘noindex, follow’ robots tag?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

Should you noindex tags and categories on food blogs?

“No, don’t noindex those pages. Category and tag pages are very important pages that you want crawled a lot. As soon as you start noindexing them, Google will crawl them less and less. So you shouldn’t do that.

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What you should do is optimize your category and tag pages for terms that are groups. So, if you have recipes, then you have groups of recipes too, and you should optimize those category and tag pages for those terms.

You should make sure that, for instance, for pasta recipes, your category page for that is good enough for people to land on. So, you should improve on those pages and make them better landing pages to land on from the search results and then they will get traffic for terms that are broader than the average recipe, and they’d be perfect pages. So, don’t noindex follow them, instead improve them. Good luck.”

Read on: ‘Using category and tag pages for SEO’ »

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I bet you’ve reread the title at least several times. Did I really just announce a blog post on why you should quit your blog? Yes. Yes, I did. Who am I to tell you to quit blogging? And before you tell me that I should be the one to quit my blog, let me tell you: no, I’m not. In this post, I will share five reasons why you should quit blogging.

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Reason number 1: You can’t write

You think that you are a terrible writer. No one wants to read your blogs, and if you look at the blog posts you wrote a few months ago, you cringe. You have convinced yourself you absolutely cannot write. So put yourself (and all your readers, they’ll thank you) out of their misery. Just quit.

Unless…

… you love to write. Unless it’s just your inner critic talking. In most cases, it’s just not true. And even if it’s true, how can you grow to be a great writer if you don’t try? We somehow have forgotten that to learn, we have to try. We have to fall and stand up again. No child ever just stopped trying to get up after it fell again and again. It just got back up to try again. The first baby steps couldn’t have been successful if the child thought it couldn’t do it after failing the first time. So grab your notebook or your laptop and get to it. Make mistakes. And then find a way to do it right and improve.

Reason number 2: You don’t have an audience

Who are you writing for if you don’t have any visitors? Honestly, what a waste of time. You could spend your time doing something useful, such as making money by getting a real job. Maybe you should do chores around the house, get the groceries or do some cleaning.

I hope you’re writing for yourself. I hope you’re writing to ease the writer inside of you. And I hope you write because you have a story to get out of there. Above all, I hope you realize that if you keep your writings to yourself, no one will ever read it. And if you don’t have an audience yet, you could try and work on your SEO. Whatever the reason is you do not have many visitors just yet, find out what it is and get that audience.

Even more important: cherish the small audience you might have right now. If it’s your spouse, your mother, your best friend or someone you don’t know: if they take the time to tell you they like it, you’ve got an audience. It starts with just one reader.

Reason 3: There are a lot of blogs already, yours is nothing new

My younger sister told me this when I started my blog about life as a mother. She said: ‘Aren’t there already a lot of blogs like yours out there? Why do you think you’re so special?’ She hadn’t even seen my blog yet, hadn’t even read my articles. And I doubt she even remembers she told me this because last week she told me: ‘Oh, I read this and that on your blog. That’s insane!’

I remember feeling insecure when she told me I wasn’t unique, but I continued to blog anyway. I told her she knew nothing. And no, I’m not the biggest blogger out there (if only), I’m not even mildly average. My blog isn’t even big enough to be considered for so-called ‘influencer programs.’ And although I have goals to become big, my goal to be authentic is bigger. So my blog is something new because it’s mine. Your blog is just as special and authentic.

Reason 4: It’s lonely

You’re just sitting there, behind your computer, writing stuff no one reads for a blog that makes no money. You must be so incredibly lonely.

I’ve met a lot of bloggers the past year. On blogger conferences, through Twitter, through Facebook groups, through Pinterest and blogs of bloggers I admire. If you feel alone as a blogger, find a local (WordPress) meetup, join Facebook groups, Twitter discussions or just send an email to a blogger you admire. Writing can be a lonely hobby, but it’s not necessary.

Reason 5: You’re giving away your information. For free

Are you out of your mind, or what? Are you just giving all your information away, for free? How will you make money? I mean, why would you give stuff away for free?

I don’t know why we do this either. It must be in our nature to help people.

And if you didn’t already know, bloggers can surely monetize their blog.

I love to write. I write a lot. Therefore I am a writer. I’m not making money with my blog. I’m losing money on advertising, hosting, a theme and premium plugins, but I don’t care for now. It’s my hobby. It’s almost volunteering, but on my terms.

