The Truth About Duplicate Content and Its Impact on SEO
There’s no chance you haven’t run into it at least once or twice. It’s ubiquitous across the internet, even though it’s supposedly terrible – for you, especially your SEO.
We can also say that duplicate content has a lot of myths surrounding it, which are used to scare many inexperienced newcomers. The truth is that the more you know about duplicate content, the better you’ll know how to avoid it.
Yes, of course, there are instances when duplicate content is harmful or, more like, illegal. When your content gets plagiarised, you can consult your lawyer about how to deal with copyright violation. However, the copyright cases in Australia are few because there is no registration system for copyright under Australian law.
Experts from an SEO company in Sydney say that duplicate content and SEO don’t go well together. So, to help you discover the truth about duplicate content and how it impacts SEO, we decided to write this guide.
What is Duplicate Content?
Let’s start from the beginning and explain carefully what duplicate content entails. Duplicate content refers to content that is either wholly identical or very similar to the original one. When content appears more than once on multiple online sites such as websites and social media, that is called duplicate content.
There are three different reasons why this sort of content came to be. It was created on purpose and came to existence due to plagiarism or website mismanagement.
As the content creator, you purposefully create duplicate content when you use it more than once in several different places. You may also come across your content on competing sites; in that case, your content has been plagiarised.
When copies of your content appear more than once on your website – it can either be intentional or due to mismanagement. You can intentionally reuse the content as a site owner to extend its value. The other reason duplicate text appears on your website is thanks to boilerplate text.
It often happens that boilerplate text copy is placed on every page of your site, and the problem occurs when the content on each page is ultimately the same. This can cause problems with the site’s tags, URLs, etc. Unfortunately, this leads to search engines getting confused, resulting in wrong pages being returned in search results.
Posting the same content on purpose and plagiarism are examples of external duplicate content, while in the case of website mismanagement, it’s considered internal duplicate content.
How Can Duplicate Content Impact SEO?
Duplicate content isn’t as harmful as many consider it. However, it can hurt your SEO if you’re not careful. The most common harmful impact duplicate content has on SEO is the lack of organic traffic and ranking; you may even lose the SERP presence.
Google can’t rank pages that are copied from other sources, and your pages aren’t getting indexed. In extreme cases, when duplicate content is used to trick search engines or spam, it can get you penalised or de-indexed.
With that said, you should keep an eye on duplicate content. Try your best to avoid it or, at least, find suitable ways to fix it.
Myths and Facts about Duplicate Content
There are many myths surrounding duplicate content. That’s probably because many find it confusing. But not all duplicate content is bad, and most myths are untrue.
To help you better understand duplicate content, we decided to debunk some myths and talk about actual duplicate content facts. Let’s start with myths first.
Duplicate content can hurt your search ranking
The first and most common myth is search ranking and violating Google’s guidelines. Can duplicate content hurt your ranking?
The answer is no. Don’t worry because Google has explained that duplicate content if used with positive intent, won’t affect your search ranking.
You can use quality duplicate content with no keyword stuffing or other lousy SEO practices. And your ranking will be just fine.
However, as we mentioned, mismanaged internal duplicate content can confuse crawlers, and while it won’t necessarily affect your ranking, it may link a wrong page with a specific keyword.
Duplicate content can get you penalised
This myth is closely related to the one above. And like we mentioned, no, Google won’t penalise you for duplicate content unless you use it to deceive users and search engines.
If duplicate content purposefully deceives users and is used to manipulate search engines, of course, in that case, Google will respond and lower the ranking. For example, Google doesn’t even penalise plagiarised content.
Scrapers can hurt your website
Scrapers are tools used to extract content and data from a website. It sounds awful, but it can’t hurt your website. They can’t help it either, but there’s nothing to worry about regarding web scraping.
Scraper blogs are pretty irrelevant in the eyes of Google, so they can’t hurt your rankings, either.
Reposting your guest post to your own site is useless
If you’re writing guest posts for other sites, they don’t reach your audience. So, republish those guest posts to your website so your audience can read them. No harm, no foul, right?
Technically, yes. Reposting guest content to your site won’t hurt your rankings. However, when reposting, be wary of outbound links on guest posts. They can hurt your SEO.
The best would be to change the reposted content slightly so that it is distinguishable from the original one. You can do this by simply adding an HTML label to the post.
Google can find an original content creator
This is the main problem with plagiarism – Google and other search engines can’t tell who the original content creator is.
