What is Duplicate Content?


Duplicate content refers to identical or greatly similar web content found in more than one place – or at multiple different URLs. 

Both Google and Raven Tools estimate duplicate content to make up a fair amount of the internet – 25-30% and 29% respectively. Thus, there are certain things you’ll need to know about duplicate content and its relationship to your site’s search engine rankings. 

In this article, we’ll talk all about the meaning of duplicated content, how duplicate content SEO issues arise and how you can fix them.

What Does Duplicate Content Mean in SEO?

Before we talk about the problems linked to SEO duplicate content, we need to clear up what it means in terms of SEO. When talking about duplicate content Google, it defines it as substantive blocks of content that are identical or appreciably similar and found within or across domains.

As already mentioned, multiple sources gauge that about a quarter of the internet is repetitive content. 

This may appear to be a big problem, however, when it comes to duplicate content online, things aren’t as dire as you may think.

While a fair percentage of content is repeated across URLs, this doesn’t always mean it’s been copied or stolen. Most times, duplicate content is a perfectly innocent byproduct of many factors.

How Do Duplicate Content and SEO Issues Happen?

Sometimes, duplicate content is intentional and other times, it is accidental. While you may think you’re in the clear because your texts are all original, a duplicate content issue can still arise.

In fact, most cases of duplicate content are not malicious, deceptive, and many times, they’re not even intentional. Let’s go over the main reason your content may appear in more than one place.

WWW vs Non-WWW and HTTP vs HTTPS

Often, duplicate content issues are caused by simple mistakes in configuring your site. One of the overlooked aspects is if your site is available as both a www and a non-www version.
The same thing can happen with HTTP and HTTPS sites.

Essentially, your site will be accessible at one of the following locations:

  • https://www.example.com
  • https://example.com
  • http://www.example.com
  • http://example.com

If your site is available at more than one of these and you fail to account for it properly, it can be considered duplicate content, when, in actuality, it’s just one page.

Trailing Slashes

Another similar issue arises with trailing slashes. Conventionally, a trailing slash at the end denotes a directory, while a lack of one denotes a file. Regardless of which one you’re pointing to, you could have:

  • http://example.com/foo/
  • http://example.com/foo

Google treats these as separate URLs, meaning you could have different content on both pages. This is fine as far as Google is concerned, however, it’s bad for user experience. People will find that configuration confusing, so it’s best for both URLs to lead to the same page.

This brings us to the duplication problem. If both URLs are available with the same content, you’ve copied your page. From Google’s perspective, this is the exact same content at two separate locations, which can hurt your SEO rankings if left unresolved.

URL Parameters and Faceted Navigation

Faceted search systems are a neat way of filtering products. However, when left unmanaged, they can create different URLs as a result of numerous combinations, all with the same content. This takes a toll on your crawl budget and link equity.

A similar problem arises with URL parameters, such as session IDs or tracking IDs, where the same page is accessible through multiple URLs.

Alternate page versions

Following the trend of accidentally duplicated content, we arrive at another common oversight for webmasters – alternate pages. A site, such as “example.com/page” can appear under a different URL as a:

  • Mobile-friendly page – m.example.com/page
  • Print-friendly page – example.com/print/page
  • Accelerated mobile page (AMP) – example.com/amp/page

All these versions duplicate the page’s content and cause problems if left unmended.

Pagination

When it comes to category pages, blog post titles, user reviews, or comments, the content can be broken up across pages using pagination.

Again, if not handled correctly, this can lead to content being duplicated across URLs.

Scrapers 

If someone steals your content and publishes it on a different website, you’ve got a duplicate content issue. Google can usually work out which site is the original, however, you may want to address scrapers for good measure.

Syndications

If you allow another website to republish your work, you create cross-domain-duplicate content. While syndicated content shouldn’t rank above your original site, you could take precautions to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Why Is Having Duplicate Content an Issue for SEO?

While many have perpetuated the idea of a Google duplicate content penalty, this is not something you generally have to worry about. 

