How Duplicate Content Can Negatively Affect Your SEO Efforts

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There are plenty of grey areas in the world of SEO. 

But ask anyone who helps websites rank in the Google search results for a living whether you should fill your site with duplicate content and you’ll get a clear answer: ‘no’.

In spite of this, duplicate content is rife online, with Google estimating that 25%-30% of pages on the internet include duplicate content. 

And that’s because it covers much more than just content that’s been copied and pasted from another site. 

This short guide will tell you everything you need to know in order to avoid your SEO efforts being hamstrung by duplicate content issues. 

What is duplicate content?

According to Google’s official guidelines:

“Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin.”

That means that if the content of a page on your site is identical – or almost identical – to another page the internet (which includes your own site), Google will consider it duplicate content. 

For example, here’s a sample of the content from the page on the official LG site for its 75SM9900PLA TV

And here’s a section of the page for the same product on a reseller’s site: 

E-commerce stores reusing the manufacturer’s content on their own sites is one of the most common forms of duplicate content. 

And technically, Google won’t penalise them for this. 

Why is duplicate content bad for SEO?

If your site won’t get hit by a Google penalty for using duplicate content, then why is it a problem?

While it’s true that your site won’t be actively punished by Google for reusing content from somewhere else, it will be at a massive disadvantage when it comes to ranking in Google’s search results. 

How Google handles duplicate content  

As Google explains in a Google Webmasters video, when it finds instances of duplicate content, it groups it all those pages together and treats that as if it’s one piece of content. 

So instead of returning two identical pages as results for a search, it shows one page and crowds the other out of the search results. 

For example, if you mistakenly have two identical versions of your privacy policy on your website, Google will only display one in its search results. 

Or if a site duplicated an established piece of content – such as Lawsuit Legal’s guide to how civil lawsuit compensation works – it simply wouldn’t appear in the Google search results for the queries that page ranks for:

Is all duplicate content theft?

Stealing content from another site is plagiarism – and if someone copies a piece of your content, you can request to have it removed by filing a request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

And while there are unfortunately bad actors out there who will steal content and publish it as if it’s their own, the cause of most duplicate content is much more innocent. 

For example, the site I highlighted earlier that’s reusing the content from the LG site isn’t doing anything wrong. It’s in both that site and LG’s best interest that as many of those products are sold as possible – and LG obviously feels that the copy from its product page best represents that product. 

However, reusing content from another site – or another page on your own site – is definitely the wrong move if you want to rank in Google. 

How to avoid duplicate content

So if duplicate content is bad for SEO, how do you avoid it?

Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take:

Always create unique content

It’s essential for SEO success that the content across your site is unique and high-quality. 

Of course, unique doesn’t mean that there’s no other page on the internet about the same topic. And high-quality doesn’t mean Pulitzer Prize-worthy. 

But it does mean sitting down and writing something completely from scratch on a topic you’ve got something useful to add to.

The way to ensure you manage this on a regular basis (and avoid one of the most common mistakes beginner’s make in content marketing) is making sure you have a plan in place for what you’re going to write about throughout the year. 

The most successful pieces of content marketing are around topics that plenty of people search for that you can add a unique perspective on – and then optimize it for search.

A simple and reliable way to find those topics is to follow growth marketer Nadya Khoja’s four-step content framework.

For the biggest return on investment on your content marketing efforts, be sure to aim for topics that are going to receive search traffic for years to come by following SocialPilot’s advice on creating evergreen content

Link to the original source

Of course, the quality of your content will often be improved by quoting another page from around the web.

For example, this page technically contains duplicate content – Google’s definition of the term that I quoted above was copied from its website.

If you’ve only quoted a few sentences – or even a few paragraphs – Google isn’t going to consider the whole page duplicate content. 

And you can mitigate any risks by linking back to the original source alongside the quote, just as I did above.

Look out for duplicate URLs

Did you know multiple versions of your site might exist? 

In fact, there might be four different versions:

  1. http://example.com (unsecure without www)
  2. http://www.example.com (unsecure with www)
  3. https://example.com (secure without www)
  4. https://www.example.com (secure with www)

And if this is the case, you’ve got a serious duplicate content problem on your hands. 

Luckily, once you catch the issue it’s a simple fix. 

First, use Seobility’s redirect checker to see if this is something you need to worry about:

If this free tool catches any duplicate issues, you can fix them by following Google’s official guidance on consolidating duplicate URLs.

A quick tip on using 301s to fix this issue: it’s the most surefire way of making sure Google understands which is the page you’d like it to consider the best version, but be careful not to create any redirect chains in the process. 

Check your site before you create new content

A key part of any content audit is creating a comprehensive inventory of your existing content. This will help ensure each new piece of content you create is on a topic you haven’t covered before.

But even with this in place, it’s a good idea to double-check that you’re not about to cause a duplicate content issue by conducting a ‘site:’ search. 

This will only serve pages with your site’s root domain as results.

This is a particularly big problem for sites with hundreds of existing pieces of content, such as FreshBooks.

For example, a search for pages on the FreshBooks site with ‘cash flow’ in their title brings up 31 results, including a comprehensive article on ‘what is cash flow?’:

If you get a result like this from a similar search, this is a clear topic to avoid creating any more content around in order to avoid any potential duplicate content issues – not to mention waste budget covering topics you’ve already written about.

And if a search like this reveals an existing duplicate content issue, be sure to follow the Google guidance on overcoming it. 

Summary

Duplicate content comes in many forms – everything from multiple URLs of the same page caused by a historic HTTPS migration to plagiarism. 

Stick to the tips laid out here to make sure your SEO efforts aren’t negatively affected by duplicate content, which can seriously stymie your chances of succeeding in the search results. 


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