Honestly, did you think I was serious about quitting blogging? I’ve started this series to encourage you to pick up blogging too. I’m encouraging friends to start blogs and we have written guides how to start or continue blogging. So, if anyone ever tells you again you should quit blogging, tell them: Nope. And throw this page in their face.

Read more: ‘Caroline’s Corner: Finding inspiration for your next blog post’ »

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Perhaps you heard about Google Duplex? You know, the artificial assistant that called a hairdresser to make an appointment? Fascinating technology, but what is it exactly? And does it affect search or SEO? In this post, I’ll explain what Google Duplex is. And, I’ll raise some ethical issues I have with it. Finally, I will go into the consequences of Google Duplex for SEO.

What is Google Duplex?

Google Duplex is an experimental new technology that Google demoed at Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference. This technology allows Google to mimic human conversation. Google is quick to say that at this point, it’s only trained for specific fields.

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Google showed a video in which a robot makes an appointment for a hairdressers appointment by calling that hairdresser and having an actual conversation. If you haven’t seen a demo of it yet, check out this video first.

Is it good?

Last Wednesday at the Google I/O conference, John Hennessy said about Google Duplex: “In the domain of making appointments, it passes the Turing test.” The Turing test is a test that determines whether a human is indistinguishable from a robot. This means that the robot used in Google Duplex is not distinguishable from an actual human being.

John Hennessy is the chairman of the board of Google’s parent company Alphabet. He is also quite a hero in the field of computer science. When he says something like that — even about his own company — it’s worth thinking about.

John Hennessy was pretty quick to point out that it passes in only one specific field: the task of booking appointments. “It doesn’t pass it in general terms, but it passes in that specific domain. And that’s really an indication of what’s coming.” Which gets us to ethics.

The ethics of AI that’s this good

When you have an Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can interact with people, as Google Duplex can, you need to think about ethics. Luckily, people have been thinking about precisely these kinds of ethics problems for a long time. The first set of rules you’ll run into when you search around ethics concerning AI are Isaac Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics, introduced in his 1942 (!) short story Runaround:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

While this laid the groundwork for almost all of the science fiction around robots, most of that doesn’t necessarily immediately come into play now. But since then, people have started adding on the three laws of robotics. The most well-known “fourth law of robotics” was added by novelist Lyuben Dilov, in his book Icarus’s Way. This law is as follows:

A robot must establish its identity as a robot in all cases.

Now, go back to the video linked above. Nowhere does that assistant state it’s a bot. In fact, it has mannerisms that make it very human. I think that’s wrong and I think people were rightly calling Google out on that. Google has already stated that they will change that. I’m curious how exactly. Let’s say I am skeptical. Google does not always communicate their intentions clearly. I mean: Google says it discloses which results are ads in its search results and which results aren’t. However, most ‘non-tech’ people don’t know what exactly is an ad and what is an organic result.  We’ll have to wait and see, or maybe, hear.

Security implications

In the wrong hands, this type of technology is incredibly scary. Did you know that it now takes less than 1 minute of recorded audio to reasonably accurately simulate somebody’s voice? Combine that with the inferior systems of security we currently have for phone conversations with, for instance, banks, and you have a potential disaster on your hands.

What will Google Duplex be used for?

The examples we’ve seen so far indicate that Google Duplex can be used to make straightforward phone calls – to plan meetings and make reservations. These examples fit the personal assistant purpose for which Google Assistant is promoted. But if an AI becomes this good at consumer interaction, of course, businesses will want to use it to receive phone calls as well. They could use it for helpdesks and other types of calls that we now task entire call centers with.

Future use of Google Duplex?

It is hard to say when Google Duplex will be used on a large scale. This might not happen next year or even the year after. But it’s definitely going faster than most people outside of the tech bubble realize. If Google Duplex can be trained to make a restaurant booking, it can also be trained to take your new credit card application. And, since it is an AI, it would be much faster and less error-prone than a human would be at performing your credit check.

Look at a Google Duplex-like system for receiving calls as a nice extension to the phone call conversion tracking system Google already has. Google could indeed take your credit card application. Or, without even all that much training, do the other side of the second example call in the video above and take the entire reservation system for a restaurant and automate it. The question then becomes: what if your digital assistant calls into the Duplex powered system on the other side? Will they use human-like conversation to get the job done? Will we end up with human speech as the ultimate computer to computer language?

