There’s a lot that goes into crafting and maintaining a comprehensive ongoing SEO strategy, but some factors are better understood than others.
For instance, everyone knows how important keyword research is. And even newbies have a basic understanding of why they need a solid backlink catalog or a blog full of great content.
However, duplicate content is another matter altogether. While people know duplicate content isn’t great, not everyone’s clear on why it’s an SEO issue or what to do about it when they find it.
Here we’ll go over everything you need to know to figure things out and get ahead of the curve.
Download this post by entering your email below
What is Duplicate Content?
Duplicate content is more or less exactly what it sounds like — identical or extremely similar content that exists in more than one place on the internet.
Duplicate content can be a piece of content that’s been posted to more than one website or online platform, as with a blog post an author posted around to reach a larger audience.
However, individual websites can also have internal issues with duplicate content, as with identical chunks of page copy appearing across several similar (but ultimately separate) service pages. In any instance, duplicate content can be either intentional or unintentional.
Why is Duplicate Content Bad for SEO?
Even though Google does expressly advise against creating duplicate content, it also tells users that it won’t exactly destroy their hard-earned search engine rankings, either.
Generally speaking, Google’s algorithm does a decent job of figuring out which page out of several containing the same or similar content should actually rank.
But this system isn’t perfect. Too much duplicate content within a website (or on the web, in general) can confuse search engines, and the wrong page does occasionally rank over the right one.
This can lead to SERP results that aren’t as accurate as they should be, which can frustrate users, hurt your traffic, and raise bounce rates.
Also, crawl bots only spend a certain amount of time on each website they visit. Too much duplicate content within a given site can waste the bots’ time and potentially keep your best content from being indexed.
Internal Duplicate Content Issues
Internal duplicate content issues occur within one specific website, as with an eCommerce shop or an extensive informational website. Sometimes they may occur due to purposeful content reuse, but they are often accidental.
Here are some common examples to be aware of.
Crafting hundreds, if not thousands, of unique descriptions for products that are often very similar to one another can be seriously challenging.
It’s also time-consuming, so the temptation to reuse individual snippets from page to page (or fall back entirely on manufacturer’s descriptions) is pretty great.
However, originality is crucial if you’re serious about ranking for direct searches on any of the products you stock, especially if many other sites are selling the same items.
And, of course, pay attention to best practices on how to write efficient product descriptions.
Although most website owners know not to have the same written content on multiple pages, more than a few wind up overlooking additional on-page elements and metadata.
Every page on your website should have its own unique page title and meta information.
You’ll also want to take care not to reuse any of your headings from page to page. Ultimately, elements like these don’t constitute much of the actual content on a page, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Another very common culprit when it comes to internal problems with duplicate content is the potential for variations on a specific URL.
Some examples of how issues like this may look on your site include:
- Variations with and without a trailing slash on the end
- Variations that start with http and https
- Variations that start with and without www
There are no known SEO benefits to choosing any one of these options over the other, so which way you go is entirely up to you. But you do want to remain consistent to avoid SEO issues.
If your website uses URL parameters to generate page variations for products of different colors or sizes (to name just two possibilities), this can also lead to problems with proper indexing.
External Duplicate Content Issues
Of course, not all duplicate content problems are internal. Any website or content producer with much original content of value to their name will likely eventually see some of it republished, either with or without permission.
Here are some examples of external duplicate content situations to know.
With Permission: Syndicated Posts
Occasionally, every content producer will come across opportunities to syndicate (or republish) their content with another publication or website.
You may do this on your own, as with electing to repost a popular post (or a portion of it) to a secondary blog on a platform like Medium or Quora.
Alternatively, you might receive requests from third-party publications asking to syndicate your content.
Although this may seem like a bad idea if you’re trying to avoid duplicate content, syndication can actually help you. Not only does it make you and your brand more visible, but backlinks to your site can send extra traffic your way, too.
Without Permission: Scraped Content
Unfortunately, most content creators and brands will eventually become acquainted with content scrapers.
Scraped content occurs when another website owner or content creator decides to steal your content and repost it on their own without permission.
Although this is naturally an attempt on the thief’s part to give their own site a visibility boost, it often backfires.
To begin with, scraped content is usually very easy to spot. There are also serious penalties for deliberately trying to manipulate Google’s algorithm and search rankings in this way.
If you do find you’ve become the victim of content scraping, you should report the offending site to Google as soon as possible.
How to Check for Duplicate Content
Again, although duplicate content isn’t necessarily going to be the factor that makes or breaks your SEO campaign, it is something you want to stay on top of to avoid any potential issues.
This is the case for both internal and external issues with duplicates. Here are some key tips to keep in mind for dealing with both.
1. Add a duplicate content check to your SEO audit
If you’re not yet regularly auditing your website for potential SEO issues, it’s officially time to start. And if you are already doing it, make sure you add a duplicate content check to your ongoing routine.
Although there are several ways to check your site for duplicate or near-duplicate content, there are tools out there that take a lot of the guesswork and tedium out of the process.
For example, Copyscape’s Siteliner tool does this very quickly and displays your results in a way that makes it easy to spot problems at a glance.
2. Try running an exact match search on Google
You’ll also want to perform regular checks for unauthorized copies of your content elsewhere on the web.
One way to do this is by using Google to perform what’s known as an exact match search.
Navigate to a page you’d particularly like to check. Copy a few sentences and paste them directly into Google within a set of quotation marks.
This directs Google to return only results that contain that exact text. So if anything happens to come up, then you’ve officially got a content scraper or plagiarist on your hands.
3. Run your content through Copyscape
Copyscape is another must-know tool to have in your back pocket if you’re serious about staying on top of duplicate content issues.
As with Google exact match searches, using Copyscape to scan a chunk of text from one of your pages will immediately reveal any copies out there on the web.
The best course of action if you do know for sure that someone has maliciously scraped or otherwise plagiarized your content is to make Google aware of the issue by filing a complaint.
However, you can also contact the site owner directly first if you’re not sure, as they may not realize they’ve published stolen content.
If the site is high in quality or authority, you can consider allowing the site owner to leave the content up if they add a backlink to your site, as well.
And, of course, use tools like Copyscape regularly to ensure any scrapers are dealt with promptly. The sooner you can take care of a potential problem, the less of an impact it could potentially have on your SEO.
Although primary keywords, backlinks, streamlined website optimization, and so forth will always be the most critical concerns for SEO, there’s no such thing as “too thorough.”
Staying on top of potential issues with duplicate content is one terrific way to fortify your efforts, but it’s not the only one.
Check out our detailed write-up on secondary keywords for a solid look a how you can use them to help your site climb even higher in relevant SERP results.
You’ll learn what secondary keywords are and how they work, how you can find the best secondary keywords for you, how to use them wisely in your on-page content, and more!