WordPress, Movable Type Hit by New Duplicate Content Bugs

If you write a blog — especially if you write one as part of your business — you’ll want to know about a new duplicate content vulnerability in WordPress and Movable Type. No, this isn’t the same old vulnerability that first hit the news last year — this is a new one, and this time it’s a bug.

(Editor’s Note: We’ve now closed the site which first reported the bug described below, so the links to the original have been removed.)

Reported over at a site we’ve now closed is a new duplicate content vulnerability that is affecting both WordPress and Movable Type blogs. What is duplicate content, and why should you worry about it?

Duplicate content is just the same piece of web content (e.g., an article) available at two different URLs. Usually, duplicating content and republishing it is the business of spammers, and for that reason, search engines take a pretty dim view of it. Even if you have some great original material, duplicating it at multiple URLs is a great way to harm your standing with search engines like Google.

Unfortunately, content doesn’t always get duplicated because someone is deliberately republishing something; sometimes it gets duplicated due to a technical error or a design flaw. Last year, for example, a whole bunch of people discovered that their WordPress blogs were returning the same post via their home page, their date-based archives, their category archives, and an additional main URL for that post. That wasn’t their fault: it was due to features available within WordPress that carried some implications which many theme designers and quite a few blog authors didn’t fully understand. Many bloggers may have suffered due to a lower profile in search engines than they really deserved, just because their blog software was doing something without their realising it.

But this new duplicate content vulnerability turns out to be an actual bug — and it affects not just WordPress, but Movable Type as well. The problem? Both blogging platforms return the same post content if you append a sequence of extra digits (in the case of WordPress) or alphanumeric characters (in the case of Movable Type) to the end of a post’s URL. Suddenly, a post which was available at just one URL (or at most, a handful of URLs) is available at potentially infinitely many unique URLs.

And that’s bad news, as far as search engines are concerned, because every one of those unique URLs looks like yet another copy of the same old post. Even if it might have been a great post, it wasn’t that great!

The publishers of both Movable Type and WordPress have been informed, but there’s no word yet on whether an official fix is forthcoming. In the meantime, you can protect your blog with an interim fix that is somewhat technical and involves editing a special file on your server. The report on the vulnerability comes with a second part that tells how to perform the duplicate content fix.

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