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How does this impact search and SEO?

Google Duplex might not seem to have a direct impact on search, but consider this: if your Google Assistant can have conversations like this with your hairdresser and your restaurant of choice, will you have these conversations with him/her too? Suddenly you can talk to your phone and sound like you’re talking to your secretary, instead of sounding like the freak who talks to his phone or watch. Search becomes even more conversational and queries get more complicated.

When queries get more complicated, context becomes more important than ever. And now we’re back to what we’ve been writing about for quite a while here at Yoast: you need to write awesome content. I really can’t add much to what Marieke wrote in that post, so read it.

The other side of how this impacts SEO is more technical. For AIs to be efficient, it’s far easier to rely on structured data. If you use a standards-based system like Schema.org for things like reservations, all Google has to do is tie into that. Suddenly, it doesn’t have to retrain its system for a new booking engine; it can just detect that you use Schema.org for that, and poof, it just works.

Next steps

So what’s next? Well, now we wait. We wait until we get to play with this. We’ll have to figure out how good this truly is before we can do anything else.

Read more: ‘Readability ranks!’ »

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To increase your reach, it could be worth your while to post some of your content on sites with more authority and more visitors than your own site. But it’s a good idea to think about how to do that. You may think ‘If many people see my post on a site like medium.com, they’ll automatically head over to my site to check out that post, increasing my traffic.’ But is that really the case?

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You probably don’t want to end up with duplicate content, and it also isn’t in your best interest to be competing with high authority sites. So, how can you use these platforms, like Medium, to your advantage? Let me tell you what I think in today’s Ask Yoast!

Tsahi Levent-Levin emailed us a question on crossposting content on Medium:

There seems to be a trend of placing a post on a blog and then republishing the exact same content on medium.com. As there’s no ability to control the canonical tag, how do you view this practice? Does it increase reach and discoverability or does it dilute ranking due to duplicate content?

Rectification: It appears that you can set a canonical link on Medium! So please add it and prevent duplicate content by doing so.

 

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast, we answer SEO questions from our readers. Have an SEO-related question? Maybe we can help you out! Send an email to ask@yoast.com.

Note: please check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question may already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about our plugin not working properly, we’d like to refer you to our support page.

Read more: ‘What to do if the traffic on your blog is decreasing?’ »

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A little over a month ago I started looking at my Pinterest profile more seriously in regards to my blog. I didn’t use Pinterest for my blog yet and never even thought of pinning my blog posts to Pinterest. I used the website to keep my wishlist up to date and had tons of hidden boards full of inspiration for future projects that I would probably never do.

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Facebook is my biggest source of traffic currently, but with Facebook’s announcement on the new algorithm, I want to rely less on Facebook. Or spread my traffic source at least. At the end of March, I received a newsletter from a blogger I follow. She claimed she receives over 15,000 visitors from Pinterest every month. She started blogging last year and hasn’t written a new blog post since January. Yet her blog is ever growing, and so is her bank account. 15k for a website that’s not regularly updated raised one main question with me: HOW?

We emailed for a while and she explained she started to treat Pinterest as a search engine instead of a social medium. People are not on Pinterest to see what their friends like, they are looking for a solution for a problem they have. The difference with Google? You have a personal feed when you open Pinterest. And it is visual.

Skepticism

I was skeptical. I don’t like promoting my website, due to my inner critic who thinks it’s necessary to tell me no one wants to read my blog posts and I should not be bothering them on Facebook or anywhere else. Also, I dislike scheduling my social media to promote my blog and I definitely do not like to make the graphics for my blog. I am a writer, but as a blogger you have to be all-round, unless you’re as lucky as me and you can blog for Yoast where there’s an entire team who will create graphics and do the promotion for you. Unfortunately, they won’t do promotion for my personal blog. I should’ve negotiated that at the beginning of my contract.

Still skeptical about Pinterest, I walked into Joost’s office last month and asked him what he knew about Pinterest. He explained to me that there are mom blogs, especially in the US, that get ten thousands of visitors through Pinterest. The statistics can get bizarre. He told me I was definitely in the right niche to grow through Pinterest and should give it a go.