Anyone can steal your content and call it their own without any penalties. If something like this happens, you contact your lawyers for advice on copyright violations.
Now that we debunked all the duplicate content-related myths let’s talk about facts.
301 redirects can help you avoid duplicate content penalties
Fact number one has to do with a great way to avoid duplicate content penalties. How can you do this? Well, you can redirect old URLs to the new version.
And on which occasions can this be done? These redirects are helpful when you’ve moved to a new domain, then when you’ve merged sites and want to redirect outdated URLs, and finally when your home page has several URLs, and you want to go back to the original one.
Understanding CMS can also help you avoid duplicate content issues
CMS (content management system) often creates copies without you even knowing. To deal with this, you should try to understand CMS better. Once you get the hang of it, you won’t have problems spotting duplicate content.
Minimise boilerplate repetition
Google has some guidelines that can help you deal with boilerplate repetition. But, first, let’s discuss what boilerplate content is. We already mentioned this type of content and how it can confuse search engines.
For example, copyright notices, disclaimers, and other standardised statements are boilerplate content. When they appear in the text, Google considers them duplicates.
Check Google guidelines to see how to deal with and minimise boilerplate repetition appropriately.
Above, we made a clear distinction between internal and external duplicate content. Now, let’s dive deeper and see all the problems with duplicate content and how it impacts SEO.
Internal Duplicate Content Problems
One way to avoid internal duplicate content problems is by ensuring that each page on your website has a unique title and meta description in the HTML code and headings that are different from other pages on your site.
All three elements are considered a minimal amount of content on your web pages. However, paying attention to them is better, so there’s no space for duplicate content. Additionally, having these elements in order will allow search engines to see value in your meta descriptions.
In instances when you can’t come up with unique meta descriptions, don’t write them. In those cases, Google will take certain parts of your content and present them as meta descriptions.
Many sites, especially eCommerce sites, have problems with duplicate content thanks to URL parameters. This happens because some websites use URL parameters to create URL variations.
And even the smallest of URL variations can be the cause of duplicate content. These variations originate from analytics code, click tracking, print-friendly versions of pages, or session IDs.
Creating original descriptions is difficult for eCommerce companies, from meta to product descriptions. Because it takes much time to write an original description for each product on their website, duplicate content appears on many eCommerce sites.
If you’re selling your products through third-party retailer websites, ensure you provide the retailer website with a unique product description. If you’re having difficulty coming up with something original, scour the internet for some helpful tips.
WWW, HTTP, and The Trailing Slash
URLs with and without www, HTTP/HTTPS, and trailing slash at the end of URLs often pose a problem with internal duplicate content; still, everyone keeps forgetting about them.
If you want to see if you’re having trouble with your URLs, you can do this by choosing any text from your most valuable loading pages, then putting the quotes on both sides of the text search it on Google.
Once the search is done, you’ll be able to see if more than one page shows up in the results. If that’s the case, you’ll need to discover where the problem lies – in www, the lack thereof, HTTP/HTTPS or if it’s maybe the trailing slash that’s creating problems.
If you discover that your site has problems with conflicting www or trailing slashes, you’ll have to use the 301 redirects we mentioned above.
External Duplicate Content Problems
Duplicate content made by content writers
To avoid having duplicate content on your site, you must be careful with whom you work. There are all kinds of content writers – from hard-working ones to those with no qualms about plagiarising other people’s work.
When hiring a content writer or team, always ensure that they are reliable and reputable and that their work is top-notch.
On the other hand, if you make a mistake and hire a lousy writer, you risk penalties from Google and, in the worst-case scenario, a lawsuit.
The process of republishing content from one site to another is called content syndication. And it’s an essential marketing strategy many marketers use. You can see much-syndicated content on LinkedIn, SlideShare, or Quora.
This type of content is used so that you can reach wider audiences (that’s one of the reasons why it’s a marketing strategy). And yes, syndicated content is technically duplicate, but it’s not considered plagiarism or a problem for search engines.
Well, it’s not a problem if you include a backlink with your syndicated content. If you don’t, you’ll confuse search engines; they won’t know which version is original, which may lead to Google penalising you.
We touched upon scraped content above. Prevalent sites struggle with their content being scraped and published on other sites. Unlike syndicated content, scraped content can be illegal if it is stolen or used for spam.
The best way to deal with content scraping is by creating as many as possible internal links on your website, using Google alerts, or linking keywords with affiliate links and other similar solutions.