Duplicate content is not a problem in and of itself. However, if a text is duplicated across domains to manipulate search engine ranking, it becomes an issue.

Innocently Duplicated Content and SEO

Google assures its users that duplicate content won’t tank their search engine ranking, so long as the content is honest and not manipulative. While this may be true, duplicate content can result in poorer SEO performance. 

Although Google is confident in the page it chooses to display in the search results, sometimes, the search engine gets it wrong.

Let’s say the same page is available at multiple URLs. In such an event, Google will group the duplicate URLs into a cluster. This can affect you in a couple of ways:

  1. Google will select the “best” URL as a representative of the cluster. Sometimes, you and Google may disagree on what the “best” URL is, causing you branding and UX issues;
  2. Although link popularity should be consolidated across all members of a cluster, some duplicates may not be detected by Google. This can lead to link dilution and hurt your content ranking efforts;

Also, consider the fact that this phenomenon can lead to inefficient crawling, leaving Google less time to go through your newer and updated content. 

Scraped and Syndicated Content

Whether you’ve permitted another site to republish your work, or you’ve had your content scraped, that content now appears across multiple domains. 

This shouldn’t generally cause issues, yet sometimes, rare as it may be, scraped or republished content can outrank the original.

Luckily, duplicate content issues can be dealt with in a few different ways that help optimize your SEO performance.

How to Check Duplicate Content 

Before you can resolve any issues, you need to know that they exist in the first place. This will require you to search for duplicate content on your site. You can do this in a few ways:

1. Google Search Console

Google Search Console can provide insight into your webpage’s performance in search results. This service can also help you identify duplicate content issues, for example, by finding different URLs of the same page rank in search results.

2. Duplicate Content Search

A quick way to check for duplicated content is by searching up blocks of text from your page – when searching them up, place the words within quotation marks.

Ideally, only your page should show up. If there are other results, you may have an issue, although not always. You can try this with multiple sentences.

You can also use the Google search bar to look up your site. Type in “site:” followed by the URL, all in quotes. This will show you the pages google has indexed and can potentially rank.

3. Duplicate Content Checkers

There are various plagiarism checkers, as well as google duplicate content checkers, which can help you find out if your content is unoriginal, has an internal duplicate content issue, or has been republished.

How to Address Duplicate Content

Although Google does fairly good at dealing with duplicate content, you can always be more involved and address possible issues directly so as to achieve the best results. 

Some tips on what to do include:

  • Use a 301 redirect, a canonical URL, or a noindex redirect;
  • Be consistent in your internal linking;
  • Use top-level domains – TLDs – to deal with country-specific content;
  • Make sure sites containing syndicated content contain a link back to your page or use the noindex tag;
  • Consolidate pages with similar content;
  • File a DMCA request in the case of scraped content;

Panda Update for Duplicate Content

Google’s Panda update launched in 2011 and was an incredibly important change to Google’s algorithm. While Panda wasn’t meant to specifically address duplicate content on websites, the update does encourage unique and informative text, which includes avoiding repetitive content.

FAQs on Duplicate Content

What does duplicate content mean in SEO?

Duplicate content represents substantive blocks of text which are either a complete match or appreciably similar to other online content. Repetitive content makes up about a quarter of the internet and is most times not deceptive or malicious in nature.

Is there a Google duplicate content penalty?

Google’s duplicate content penalty has been misrepresented to the extent that it’s mostly become a myth. Duplicate content isn’t penalized unless it violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and intends to manipulate search engine results.

Does duplicate content hurt SEO rankings?

Duplicate content can negatively impact your SEO strategy. Google does try to consolidate multiple URLs leading to the same page and show original results higher than re-published content. Yet, it is not a perfect system since an unfavorable URL or a cross-domain republishing can rank higher than your original article. This is why duplicate content needs to also be proactively addressed.

How much duplicate content is acceptable?

There is no definitive measure to suggest how much of the content you have can be duplicated. However, as a general rule of thumb, no more than 5% of duplicated content should find its way to your site. To manage this percentage, resort to plagiarism checkers online.  

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