That night I sat down and started creating graphics for my blog. Pinterest suggests vertical pins instead of the horizontal scaled images for Facebook.

What Pinterest did to my statistics

I would love to say that I woke up the next morning, opened Pinterest and saw that my pins went viral. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Your exposure will slowly climb and the more active you are on Pinterest, the faster you will get rewarded.

If you have a business account with Pinterest, you can look at your statistics. I saw that one of my pins had been shown over 400 times in just a few days. So I squealed and told everyone how amazing Pinterest was. I then showed my statistics to everyone who wanted to see, and even those who didn’t know they wanted to see.

But out of those 400 impressions on Pinterest, not one person had repinned my pin. And no one had clicked the link. Facebook advertising sounded a lot more appealing right now. And less work. And easier to understand.

It took me a week to understand and find the mix that started getting me visitors. I can now say that after one month, 10% of my traffic to my blog is Pinterest. 10% in just one month! My stats are surprising me each and every day and I actually love looking at Google Analytics and my Pinterest statistics. I’ve created a board for my blog and created boards that are close to my niche. I’ve repinned pins from others and pinned my own blog posts.

How you can start to grow

To start growing, the first important step is that your image should be appealing and of high quality. Pins with the message in bold letters across the image, work wonders. People want to know what your post is about in one glance. Writing compelling titles is already important for SEO, so dust up those skills and get them to use for Pinterest!

Another important factor of getting seen is collaborating with others in group boards. By pinning your content to group boards, your content will be seen by the others who contribute to the board.

But balance is key: don’t just pin from your own website. Repin as well. Don’t be afraid to repin a blog post from a competitor if it fits one of your boards. For example: one of my best performing boards is about self-care. I have only written two blog posts on this subject yet, but funny enough, these two blog posts generate the most traffic to my blog.

There’s no easy fix to gain visitors fast. It’s much like Google, Facebook or your other sources of traffic: you need to solve a problem for you visitor by creating content your visitors are looking for.

Read more: ‘Blogging: the ultimate guide’ »

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Search engines like Google have a problem. It’s called ‘duplicate content.’ Duplicate content means that similar content is being shown on multiple locations (URLs) on the web. As a result, search engines don’t know which URL to show in the search results. This can hurt the ranking of a webpage. Especially when people start linking to all the different versions of the content, the problem becomes bigger. This article will help you to understand the various causes of duplicate content, and to find the solution for each of them.

What is duplicate content?

You can compare duplicate content to being on a crossroad. Road signs are pointing in two different directions for the same final destination: which road should you take? And now, to make it ‘worse’ the final destination is different too, but only ever so slightly. As a reader, you don’t mind: you get the content you came for. A search engine has to pick which one to show in the search results. It, of course, doesn’t want to show the same content twice.

Let’s say your article about ‘keyword x’ appears on http://www.example.com/keyword-x/ and the same content also appears on http://www.example.com/article-category/keyword-x/. This situation is not fictitious: it happens in lots of modern Content Management Systems. Your article has been picked up by several bloggers. Some of them link to the first URL; others link to the second URL. This is when the search engine’s problem shows its real nature: it’s your problem. The duplicate content is your problem because those links are both promoting different URLs. If they were all linking to the same URL, your chance of ranking for ‘keyword x’ would be higher.

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Table of contents

1 Causes for duplicate content

There are dozens of reasons that cause duplicate content. Most of them are technical: it’s not very often that a human decides to put the same content in two different places without distinguishing the source: it feels unnatural to most of us. The technical reasons are plentiful though. It happens mostly because developers don’t think as a browser or a user, let alone a search engine spider, they think as a developer. That aforementioned article, that appears on http://www.example.com/keyword-x/ and http://www.example.com/article-category/keyword-x/? If you ask the developer, he’ll say it only exists once.

1.1 Misunderstanding the concept of a URL

Has that developer gone mad? No, he’s just speaking a different language. You see a database system probably powers the whole website. In that database, there’s only one article, the website’s software just allows for that same article in the database to be retrieved through several URLs. That’s because, in the eyes of the developer, the unique identifier for that article is the ID that article has in the database, not the URL. For the search engine though, the URL is the unique identifier to a piece of content. If you explain that to a developer, he’ll start getting the problem. And after reading this article, you’ll even be able to provide him with a solution right away.

