Thursday, November 13, 2008

Duplicate title tags / meta descriptions: Google Webmaster Tools and Blogger blogs (fix-it manual included)

Sometimes I receive very interesting e-mails or insightful comments like this: Have you found a solution to duplicate title tags/duplicate meta description issue?. I try to respond as extensive as possible at that moment, and often even dedicate posts to describe it in more detail.

So today's post in dedicated to Blogger generated "Duplicate title tags/Duplicate meta descriptions" warnings in Google Webmaster Tools.

I know how bad duplicate title tags and duplicate meta descriptions are, just give me "fix it" paragraph fast.

What is "Duplicate title tags" or "Duplicate meta descriptions"?

Search engines nowadays are smart. Very smart. However they are still what they are - machines. Sometimes they can't decide which exactly your page matches the search query the best - so they check everything that can give them more clue - titles of your pages, their meta keywords, meta descriptions - everything. However, if two your pages have the same title and same meta description, there is no such clue. That's the reason search engines consider duplicate meta descriptions/title tags as "bad", and can actually penalize you for that.

What is Google Webmaster Tools and how is it related to Duplicate title tags and Duplicate meta descriptions warning?

We all know Google Webmaster Tools. It is a great tool that gives you some insight on how your website is seen by Google (and can also give you some hints about up-to-date Page Rank of your pages (while toolbar rank is updated once in a couple of months, data in Google Webmaster Tools is more fresh, see "Crawl stats").
However, sometimes Google Webmaster Tools provide us with such an intimidating picture:
duplicate title tags/duplicate meta descriptions warning in google webmaster tools

(Numbers in this image are photoshopped, since after applying everything I wrote in this guide I don't have any duplicate title tags/meta descriptions issues anymore)

These numbers can indeed be scary.

Why it happens?

Blogger has a bad habit to refer to comments through links like this: Thus Google threats links like these as separate pages (while it is actually simply a link to an anchor on your page). Actually, there are quite a few other SEO problems in Blogger as well (doesn't mean they can't be fixed though, we'll see it later :)

How bad is it for SEO?

For every comment you have in your blog, Google thinks there exists another page with the same title tag and meta description, thus Google might decide your site is not search-engine-friendly. (Since it's actually one page, these "multiple" pages in Google's eyes will also have the same content, which can lead to duplicate content issue as well). Google Webmaster Tools doesn't show you any statistics about your pages that are considered 'duplicate content', however numbers of 'duplicate title tag issues' and 'duplicate meta description issues' might ring a bell and give you the general idea.

Ok, duplicate title tags/duplicate meta descriptions are really bad. How to fix it?

Basically, all we need to do to fix duplicate title tags and duplicate meta descriptions issue in Blogger is to hide links to comments in your posts from search engines. Content of the comments will still be in search engines because it is a part of your post page.
So the fix is performed in three steps:
  1. Edit template
  2. Wrap blog archive widget
  3. Remove or replace recent comments widget
Note: there is a small twist though: Google will still be able to dig some links to your comment pages from your comments feed (usually located at /feeds/comments/default).

Step 1. Edit your blog template

We need to hide the permalink to the comment from search engines:
(the link that says August 22, 2008 5:46 PM). However, we would still like to be able to link to the comment if needed, so the link should still be there for users.
I'm not a big fan of JavaScript because content generated by it cannot be used for SEO purposes, however this time we will use this weakness for our benefit.

So, open your blog template (remember to previously save it). Tick "Expand Widget Templates" checkbox, and find this code in your template:
<a expr:href='data:comment.url' title='comment permalink'>

It should look like this:

Replace it with the following code:
<b:if cond='data:post.commentPagingRequired'>
  <a expr:href='data:comment.url' title='comment permalink'> <data.comment.timestamp/> </a>
  <a expr:href='data:blog.url + &quot;#&quot; + data:comment.anchorName' title='comment permalink'> <data:comment.timestamp/> </a>

Save the template and check how it looks. It should look the same as original, however now timestamps should link to comments by their anchor ID's, without confusing Google crawler with ?showcomment= part. (In case multi-page comments are required, the long form will be used).
The described trick works in all browsers that I know of.

Step 2. Wrap blog archive widget

Blog archive widget for Blogger is very nice, however it has a bad habit of generating long links Google doesn't understand. This leads to duplicate content issues and duplicate title tags/meta descriptions. It is easy to fix, however: click the small wrench icon under your blog archive widget, and choose flat list option in the settings window:
Don't forget to press Save button :)

Step 3. Remove recent comments widget

Recent comments widget is made by creating a feed widget with http://<yoursiteurl>/feeds/comments/default url as feed source. It is nifty to have, however it supplies search engines with links to your blog comments, what we try to avoid (because comment content goes to search engines' index with your post page anyway). Either remove the widget or use the javascript recent comments widget. (The javascript one, however, might slow down loading time of your sidebar a bit).

After following instructions supplied here, Google Webmaster Tools will not bother you with the duplicate title tags/meta descriptions issue as there will be none (it takes time for Google to re-crawl all your site, so be patient, takes about 2-3 weeks). This will boost your search engine rankings a little bit since Google now thinks your site is "Google friendly" (and in fact it is).

In the next post I'll describe how to teach Blogger to highlight your own comments with different color/style, so make sure you subscribe to my rss feed.

Good luck and enjoy your Google Webmaster Tools experience :)

Talk to a professional seo agency specialist for your website seo needs.