Duplicate content, and how it affects SEO, causes a lot of confusion for marketers.
Many marketers simply cannot get their heads around it, and that’s understandable – there’s a lot of misinformation out there. The general consensus is that duplicate content is bad – but exactly how bad is debatable.
In this guide, we hope to clear up some of the main concerns surrounding duplicate content including what it is, why it matters and what you can do about it.
What Exactly Is Duplicate Content?
Duplicate content refers to having the same, or very similar, content on:
– different websites
– different web pages on the same domain
This could happen when you write two very similar pages for two related services you offer and use mainly the same text on each page but just change a few words.
One of the most common occurrences of duplicate content concerns product descriptions for e-commerce stores. Often, the manufacturer or supplier will provide the original content and businesses will simply copy and paste the content.
Press releases are another common form of duplicate content because the same press release may be published on hundreds of websites. This is often the way they work, and there is nothing wrong with that – but as we’ll see, it does have an impact on how Google and other search engines display that content in search results.
Why Duplicate Content Matters for SEO
Duplicate content matters because when content is the same on two pages, Google will normally avoid displaying both pages in the search results.
So if you have two service pages with the same content, Google will decide which of these is most relevant and show that page.
The reason for this is simple: Google only wants to show relevant results to its users. If hundreds of pages show up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) with the same content on every page, that’s hardly helpful.
Duplicate content is therefore hugely important when discussing SEO. In short, if you want your pages to show up in search, they have to contain unique content.
If you are using content that has already been published on another page, the original page will show up in search – and your page will become invisible.
What About the Duplicate Content Penalty?
This is one of the great myths surrounding duplicate content is that there is some kind of penalty for it.
The truth is that there is no ‘penalty’ in the sense that the visibility of your entire website will be affected in search if you have duplicate content.
When people talk about a penalty, they are often referring to the fact that any page that contains duplicate content will not be displayed in search, so this is a form of penalty.
But there is no punishment, and Google will not penalise other pages on your site.
The only penalty as such would be where a website re-publishes content on a large scale in order to manipulate its rankings. If Google deems your tactics to be illicit, it could remove your site from the SERPs.
Checking for Duplicate Content
Many site owners do not even realise that they have duplicate content on their websites. Do you? You can find out by using specialist tools.
The most basic technique you can use is to copy some text from a page you suspect of having duplicate content and paste it into Google search in between quote marks (e.g. “your copy here ”). If any other pages show up, you know that the page has duplicate content.
You can also use a tool like Copyscape to do the same thing. Simply copy in a whole page of content and instantly check whether parts of the copy exist on other pages.
However, this only works when you check individual pages. What about when you want to check your whole site?
In this case, Moz has a paid crawler tool you can use. Using this tool, you can easily find any instances of duplicate content on your site.
What to Do When You Find Duplicate Content
If you discover duplicate content, you’ll usually want to sort it out. However, the action you take depends on the circumstances.
For example, let’s start with duplicate product descriptions. If these have been copied from the supplier, they will be duplicate content, and they won’t show up in search results – potentially affecting how many potential customers visit your store. Sorting them out is easy, but it might take a while.
All you need to do is rewrite each description so it is unique. However, it’s a good idea to go one step further and avoid just rewording them. Instead, take this opportunity to make them compelling so they appeal to the buyer. Manufacturer descriptions often just contain features, so add some benefits and boost conversions.
If you find two pages on your site that are the same, you might want to rewrite one page to make it unique. Alternatively, you could use a canonical URL on the pages, and this will refer back to the main page (here’s a useful guide to avoiding issues when doing this). By using a canonical URL, you are showing Google which page should be displayed in search, then Google can display the page you want to show up rather than deciding itself.
Sometimes you will not want to do anything at all. For example, if you have re-published an article or a press release that provides value to your users, you can keep this as it is. You’ll have to accept that it won’t show up in search, but you don’t have to worry about being penalised for it.
You could always add your own intro or summary to give your own take on it, and this will add even more value as well as some unique content. As long as you don’t ONLY re-publish content, and the bulk of your content is uniquely yours, you’ll be fine.
Content Syndication Is Not All Bad
Remember that content syndication is often an effective marketing strategy. For example, you could post a blog on your website and then republish the same post to LinkedIn Pulse a few weeks later and again on Medium after that. Creating content is time-consuming, and this is a way to get your content in front of more readers without having to create new content.
As long as your original blog has been indexed by Google, it should be the one that is given priority in the SERPs because Google knows which one is the original. You can also link back to the original in your syndicated content.
Again, it’s not a great idea to syndicate all of your content, but certainly consider syndicating a few pieces from time to time.
Don’t Let Duplicate Content Get You Down
Duplicate content is not always a bad thing – you just need to be aware of what it is and take action when necessary. The basic rule is that while you might have some duplicate content on your site without it being a problem, make sure you also have lots of unique content so you have plenty of content to rank for in the search engines.
If you are concerned about issues with duplicate content on your website then do get in contact for a no obligation chat with one of our consultants.