1.2 Session IDs

You often want to keep track of your visitors and make it possible, for instance, to store items they want to buy in a shopping cart. To do that, you need to give them a ‘session.’ A session is a brief history of what the visitor did on your site and can contain things like the items in their shopping cart. To maintain that session as a visitor clicks from one page to another, the unique identifier for that session, the so-called Session ID, needs to be stored somewhere. The most common solution is to do that with cookies. However, search engines usually don’t store cookies.

At that point, some systems fall back to using Session IDs in the URL. This means that every internal link on the website gets that Session ID appended to the URL, and because that Session ID is unique to that session, it creates a new URL, and thus duplicate content.

1.3 URL parameters used for tracking and sorting

Another cause for duplicate content is the use of URL parameters that do not change the content of a page, for instance in tracking links. You see, http://www.example.com/keyword-x/ and http://www.example.com/keyword-x/?source=rss are not the same URL for a search engine. The latter might allow you to track what source people came from, but it might also make it harder for you to rank well. A very unwanted side effect!

This doesn’t just go for tracking parameters, of course. It goes for every parameter you can add to a URL that doesn’t change the vital piece of content, whether that parameter is for ‘changing the sorting on a set of products’ or for ‘showing another sidebar’: they all cause duplicate content.

1.4 Scrapers & content syndication

Most of the causes for duplicate content are all your own or at the very least your website’s ‘fault.’ Sometimes, however, other websites use your content, with or without your consent. They do not always link to your original article, and thus the search engine doesn’t ‘get’ it and has to deal with yet another version of the same article. The more popular your site becomes, the more scrapers you’ll often have, making this issue bigger and bigger.

1.5 Order of parameters

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Another common cause is that a CMS doesn’t use nice and clean URLs, but rather URLs like /?id=1&cat=2, where ID refers to the article and cat refers to the category. The URL /?cat=2&id=1 will render the same results in most website systems, but they’re completely different for a search engine.

1.6 Comment pagination

In my beloved WordPress, but also in some other systems, there is an option to paginate your comments. This leads to the content being duplicated across the article URL, and the article URL + /comment-page-1/, /comment-page-2/ etc.

If your content management system creates printer friendly pages and you link to those from your article pages, in most cases Google will find those, unless you specifically block them. Now, which version should Google show? The one laden with ads and peripheral content,  or the one with just your article?

1.8 WWW vs. non-WWW

One of the oldest in the book, but sometimes search engines still get it wrong: WWW vs. non-WWW duplicate content, when both versions of your site are accessible. A less common situation but one I’ve seen as well: HTTP vs. HTTPS duplicate content, where the same content is served out over both.

2 Conceptual solution: a ‘canonical’ URL

As determined above, the fact that several URLs lead to the same content is a problem, but it can be solved. A human working at a publication will normally be able to tell you quite easily what the ‘correct’ URL for a certain article should be. The funny thing is, though, sometimes when you ask three people in the same company, they’ll give three different answers…

That’s a problem that needs solving in those cases because, in the end, there can be only one (URL). That ‘correct’ URL for a piece of content has been dubbed the Canonical URL by the search engines.

canonical_graphic_1024x630

Ironic side note

Canonical is a term stemming from the Roman Catholic tradition, where a list of sacred books was created and accepted as genuine. They were dubbed the canonical Gospels of the New Testament. The irony is: it took the Roman Catholic church about 300 years and numerous fights to come up with that canonical list, and they eventually chose four versions of the same story

3 Identifying duplicate contents issues

You might not know whether you have a duplicate content issue on your site or with your content. Let me give you some methods of finding out whether you do.

3.1 Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a great tool for identifying duplicate content. If you go into the Search Console for your site, check under Search Appearance » HTML Improvements, and you’ll see this:

If pages have duplicate titles or duplicate descriptions, that’s almost never a good thing. Clicking on it will reveal the URLs that have duplicate titles or descriptions and will help you identify the problem. The issue is that if you have an article like the one about keyword X, and it shows up in two categories, the titles might be different. They might, for instance, be ‘Keyword X – Category X – Example Site’ and ‘Keyword X – Category Y – Example Site’. Google won’t pick those up as duplicate titles, but you can find them by searching.

