Duplicate Content: What It is, How It Affects Your SEO & How to Fix it

Cracking how to break through on search engines is still somewhat of a mystery. However, depending on how we structure our content, we can greatly improve or decrease our chances of having a successful ranking. On that note – we need to be aware of duplicate content.

The words “duplicate content penalty” strike fear in the hearts of many. Why you might ask? Because search engines like Google have a problem with duplicate content.Looking to learn what duplicate content is, and how it might be hurting your rankings? 

Let’s dive into duplicate content, why it’s bad for your website’s SEO, and how you can handle it. Or, even better, avoid it in the first place.

What Is Duplicate Content?

Taken narrowly, duplicate content refers to very similar or the exact same content on multiple pages within your own website or other websites. Taken broadly, duplicate content is content that adds little to no value for your visitors. It generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.

In other words, two or more instances of the same content in multiple places on the internet are what you need to stay away from to avoid duplicate content and low rankings.

What Constitutes Duplicate Content?

There are two types of duplicate content:

  • Internal duplicate content involves copies of the content that appear on your website. It’s when one domain creates duplicate content through multiple internal URLs (on the same website).
  • External duplicate content, also known as cross-domain duplicates, occurs when two or more different domains have the same page copy indexed. In other words, those are copies of the content that appear outside the website where the original version is published.

What exactly is considered duplicate content? Both external and internal duplicate content can occur as exact or near-duplicates because duplicate content also applies to content that’s similar to other content – even if it’s slightly rewritten. So, near-duplicate content is usually a piece of content that has been placed on another page with slight changes or with a different boilerplate.

What Causes Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content can arise for a variety of reasons. For example, due to poor site architecture – when a site accidentally creates multiple copies of certain pages, resulting in identical content. If a spam site scrapes content from another website, that can also result in several versions of a page. There may also be times when site owners want to purposefully create matching content, so you need to be careful in these instances.

Why Does Duplicate Content Matter?

Simply put – search engines don’t want to rank pages with duplicate content. Think about it from the perspective of Google and its users. If you get 3 or 4 different pages all hosting the same article when browsing, that’s pretty frustrating, right? 

The main objective of search engines is to provide users with high-quality search results. So, if they return multiple results with the same content, they are providing a less-than-optimal experience. And so are you. Search engines have issues with duplicate content for 3 main reasons:

  •       It can be hard figuring out which page is the original
  •       They don’t want to show content more than once in the search results.
  •       They will have trouble consolidating link metrics – duplicate content can confuse them when trying to follow links or crawl and index URLs.

How Does Duplicate Content Affect Your SEO?

While not technically a penalty, duplicate content can still impact and hurt your search engine rankings. 

Low Ranking

Google filters identical content, which has the same impact as a penalty – a loss of rankings for your web pages. At the very least, search engines won’t know which page to suggest to users. As a result, all the pages search engines see as duplicates are at risk of being ranked lower.

Less Traffic

Duplicate content isn’t just a problem for search engines, though. If your users are searching for a particular page, it can be really frustrating if they can’t find what they’re looking for. When there are multiple pieces of “appreciably similar” content in more than one location, it can be difficult for search engines to decide which version is more relevant to a given search query. This can hurt the ranking of your webpage by leading to less organic traffic and fewer index pages.

Diluted Link Building

Duplicate content also dilutes the benefits of link building. Having the same content available on multiple URLs disperses potential link juice, instead of concentrating it in one place. The result? Your content doesn’t achieve the search visibility it otherwise would.

So, if you want your content to rank, it’s really important to ensure that each page is offering a decent amount of unique content and take care of your duplicate content issues.

How to Find & Fix Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content is a source of constant anxiety for many site owners. Read about it, and you’ll come away believing that your site is a ticking time bomb of duplicate content issues and a Google penalty merely days away. Thankfully, this isn’t true, but duplicate content can still cause SEO issues, so it’s useful to know how to avoid and fix them.

Regardless of whether duplicate content is accidental or the result of someone stealing chunks of text from your web pages, it must be addressed and handled correctly. Here’s how:

Avoid it

Your best defense against duplicate content? Knowing how to avoid creating it in the first place. 

Audit

It’s a good idea to regularly run website audits to check for any internal duplicate content on your website. If you find multiple pages, you can delete the extras or use the canonical tag, depending upon your needs.

Use 301s

In many cases, the best way to fix duplicate content is by implementing 301 redirects from the non-preferred versions of URLs (the duplicate) to the preferred versions (original content page), to smartly redirect users, Googlebot, and other spiders. 

When multiple pages with the potential to rank well are combined into a single one, they not only stop competing with one another but also create a stronger relevancy and popularity signal overall. This will positively impact the “correct” page’s ability to rank well.

Use Canonical URL tags

If you are purposely syndicating content or would like to have more than one version of particular content on your site – using a rel= ”canonical” tag lets Google know which page was the original and which one was purposefully duplicated. 

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

Syndicate carefully

If you syndicate your content on other websites, search engines will always show the version they think is most appropriate, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer. However, it’s helpful to make sure the syndicating website adds a link back to the original content and not a variation on the URL.

You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to use the no-index tag to prevent search engines from indexing their version of the content, although that way it won’t appear in the SERPs.

Create Unique Content

The best way to keep search engines from getting confused over duplicated content is simply to eliminate it by writing unique content. You may be tempted to create spun versions of content where only slight modifications are made, but that won’t always cut it. Is it a pain to write 100% unique content for every page on your site? Yup. But, if you’re serious about ranking every page on your site, it’s your best bet.

It’s You vs. Duplicate Content: Put your skills to work

Fixing duplicate content should be an essential part of your technical SEO. Getting unique content in front of more people is the ultimate goal and taking the right approach to duplicate content can help you achieve it.

Taking the steps to understand and avoid duplicate content can help you maximize your content exposure while maintaining a strong reputation with Google and your visitors.

It’s a win in our books!

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