A controversial topic in the SEO world is duplicate content. What can happen if you use content that has already been utilized on your website or someone else’s? Are there consequences?
This is an interesting area of debate that many online presence management (OPM) experts disagree on, but today I am going to shed some light on the subject. So strap on your mud boots, because we’re about to enter the confusing, murky waters of duplicate content where we’ll debunk myths and look at the facts.
One of the most common myths about duplicate content is that it will be penalized by Google. In truth, Google has stated that duplicate content does not get penalized. Unlike a school teacher that would show you no mercy for copying elements of someone else’s term paper, search engines aren’t going to throw you down river for this.
However, that being said, you may still feel consequences beyond punitive measures in the form of your search rankings and website traffic being impacted.
Copied Content Vs. Duplicate Content
In order to understand the consequences of your content choices, you must first grasp the difference between copied content and duplicate content. Copied content – content that is plagiarized, or otherwise scraped – hurts SEO and can lead to a Google penalty. Duplicate content is necessary on many websites (e.g., Terms & Conditions pages), and will not be penalized, but must be handled with technical care to avoid hurting overall SEO efforts. This difference between copied content and duplicate content is an important one.
- Copied content – especially main content on a webpage – can lead to a Google penalty because this can be seen as spammy or manipulative. Using copied content can damage your brand and hurt your site’s SEO. That being said, only the most severe cases are likely to be penalized (think of spammy news/blog sites that scrape together content to drive traffic to their site).
- Duplicate content will not be penalized by Google, but can hurt your SEO efforts. In fact, many sites have duplicate content unintentionally (or sometimes intentionally). This can show up intra-website (on the same domain) through blog tags or categories, or on www and non-www versions of your website. Duplicate pages can show up inter-website (on a different domain) in the form of similar Terms & Conditions pages, product descriptions, and more.
When Is Duplicate Content Used?
Many SEO agencies, web development companies, competitive businesses, and so on will copy content from other websites in an attempt to “fill” out their websites in a scalable fashion, and manipulate Google to show their listing in the search result pages for keywords. However, this can have many negative consequences for success that the average small- and medium-sized business owner would not be aware of. Duplicate content can have a lasting effect on search ranking and subsequent website success.
As the former Honor Code Chair at The University of Colorado Boulder, who was tasked with overseeing all cases of academic misconduct (i.e., copying, plagiarism, fraud, etc.), and a current SMB Account Manager at Wpromote, I can confidently say that you should stay away from using copied content, and duplicate content should be handled with care.
5 Reasons To Avoid Copied Content & Hesitantly Use Duplicate Content
Copied Content Hurts Your Brand’s Image
Using someone else’s content as your own is not good for your image. After all, you want to distinguish your brand from all others out there. Imagine if Pepsi and Coca-Cola had the same content on their websites, blogs, social posts, etc.. They easily could; their products share many commonalities. But they don’t use the same content because their brands are unique, as they should be. Yours should be too. Be original, have a voice, and stand by it. Don’t use someone else’s content to represent you and your business.
Using Copied Content Is Void Of Foundational Fact
When a website uses someone else’s content, it becomes unclear who the author is to Google and the readers. For Google, it’s important to know where the original content came from so the search engine knows which page to rank and show the searcher. If two websites have the same content, it can dilute traffic for both the pages, as Google will likely demote the ranking for both. Beyond search engines, readers deserve to know where the original idea came from.
Google & Readers Alike Appreciate Effort
Google knows when you’re trying to be lazy, and so do readers. As such, Google will give low ratings to content that appears to have little effort put into it. In fact, here is what Google said in the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (section 7.4.5): “Important: The Lowest rating is appropriate if all or almost all of the MC (main content) on the page is copied with little or no time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users.” This is a clear signal from Google that being unique is very important. At Wpromote, we work with our clients – large to small – to develop a clear brand “voice,” and then we use this voice to differentiate our content from other online competitors in a way that signals our clients’ authority to Google and improves their ranking. Content is not king; unique, high-quality content is.
Google Rewards Uniqueness With Authority
While Google won’t penalize your site for duplicate content, it is unlikely to show two similar pages or sites in search results, and instead will only show the more authoritative one. Think of this as a Hungry, Hungry Hippos game on an unstable table (i.e. the internet) that’s controlled by Google. All websites are the hungry hippos that are hungry for search traffic, but Google is the one in charge of tilting the table to favor some hippos over others. You want to be the hippo that doesn’t go extinct? Create unique, high-quality content, and focus on efforts to build the authority of that page/your website through backlink opportunities.
Build Your Website For Users
When composing content, Google wants you to truly have the user in mind. Don’t have your users sift through pages and pages of the same information with slight variations on your site, or against competitors’ sites. Be unique. As we know, Google’s overall goal is to help users find the information they want in as simple a way as possible. Let’s do our part through creating content that stands out, is authoritative, and has purpose beyond the SEO benefit.
Easy Wins For Duplicate Content Issues:
- Ensure all of your pages are canonicalized and you’ve set your preference within Google Search Console.
- HTTP vs. HTTPS variations of the site are also a common mishap. Ensure that http web pages are canonicalized under the https version of the site.
- If a com/, domain.com/home, or other variations of your site exist, be sure to 301 redirect the /home version to the actual homepage of domain.com/.
- Use responsive web design to avoid separate mobile URLs.
- Ensure your backlinks are going to the original page and not the duplicated page (although this would be fixed with proper canonicalization).
- Write unique product descriptions adding your own brand’s voice.
- Utilize XML sitemaps as an incredibly powerful tool for making Google aware of the content and pages of your website.
Lesson Learned, Hopefully
If after reading this blog I’ve convinced you to avoid copying content from other sites and creating duplicate content on your website, good! By staying away from these bad site habits you’ll be sure to have an upper hand with SEO as you continue to generate and update amazing content.