3.2 Searching for titles or snippets

There are several search operators that are very helpful for cases like these. If you’d want to find all the URLs on your site that contain your keyword X article, you’d type the following search phrase into Google:

site:example.com intitle:"Keyword X"

Google will then show you all pages on example.com that contain that keyword. The more specific you make that intitle part, the easier it is to weed out duplicate content. You can use the same method to identify duplicate content across the web. Let’s say the full title of your article was ‘Keyword X – why it is awesome’, you’d search for:

intitle:"Keyword X - why it is awesome"

And Google would give you all sites that match that title. Sometimes it’s worth even searching for one or two complete sentences from your article, as some scrapers might change the title. In some cases, when you do a search like that, Google might show a notice like this on the last page of results:

Duplicate content noticed by Google

This is a sign that Google is already ‘de-duping’ the results. It’s still not good, so it’s worth clicking the link and looking at all the other results to see whether you can fix some of those.

4 Practical solutions for duplicate content

Once you’ve decided which URL is the canonical URL for your piece of content, you have to start a process of canonicalization (yeah I know, try to say that three times out loud fast). This means we have to let the search engine know about the canonical version of a page and let it find it ASAP. There are four methods of solving the problem, in order of preference:

  1. Not creating duplicate content
  2. Redirecting duplicate content to the canonical URL
  3. Adding a canonical link element to the duplicate page
  4. Adding an HTML link from the duplicate page to the canonical page

4.1 Avoiding duplicate content

Some of the above causes for duplicate content have very simple fixes to them:

  • Session ID’s in your URLs?
    These can often just be disabled in your system’s settings.
  • Have duplicate printer friendly pages?
    These are completely unnecessary: you should just use a print style sheet.
  • Using comment pagination in WordPress?
    You should just disable this feature  (under settings » discussion) on 99% of sites.
  • Parameters in a different order?
    Tell your programmer to build a script to always order parameters in the same order (this is often referred to as a so-called URL factory).
  • Tracking links issues?
    In most cases, you can use hash tag based campaign tracking instead of parameter-based campaign tracking.
  • WWW vs. non-WWW issues?
    Pick one and stick with it by redirecting the one to the other. You can also set a preference in Google Webmaster Tools, but you’ll have to claim both versions of the domain name.

If you can’t fix your problem that easily, it might still be worth it to put in the effort. The goal would be to prevent the duplicate content from appearing altogether. It’s by far the best solution to the problem.

4.2 301 Redirecting duplicate content

In some cases, it’s impossible to entirely prevent the system you’re using from creating wrong URLs for content, but sometimes it is possible to redirect them. If this isn’t logical to you (which I can understand), do keep it in mind while talking to your developers. If you do get rid of some of the duplicate content issues, make sure that you redirect all the old duplicate content URLs to the proper canonical URLs. 

Learn how to write awesome and SEO friendly articles in our SEO Copywriting training »

SEO copywriting training Info

4.3 Using rel=”canonical” links

Sometimes you don’t want to or can’t get rid of a duplicate version of an article, even when you do know that it’s the wrong URL. For that particular issue, the search engines have introduced the canonical link element. It’s placed in the section of your site, and it looks like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://example.com/wordpress/seo-plugin/">

In the href section of the canonical link, you place the correct canonical URL for your article. When a search engine that supports canonical finds this link element, it performs what is a soft 301 redirect. It transfers most of the link value gathered by that page to your canonical page.

This process is a bit slower than the 301 redirect though, so if you can do a 301 redirect that would be preferable, as mentioned by Google’s John Mueller.

Read more: ‘ rel=canonical • What it is and how (not) to use it ’ »

4.4 Linking back to the original content

If you can’t do any of the above, possibly because you don’t control thesection of the site your content appears on, adding a link back to the original article on top of or below the article is always a good idea. This might be something you want to do in your RSS feed: add a link back to the article in it. Some scrapers will filter that link out, but some others might leave it in. If Google encounters several links pointing to your article, it will figure out soon enough that that’s the actual canonical version of the article.

5 Conclusion: duplicate content is fixable, and should be fixed

Duplicate content happens everywhere. I have yet to encounter a site of more than 1,000 pages that hasn’t got at least a tiny duplicate content problem. It’s something you need to keep an eye on at all times. It is fixable though, and the rewards can be plentiful. Your quality content might soar in the rankings by just getting rid of duplicate content on your site!

