How Duplicate Content Can Impact Your Website's SEO

Is duplicate copy bad for your website in the eyes of Google? Can having the same text on two pages hurt SEO?

These are common questions regarding a topic often shrouded in confusion. Thankfully, Google has given direct answers that are often overlooked.

The short answer: having copy on your website that exists elsewhere on the web or on another page on your website is frowned upon by Google.

Why Google is Opposed to Duplicate Content

The basis for this is pretty simple: Google believes every web page should have original, useful content and wants each of the search results it features to be valuable to its users. If two pages have the same or incredibly similar copy, the value of each page is decreased because neither is offering anything unique.

While it’s not commonly referenced in digital marketing circles, there’s actually an official Google guide to SEO. It's a great resource for marketers and business owners looking for clear answers.

Google’s guide directly states, “Create fresh unique content. Avoid rehashing or copying existing content that will bring little extra value to users. Avoid having duplicate or near-duplicate versions of your content across your site.”

When it comes to the impact that duplicate text can have on your search results, Google says, “Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”

In other words, having duplicate content on your website might not harm your website, but it’s not worth the risk. It’s best to follow Google’s best practices and avoid using the same copy that exists on other web pages.

Ways to Avoid Duplicate Copy on Your Website

The first step is to audit your site and remove as much duplication as possible. You can do this by searching for the same sentences within your site, or you can use an online auditing tool.

Ensure you never copy a large amount of text from another website and paste it into one of your web pages. Also, don’t feature the same copy on two different web pages within your website. If you think about it, doing so makes you compete against yourself in search.

One of the biggest culprits of duplicate text are industry specific content services. We’ve seen many financial companies, for instance, that hear they should be blogging sign up for a service that provides a few articles every month that can be posted on their websites. Unfortunately, this content is handed out to hundreds of financial companies. Thus, featuring this article on a website might benefit a visitor who stumbles across it, but the SEO value of such content is essentially non-existent.

Thankfully, you can copy and paste smaller amounts of text from one web page to another. This is a common practice that Google typically accepts. If you’re quoting someone or referencing a sentence or two, don’t hesitate to copy and paste (although citing the source is generally a good idea).

Google acknowledges that there are also cases in which duplicate copy is nearly unavoidable. For instance, the most common case of duplicate content we see is blog articles which often show the same content in multiple formats. A blog entry could be displayed on the main article listing page, in an archive page, and in the actual page of the article itself.

So, what’s the solution when you must have duplicate content within your website?

Give Google a Heads-up on Duplicate Copy with Canonicalization

Basically, canonicalization is an action that allows you to indicate to Google which URL you prefer it features in search results.

This is handled by adding code to your site, specifically the rel="canonical" tag. While your content management system may allow you to do this yourself, you could also enlist a developer or digital agency for help.

As an example, if you have three pages on your site with mostly identical content, page A, B and C, you can use the canonical tag to tell Google “I’m not trying to be deceptive here and game your search rankings. I recognize these pages are nearly identical and I would like you to just feature page A in search results.”

If you don’t specify which page to feature, Google will make the decision itself. In fact Google says, “If your site suffers from duplicate content issues, and you don't follow (our) advice... we do a good job of choosing a version of the content to show in our search results.”

And while that may happen, it’s much better for you to make that decision instead of waiting for Google to decide.

Here are a few resources you can check out to learn more about this issue and canonical tags:

We frequently help our clients overcome the duplicate content issue and improve their SEO. If you’d like us to lend a hand and audit your site for duplicate content, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of SEO experts.

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Digital Marketing, SEO

Drew Harden
Drew Harden

President and Co-Founder of Blue Compass, Drew Harden has grown and guided the company from a two-person startup in 2007 to one of the Midwest's leading digital marketing companies today. He's a published author, has been cited by PR News and USA Today, and has led web projects that have been honored by organizations like Adobe and American Design Awards.

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