Duplicate Content and Its Impact on SEO

The Truth About Duplicate Content and Its Impact on SEO

It’s not unusual for content to appear in multiple places online, like on websites and social media. A well-crafted blog post, company story, or product description is sometimes so hard to create that when you come across one, it’s tempting to use it everywhere.

Here’s some good news: duplicate content is OK. But for it to not negatively impact your SEO, you have to take a proper approach to content duplication. Otherwise, it could result in less value for your site visitors.

This article will explain how duplicate content can impact a website. We’ll start with a practical definition of duplicate content, go over some common misconceptions about the topic, delve into internal and external content duplication, and close with some advice on managing duplicate content.

What Is Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content consists of two or more copies of the same content in multiple online places.

There are three main reasons duplicate content exists:

  • It was created on purpose
  • It’s the result of plagiarism
  • It’s a side effect of website mismanagement

When you intentionally reuse text in multiple places on your site and social media, you’re creating duplicate content. In the case of plagiarism, a site owner often finds that a competing website has published copied content. 

Those are examples of external duplicate content. It’s when a website publishes an exact copy of the content from another website.

Internal content duplication involves content copies that appear on your website. In some cases, it may be intentional – a site owner can reuse a carefully written value proposition in multiple places on the site.

In other cases, internal content duplication happens due to using boilerplate text. Take an online store, for example. A template or an automated process will likely place the boilerplate copy on every page to seed a hundred product pages with text.

The problem comes when that content is not sufficiently edited on each page, resulting in many pages that contain precisely the exact text aside from a unique product blurb.

This sort of redundancy can extend to a site’s metadata tags and URLs, which can confuse search engines and cause the wrong pages to be returned in search results.

Image credit: Keystonecopy
Image credit: Keystonecopy

Myths About Duplicated Content

Duplicate content has long been a confusing topic for website owners. That’s mainly because duplicate content can take many forms, and only some are intentional.

In this section, we’ll attempt to dispel the common myth that duplicate content has a direct, negative impact on SEO. We’ll also point out some aspects of content duplication that have a genuine downside.

Is Duplicate Content Bad For Your Search Ranking?

Many site owners worry that duplicate content violates Google’s guidelines and that their website will be penalized if their content is duplicated.

In reality, there’s nothing to fear. For example, Google openly states that it won’t negatively impact your search ranking.

You can use duplicate content with positive intent, such as in eCommerce product listings, canned postings for discussion forums, or a printer-friendly version of a web page. Content duplication of that kind and structural problems and overuse of boilerplate text doesn’t effectively impact SEO.

In extreme cases, Google will respond if they discover duplicate content that manipulates rankings and deceives users. The search engine will then lower the ranking of the sites involved.

Regarding external content duplication, Google cares about which site published the content first. The search engine crawls most sites daily, so if a version of your content appears elsewhere after it was published initially, your SEO will remain intact. Google will rank the site with the canonical version higher in search results than a site with a copy of the content.
Internal content duplication also has no penalty, but it can significantly hamper your ability to control which of your pages appears in search results, as we’ll see in the next section.

What Impact Does Duplicate Content Have on Search Rankings?
Image credit: E-Trend Talk

What Impact Does Duplicate Content Have on Search Rankings?

There’s no real SEO penalty for malicious content duplication, like plagiarism. However, in many cases, a site that unethically publishes your content will violate more significant search engine guidelines that aren’t related to content duplication.

One way to look at it is that duplicate content, while flawed, doesn’t even make the list of reasons why Google penalizes value-less websites. Imagine a popup Amazon affiliate site that shamelessly duplicated content from your site and several others in your niche. What pushes a website like that to the bottom of search rankings is that it has zero authority, offering no value to users.

Oddly, internal duplicate content can significantly impact how your site appears in search results. It won’t affect its ranking, but it can make search engines link to the wrong page for a given keyword search.

Crawlers from popular search engines like Google can get confused if they find the exact text copy on many pages. Repetitive metadata tags, boilerplate text on every page, and a redundant URL structure spanning many categories can lead to Google picking the wrong page to return in search results.

When it comes down to it, sending visitors to the wrong page of your site is probably the biggest downside to having mismanaged duplicate content.

What Harm Can Duplicate Content Cause?

External duplicate content, if created intentionally, can’t cause any harm. Still, you must identify which version of your content is the original, as that will be the version that gets indexed.

Internal content duplication can cause Google to link to the wrong page on your site. 

The search engine uses complex algorithms to determine which pages to index and which will be returned for a given keyword. If a site contains many pages with the same metadata and boilerplate text, or if there’s a complex, repetitive website structure, a web page may falsely end up in search results.

When Google encounters pages with duplicate content, it will pick one to index, but it might not be the one you want.

Image credit: indiamart

Internal and External Duplicate Content Issues

Let’s dig deeper into some problems you may encounter with content duplication.

