How Duplicate Content Hurts Your Website

The presence of original content on your website is an important way to set yourself apart from competitors.

If you make it a point to routinely post content that is interesting, timely, and optimized for keywords, you’re already making strides toward positive trends in SEO. On the other side of this coin, however, is duplicate content. Unlike original content, duplicate content actively hurts your site’s performance due to the algorithmic preferences of search engines.

When we talk about duplicate content, it’s important to note that it’s mostly an internal issue, as opposed to plagiarizing external content. Both are bad practices, but the majority of duplicate content is created with no underhanded purpose in mind. In other words, while there’s no moral dispute about whether or not you can copy and paste your own content across several pages, it won’t help your site in the long run. Sufficiently differentiating similar pieces of content may be a hassle, but when you consider the negative effects of duplicate content, it’s worth it in the long run.

Play By Google’s Rules

Before we go any further, one distinction should be made:

Although duplicate content will negatively impact your site’s performance, it is not technically a penalty. In the official words of a Google statement, duplicate content is “not grounds for action… unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.” If Google detects such content when crawling your site, it will algorithmically decide what to display on search result pages. This can lead to your pages not getting the visibility that you desire.

In some extreme cases, manual review from Google can occur. If they determine that content duplication happened under deceptive pretenses (rather than just low effort), your site can be subject to removal from search engine results. This is more or less the worst-case scenario for duplicate content, because in order to get re-indexed, you must address all offending content and then reach out to Google in a reconsideration request.

In official statements, Google tends not to use the phrase “duplicate content,” instead using “copied content” to refer to any on-site content that has been duplicated with little to no effort and adds no editorial insight or value to the reader. Pages rank low if they display any such content. Additionally, low-effort content that has been copied with just a few words varying is also detected. Google refers to this as content that has been “copied with minimal alteration.”

How Much of a Problem is Duplicate Content?

With the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of duplicate content isn’t created with the specific intent to plagiarize, it’s safe to say that there’s more of it out there than you might expect.

In fact, according to an on-page SEO study conducted over two years, 29 percent of the 800,000+ pages crawled contained duplicate content.

Simply put, it’s staggering to extend those numbers to the scale of all businesses with digital presence and think about how many of them are unwittingly seeing their search engine prowess hobbled by bad content practices.

Some duplicate content issues are easier than others to fix. See if your site is victim to any of the common offenders:

Multiple Site Versions:

Take a look in Google Search Console and see if your site has an HTTP and an HTTPS version. Are both sites up and currently indexing? If so, they’re essentially fighting each other with duplicate content.

Content “Scraping”:

This is the process of low-effort copy/pasting with minimal content changes. It’s common for blogs, but also for e-commerce sites that struggle to write product information blurbs that are sufficiently unique.

Bad/Nonexistent Redirection:

One of the best fixes for duplicate content is redirecting an underperforming page to a better one. If you have no redirects in place, or if you’re somehow redirecting traffic from “good” pages to “bad” ones, some fixes are in order.

Just to recap, the subject of duplicate content is less about unscrupulous plagiarists, and more about the low-effort repackaging of content that already exists on your site.

Google will not manually penalize you for it, but their algorithms will essentially pit duplicate pages against each other, cannibalizing your opportunities for traffic. Take a close look at your site and double-check for ways you can consolidate or repurpose content… you may be surprised at what it does for the overall health of your business.

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