Google has warned that some webpages may be flagged as duplicates if the URLs are too similar, due to the automated process it uses before indexing and crawling content.
Google explicitly states in its ‘advanced SEO’ guidance that webmasters should try to avoid creating any duplicate content, as it is a tactic that is often deployed as a deceptive practice by third parties who want to manipulate search rankings.
This can often lead to a poor user experience, which can have a negative impact on search performance.
This week, Google’s John Mueller revealed that there is also a risk of pages being detected as duplicates even if there is no malicious intent by webmasters.
This is because Google uses a method based on URLs that attempts to predict whether a page may have content that is duplicated.
Even if site owners have actually published fresh, unique content, it can be omitted from Google’s indexing process if the URL pattern is referenced as a potential duplicate.
Mueller notes: “Even without looking at the individual URLs we can sometimes say, well, we’ll save ourselves some crawling and indexing and just focus on these assumed or very likely duplication cases.”
Mueller said that this can be more of a problem with event-based websites as the list of content can often be very similar for each city or region.
To address the problem, Mueller said that it was important to try to limit “strong overlaps” of content where possible.
Using the events example, he added that the use of a canonical tag for the most important page is a potential best practice as this would inform Google that all of the URLs on a site need to be indexed.
Fortunately, there aren’t any direct penalties for having duplicate content, and it won’t impact a site overall, but it is something that webmasters should keep an eye on in the future.