Internal Content Duplication

Some content duplication can result from website management factors like multiple versions of a site, the site’s web page organization, and unnecessary duplication due to boilerplate text.

Regardless of why it exists, it would be best if you tried to eliminate internally duplicated content wherever you can.

Your shipping policy or warranty statement appears on every product page. You should replace these pieces of text with links to appropriate detail pages. There are simple solutions like that for most internal content duplication issues.

There’s another kind of internal content duplication that has nothing to do with the challenges of managing numerous pages. The repetition comes from repurposing your messages in too many places on your site.

Repetitive content is not pleasant for the user. It adds no value. Even though you won’t be penalized by search engines for having it on your site, it will detract from the user’s experience. That’s reason enough to avoid reusing your content in the wrong way.

External Content Duplication

When multiple versions of your content appear around the web, it’s because you wanted it that way or because someone stole your content. In the case of the former, there are some guidelines you should keep in mind. You may have to take legal action to correct the problem if the latter occurs.

Let’s look closer at these two scenarios.

Intentional Content Duplication

Intentional Content Duplication

Your website is the centre of your content, but that content has to go out into the world. Guest blog posts, Medium, and your social media accounts – are all high-visibility channels for your content, so taking advantage of every social channel is clever marketing.

The opportunity to convey your value proposition to a broad group of people is precious, deserving of your most finely tuned messaging, even if that text already exists on your site.

If you can make each form of outreach somewhat unique, your reused messages will not seem redundant. After following a link to your site, the user will find a reassuring uniformity in your communication. 

Plagiarism and How to Respond

Finding out that your content has been stolen is no fun. You’re happily doing keyword research using the Google search console, and you come across an unfamiliar link to your latest blog post. You click in, and sure enough – it’s a word-for-word copy with no credits to the original author.

You can react to plagiarism in two ways: pursue legal action or let it go.

The severity of the infraction should dictate which you choose.

For example, you will want to take legal action if your entire website is copied. Likewise, if a close competitor has published barely edited versions of your content, you’ll want to stop that from happening in the future.

However, if a new website with a low SEO ranking has grabbed a portion of your content, you may choose to ignore it. That site will rank lower than yours, probably for multiple reasons, but the main one is that yours is the canonical version of the content.

Duplicate Content Best Practices
Image credit: Ryte Wiki

Duplicate Content Best Practices

You can manage duplicate content issues in several ways, like:

  • Not indexing certain pages
  • Using 301 redirects
  • Applying canonical URL tags

In many cases, however, removing duplicate content is a better and easier solution. For example, when using a 301 redirect, the page will become invisible to search engines, in which case, you should ask yourself if the page needs to be online.

The canonical tag is a better way to hold onto valuable duplicate content, but it won’t allow it to interfere with the accuracy of search results. When you identify the original version of the content, a search engine will always know which one to index.

The best way to keep search engines from getting confused over duplicated content is to eliminate it by writing the unique text for every web page. You may be tempted to create versions of content with only slight modifications, but that won’t be enough. Google will view re-arranged content as duplicate content. 

Best practices for external content duplication are straightforward – if you’re not intentionally spreading duplicate content around the internet, you should be great.

Using multiple marketing platforms is a proven way to build awareness, and there’s no reason to create customized content for every channel. Yet, this approach has some pitfalls.

For example, having one of your blog posts published on another website will likely drive traffic to your site, but there’s also a chance that the guest-post version of the content will begin to rank higher than the version on your site. That’s an unintended consequence of external content duplication, but it can be resolved using the canonical tag to identify the original version. 

When it comes to duplicating content on social media, don’t think about it! You can post your best content on all social media outlets, reach out to more people on more channels, and all that won’t harm your SEO.

Search engines index social media content differently from web content, so even if there were a downside to benign duplicate content, using an exact copy of the content on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook would not be viewed as a negative for your website.

Manage Your Internal Duplicate Content and Monitor Your External Duplicate Content

Duplicate content can be a confusing issue. In a nutshell, we can sum it up like this:

Internal duplicate content should be contained and minimized, although external duplicate content is good, provided it’s intentional.

But most importantly, neither will impact your SEO negatively.

Outside your website, taking advantage of legitimate content duplication is a practical way to spread your information to a broader audience.

Keeping internal duplicate content to a minimum will help search engines index your site the way you want and improve the users’ experience.

While Google penalizes content duplication used to exploit search engine results, there’s no form of content duplication that conflicts with search engine guidelines.

The real reason you should avoid unnecessary content duplication and take advantage of legitimate external duplication is for the sake of your users. Getting unique content in front of more people is the ultimate goal, and maintaining the right approach to duplicate content is the way to help you grow your website.

María is an enthusiast of cinema, literature and digital communication. As Content Coordinator at HostPapa, she focuses on the publication of content for the blog and social networks, organizing the translations, as well as writing and editing articles for the KB.

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