How to Best Deal With Duplicate Content?
Even though you won’t get penalised by Google or any other search engine for duplicate content, it still can hurt your rankings. Especially if Google thinks your duplicate content has malicious intent.
So, there are ways to help you avoid duplicate content and, in that way, not risk getting blacklisted by search engines. Here are some of the surefire ways to deal with duplicate content.
Canonicalization is the process of assigning a website a single URL. With a single URL, all other URL versions will be seen as duplicate versions. As duplicate versions, these URLs will be crawled less.
You must tell Google or other search engines which URL is canonical because if you don’t, Google will either make a choice for you or decide that both URLs are equal, which can lead to other unwanted issues.
Canonicalisation is vital for all website owners because it can help them promote unique content. The fewer URLs associated with your website, the higher your ranking in search engine result pages. Another benefit is that people can discover your website quickly if it has a single URL.
We also need to clarify that canonicalisation should be performed only once. You don’t need to perform it repeatedly if you’ve already canonised your data. Quite the contrary, if you perform canonicalisation, you can reduce your site’s visibility.
So, to sum up, if you implement canonicalisation, your content will remain distinct in search engines and boost your website’s visibility and SEO.
Check for lousy duplicate content
You can easily avoid harmful duplicate content with the help of many different tools. These tools will scan your website for both internal and external duplicate content.
Tools for scanning harmful duplicate content work automatically; if they spot unintentional duplicate content, don’t worry; there are ways to deal with it. You can fix duplicate content by implementing a canonical tag to the original content, using a no-index tag on every duplicate, or completely removing duplicate content – it’s up to you.
Use the “noindex” tag
As mentioned above, you can eliminate duplicate content by using the noindex tag. Google can sometimes rank a category or archive over your content. In those cases, you can use the noindex tag to block the indexing of those pages.
Use plagiarism checkers
Like bad duplicate content tools, plagiarism checkers scan your text, article, or content containing duplicate information. Plagiarism checker is a must-have for SEO experts, content writers, and pretty much everyone in content marketing agencies.
Combine similar pages
The internet is full of topics that contain similar information. If your website has such topics, they may be seen as duplicates. In these cases, to avoid having duplicate content, you should combine similar information into one post.
Try to avoid using generic page templates to avoid accidentally creating duplicate content. This may confuse your audience and search engine crawlers, as well. If you settle on generic templates, make sure you do much customisation.
Be consistent with internal links
Duplicate content can be dealt with by building an effective internal linking strategy. This implies that you need to be consistent with internal links. When building internal links to specific pages, ensure you use the same URL every time.
If you decide on using HTTP in one article, stick with it each time you build an internal link, don’t mix in HTTPS. A single URL for several internal links means linking to the canonical page.
A session ID can be best described as a unique number every user gets for the duration of their visit to a website. A Web site’s server assigns this number. The point of these sessions is to store users’ information for web analytics. However, they can create many duplicate contents. To avoid this, you should implement self-referencing canonical URLs on pages.
How much duplicate content is ok?
According to SEO experts, some 30% of the internet consists of duplicate content. Google and other search engines don’t have clearly defined what counts as duplicate content. Still, search engines don’t consider duplicate content spam, and you’re not at risk of being penalised.
Keep all your content at least 30% different from other copies to be safe. In the eyes of Google, duplicate content is everything that contains similar information. So, paraphrasing or replacing words with synonyms is not enough to confuse Google.
Be on top of both your internal and external duplicate content
Duplicate content shouldn’t be a problem if you take the time to manage internal duplicate content. As you’ve read above, dealing with internal duplicate content is possible. It would be best if you kept it to a minimum.
If you keep your internal duplicate content to a minimum, you’ll improve the user experience and help search engines index your pages exactly how you want.
External duplicate content can be positive if it’s intentional. But to be safe, monitor it regularly.
So, to sum everything up, duplicate content is neither good nor bad. It won’t directly hurt your SEO because there are no such things as penalties for duplicate content, except on infrequent occasions.
However, if you’re not careful and don’t take a proper approach to duplicate content, it can negatively affect your SEO. Your website will get less organic traffic because search engines won’t know which content is original and won’t rank them appropriately. Your website will also have fewer indexed pages because of all the duplicate content.
The best would be to keep a careful eye on duplicate content and avoid it as much as possible. The most frequently used fix for duplicate content is the canonical URL. So, learn as much as you can about the canonicalisation of URLs.