Andy Atkins-Kruger

8 Strategies To Reduce Duplication When It Affects You On A Global Scale

It sounds like something from a health ad. “1 in 3 will be affected by duplication at some point in their lives.” There’s no doubt that all SEOs have had to look at duplication and its impact in some form or other. But your SEO live is on a global scale — then you’ve got a global duplication problem and it’s not going to be quite so simple to fix.

Multiple Versions Of The Same Content?

Multiple Versions Of The Same Content? You Might Be Suffering From Duplication!

By my estimation, there are 8 strategies global marketers can adopt to deal with duplication. The greatest problem occurs with the use of “world languages” by which we mean those languages of global scale which are important in many countries – such as Spanish or English for instance:

  1. Move Your Site To Local Domains
  2. Set Geo-Targeting Settings in Google’s Webmaster Tools
  3. Re-Write Content
  4. Use Combined Canonicals With Hreflang Tags
  5. Structure The Presentation Of Your Content Differently
  6. Vary The Content You Deploy By Country
  7. Deploy Robots.txt Or “No Index” Tags Selectively And Carefully!
  8. Do Nothing At All

1. Move Your Site To Local Domains

Using local domains or ccTLDs has a lot of advantages — but reducing the impact of duplication on a global site is not generally a function that is widely recognised. Confirmed by Google, as you can see in this Google Webmaster thread, local domains helps Google to understand which country the content belongs to. Local domains are — and probably always will be — a very strong signal for search engines.

2. Set Geo-Targeting Settings in Google’s Webmaster Tools

Within your Google Webmaster account, you can specify the location to which your content is targeted using either sub-domains or folders to indicate which content goes where. However, most advice you will read on the web simply says “Set the webmaster settings”, but there’s a little bit more to this than meets the eye.

For the content which is targeted at a specific country, let’s take Mexico as an example, only searchers querying the Mexican version of Google will find that content readily. What this means is, if you had two versions of Spanish on your website and you targeted one at Spain and the other at Mexico, you would actually perform less well in the other Spanish-speaking countries.

A solution for you may be to target all of your Spanish content to their individual countries and then to allow one Spanish version to remain open for the rest of the world. However, make sure you test this to see that it’s working.

3. Re-Write Content

This is an obvious strategy though the one which most are actively striving to avoid because of the level of cost involved with maintaining various different versions of the same language. However, don’t knock it. there are reasons why you would indeed want to do this including that you want to speak more relevantly to the target audience in the country you’re addressing.

Don’t forget also, that the strategies in this list can be mixed and matched. You may in fact want to harmonise a number of Spanish pages with the audience in Argentina to improve the conversion rate — but leave the back-up content to other duplication avoidance strategies.

4. Use Combined Canonicals With Hreflang Tags

OK so this one can get confusing. First you need to decide which is your most important version of all the same content. You point the canonical tags at that URL.

Then you pair the content within that group using Hreflang tags which can either be in the header or now in xml sitemaps. All content has to be paired for security reasons — otherwise unnconnected sites could point content at each other!

So you would point the content about widgets for Spain- Spanish to Argentina-Spanish indicating that the content you’re pointing to is for Argentina. That Argentina content has to point back at the Spain-Spanish content too.

What does this achieve? The top URL — or canonical — will be the content which is chosen to rank folding in the other versions and their links.

So if you’ve indicated that Spain-Spanish is the most important content, that is the version which will be displayed. However, the Hreflang tag for Argentina means that someone searching Google in Argentina will be shown the content for Spain BUT importantly the URL they’ll be given will be the one for Argentina. Confusing ha? But clever if you can do it!

5. Structure The Presentation Of Your Content Differently

You can also design your site to show the content differently in different markets which could be useful if certain sections are duplicate but not all. For instance, if you used Ajax drawers on your site (you know those buttons you click which expand and suck content in?), you can set one version to be followed using “#!” in the URL — but drop that off in the subsidiary versions.

This is just one example — but there are other ways to only present certain content in some countries or group it together differently, but care is needed and this usually works best only on sites where a relatively small and subsidiary area of content is what’s causing difficulties for the rest of the site.

6. Vary The Content You Deploy By Country

One solution is not to show the same content to different countries. I know that’s kind of stating the obvious, but where this applies is where you have lots of content available and you realise that some is more relevant in some markets than in others — so you pick and choose what you display using — probably using some of the other strategies as a back-up.

7. Deploy Robots.txt Or “No Index” Tags Selectively And Carefully

If you’re targeting Brazil and Portugal, do you really want to pick up Portuguese speakers in Angola? A very quick and easy fix is to deploy a Robots.txt exclusion of Angola. This doesn’t mean it won’t show up in Angola to users who type the URL or even search. It’s just that when they search, they’re initially going to find either the Brazilian or Portugal sites.

You can also use “No Index” tags on page but these are a little less reliable and more difficult to manage.

8. Do Nothing At All

No sniggering please. Doing nothing is indeed an option. Before you deploy fancy tactics, you do need to ask yourself the question, “What problem does this cause?” and if it means that users see content from Germany when they were in Austria — but it has little impact on your performance, you may indeed be better doing nothing or rather doing something else more useful!

Andy Atkins-Kruger
Andy is the CEO of Webcertain. He is a trained linguist with 20 years experience in international marketing, having helped major brand leaders with their advertising and public relations projects on five continents. Webcertain has been operating multilingual search marketing campaigns for over 15 years and is one of few agencies which only deal with international campaigns; the company doesn't deal in single market projects. Andy speaks regularly at conferences around the world, writes for the Multinational Search column of SearchEngineLand.com and is the Managing Editor of the Multilingual Search blog.

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