Keep reading: ‘ Ask Yoast: webshops and duplicate content’ »

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Today is King’s Day! At least, it’s King’s Day in the Netherlands. April 27 marks the 51st birthday of our King Willem Alexander and is a national holiday for all Dutch people. This year, we wanted to share our celebrations with all of you by giving you 20% off on our SEO copywriting course! Although Willem Alexander is king of the Netherlands, content remains king of SEO. In this post, I’ll explain why content is so very important for SEO, I’ll share the three most important aspects of content SEO and how you can benefit from that 20% discount.

Learn how to write awesome and SEO friendly articles in our SEO Copywriting training »

SEO copywriting training Info

Start ruling your rankings and grab this 20% discount now:

Get The Yoast SEO Copywriting Training Now$199 $159.20 (ex VAT) Only today - April 27!

Why is content king?

Content SEO is crucial because search engines read your website. The words you use on your site determine whether or not your site will rank on their results pages. Google’s algorithm decides the ranking of your site largely based on the content you publish. Of course, your website should also be well-designed, have a great user interface, and all the technical stuff should be covered. But without high-quality content, your site does not stand a chance in the search engines. Google just wants to give the audience a result that fits the search query. This means you need to be writing awesome and engaging content that answer the needs of your audience.

So how do you write awesome content?

Content SEO includes everything related to writing and structuring content on your website. There are three major elements you need to consider to produce content that will make your website rank well: keyword strategy, site structure and copywriting.

Keyword research

Proper keyword research will make clear which search terms your audience uses. This is crucial. Optimizing content for words that people do not use doesn’t make any sense. Doing proper keyword research makes sure that you use the same words as your target audience.

Site structure

The way your site is structured gives Google important clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine can understand what your site is about and which pages it will rank highest.

Copywriting

Finally, you just need to write compelling copy. Texts that are original and readable. Stuff people like to read. And you should optimize those texts for SEO.

20% discount on the online SEO copywriting training

The very best way to get started with content SEO is by doing our SEO copywriting training. Our online courses consist of lots of videos and reading material. And, we have lots of challenging questions to test whether you understood the material. This course also has 2 assignments which will be corrected by an SEO professional at Yoast. You’ll be asked to do your own keyword research and to write a blog post. You’ll receive feedback on both of your assignments. Our SEO copywriting course will help you become King (or Queen) of SEO! Good Luck!

Get The Yoast SEO Copywriting Training Now$199 $159.20 (ex VAT) Only today - April 27!

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It’s one of the most frustrating problems you can encounter when working on your site’s SEO: one of your pages is ranking well in Google, but it’s ranking for the wrong keyword. You haven’t optimized this page for the keyword it’s ranking for, and the page you did optimize for that keyword, is nowhere to be found in the results pages.

Learn how to write engaging copy and how to organize it well on your site: Combine our SEO copywriting and Site structure training. »

Content SEO training bundle Info

It can be harmful to your CTR and conversion rate when the wrong page for a keyword pops up in the results pages, but what can you do about it? First, you should make sure the page you actually want to rank for your keyword can be properly crawled and indexed. If that is indeed the case, take a long, hard look at how you’ve optimized your content. Odds are, your content and your internal linking structure aren’t as good as you think at showing Google which page to rank for which keyword. Let’s dive into this a bit further in this Ask Yoast!

David Dumdei sent us his question on this matter:

Google insists on ranking our homepage for ‘computer services’ and completely ignores the page on our subdirectory ‘computer services’ that is actually optimized for this keyword. As our home page isn’t optimized for ‘computer services’, we rank low. What can we do if we already have great site structure and keyword optimization? I’m considering creating a subdomain to fix this issue.

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

When Google picks the ‘wrong’ page to rank for your keyword

“Don’t create a subdomain. I know that you think you have great site structure and keyword optimization, but if Google insists on ranking your homepage for a specific term that you have optimized another page for, then you probably do not have great site structure. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but that’s the way it is.

You probably need to interlink better and link better within your site. This is not something that’s easy. If you can’t figure it out yourself, hire an external SEO to help you do this, because creating a subdomain will only create more problems, not less. Good luck.”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast, we answer SEO questions from our readers. Have an SEO-related question? Maybe we can help you out! Send an email to ask@yoast.com.

Note: please check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question may already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about our plugin not working properly, we’d like to refer you to our support page.

Read on: ‘The ultimate guide to site structure’ »

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