Duplicate Content: When to Worry (and when not to)

Webmasters tend to freak out about duplicate content and think that it will automatically bring about a penalty. To put this in perspective, webmasters are so worried about duplicate content that the tool Copyscape has an estimated worth of nearly $200 million! Before you spend money on a Copyscape membership, here is what you really need to know about duplicate content.

When Duplicate Content is Okay

Google’s Matt Cutts has said multiple times that, unless you are doing something really spammy, duplicate content rarely brings about a penalty. Even if you have content which is 100% duplicate of content on an other site, it still may be okay.

Think about all those news websites. They grab news articles from the same syndicate and publish them on their sites without any rewording. You end up with dozens of websites with the exact same article. Yet those sites still rank well because they are considered reputable. Reputation matters more than the uniqueness of the content. Likewise, if you write a guest post and then publish the exact same article on your own blog, it isn’t going to cause a penalty. Nor are you going to get a duplicate content penalty if you quote text from another site. What does become a problem is when all or most of your content is also found somewhere else on the web.

When Duplicate Content Will Destroy Your

Again, duplicate content probably won’t get you a penalty. This doesn’t mean that duplicate content isn’t bad for your SEO though. When you’ve got content which can also be found somewhere else, then your version will probably be ignored from search. When you’ve got duplicate content throughout your own site, then Google won’t know which page to rank and you can lose weight.

Here are some of the most common causes of duplicate content and what you can do to fix them.

1) Plagiarizing

I’m not even going to elaborate on this one. If you are stealing all your content, you deserve the penalty. Create your own content!

2) Product Descriptions

Web stores often have hundreds or thousands of products. The webmasters don’t bother to write unique descriptions for each product. They just take the standard manufacturers' descriptions and they end up with duplicate content. Google Webmaster Tools considers this an example of “non-malicious duplicate content”. While it may not harm your SEO, it certainly isn’t going to help!

If your website doesn’t have the established reputation of big names like Sears or Wayfair, then you are going to have a hard time outranking them for the same product if you have duplicate content in your product descriptions. To start with, write unique descriptions of each product you sell. Then go the extra mile and generate user reviews and user photos. This is what major brands like Urban Outfitters and Mountain Hardwear. Not only did it mean unique content for their product pages, but it improves brand trust and affinity so conversions increase too.

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3) Similar Content on Multiple URLs

There are a lot of legitimate reasons why you might have two or more web pages with similar content but different URLs. For example, if you run a hotel, then you might “recycle” some content on the pages which describe rooms. There are two solutions for this. The first is to condense similar content into one page so you don’t have duplicate content. The second is to write unique content for each of those pages.

4) Identical Content on Multiple URLs

In some situations, you end up with the exact same content across multiple URLs. You might not even be aware that these are considered duplicate content by search engines. For example:
  • Session IDs
  • URL parameters (such as click tracking)
  • Same product in multiple categories (domain.com/womens/boots/product and www.domain.com/boots/product)
  • Pagination
  • Multiple formats of the same content (such as print-friendly version)
The problem with these duplicate content scenarios is that search engines can’t figure out which version to show. When you confuse search engines, your SEO suffers. To fix the problems, you need to use canonicalization. In layman’s terms, this simply means that you tell the search engines which version of the page to show.

5) Boilerplate Content

“Boilerplate” is text which appears at the bottom of all your pages. You shouldn’t worry too much about some types of duplicate boilerplate content, such as if you are required to put a legal disclaimer on your website or you have contact info on every page. What you DON’T want to do is try the spammy tactic of stuffing keywords into your boilerplate, such as by writing some generic text about your website that appears on each page.

Just Because It Isn’t Duplicate Content, It
Doesn’t Mean It is “Unique” Content

By now, even the most novice webmasters realize you can’t just grab content off the web and republish it at your website. That would be duplicate content and subject to penalty. Yet, there seems to be some confusion about what “unique” content is.

A lot of webmasters think that “unique” content is anything which isn’t word-per-word verbatim of text found elsewhere on the internet. In fact, if you search for unique content, the first page results are for duplicate content checking tools like Copyscape.

Just because your content passes Copyscape doesn’t mean it's unique!

There are now over 1 billion websites in the world and it is pretty safe to say that practically ever topic has been discussed. Even seemingly-obscure topics like worm farming have 750,000+ search results. If you are writing an article about worm farming, why the heck would Google show your article instead of the thousands of others which are already out there?

To rank, it isn’t enough that your content isn’t duplicate. It has to provide unique value compared to all the other websites out there. This means being able to meet your users’ needs (search intent), and you’ve got to satisfy their search intent in an interesting way and with a streamlined web experience.