Duplicate Content: What Is It and How to Prevent It?

Duplicate content is a term that gets tossed around a lot in the content marketing and SEO space – but many people don’t fully grasp the concept nor its implications.

Utilizing some duplicate content can be very beneficial to your marketing efforts when done correctly. When done incorrectly, duplicate content can severely damage your online presence.

So how do you do it right? How much is too much? Can you publish your content on other sites? Can you use the same section at the bottom of each page?

Let’s dig into these questions and more!

What is Duplicate Content in Content Marketing?

Duplicate content is a popular topic among digital marketers and those in the digital marketing agency world.

In short, duplicate content is the existence of the same content on multiple pages of the internet. Duplicate content can take two primary forms:

  • The same (or similar) content on multiple pages of your own site
  • The same (or similar) content on your site as is on other sites
graphic of duplicate content

Backlinko

Duplicate content doesn’t only apply to identical content on multiple URLs, it also includes content that’s nearly identical. Google uses the language “appreciably similar” when talking about this subject.

For example, if someone were writing a blog post and liked what someone else had to say, they might copy and paste content from another site. In an effort to avoid plagiarism, they might change just a few words for their post. For the purposes of this post, we might call that duplicate content as well.

And lastly, duplicate content can also refer to portions of a webpage being identical to a portion of another page.

Duplicate content can refer to two identical pages, two very similar pages, and a portion of a page that’s identical or similar to another on the web.

Is There an SEO Penalty for Duplicate Content?

This is a regularly asked question and an often misunderstood topic in the world of SEO and content marketing. 

There isn’t technically a Google penalty out there for duplicate content, but the existence of duplicate content can result in a page ranking much lower than it might otherwise. Let’s look at an example.

You have Post A on your website – a blog article about how to train dogs. You also have Post B on your site, an almost identical post that’s just a little bit shorter. And then you posted the exact same post on Medium – Post C. 

Let’s assume someone Googles “how to train dogs.” Google likes your content on the subject, but there are three very similar articles. Google’s algorithm has a few options:

  1. It can rank all three on the first page.
  2. It can try to pick one of the three.
  3. It can choose not to rank any of them.

Google will rarely rank all three. If they can identify the “original” source, they will rank it. But if they can’t do that, they will likely rank none of them.

how google handles duplicate content

Moz

So while Google probably won’t issue a manual action for having duplicate content, your search engine visibility will definitely be affected.

Keyword Cannibalization

This occurrence is often referred to as “keyword cannibalization.” The idea is that your own pages are sort of… well… eating each other’s chance of SEO potential.

We often see keyword cannibalization taking place when multiple pages are trying to rank for the same keyword. They might not be identical, but they’re approaching the same topic with a lot of the same content.

keyword cannibalization

We’ll cover the best approaches to fixing keyword cannibalization below.

What Causes Duplicate Content and How to Prevent It

We know what duplicate content looks like and how it can harm our site’s performance, but what are the main causes? 

URL Variations

Many sites with duplicate content issues have them by accident. And one of the most common culprits is URL variations. This is very common for eCommerce sites.

Let’s say you sell a shirt with multiple colors at yourstore.com/shirt. You add different colors, and whatever store platform or CMS you use adds these colors as unique URLs yourstore.com/shirt?color=blue and yourstore.com/shirt?color=red. 

Now you’ve got three URLs with identical content. 

Another issue many sites run into has to do with http / https and www / non-www. If you don’t have proper rules in place, Google can view each of these versions as unique URLs. 

How to Fix It?

There are two primary ways to fix an issue like this: canonicals or 301 redirects. 

If you go the 301 route, you’ll need to make sure you have 301 redirects pointing from each variation to the original.

301 redirects to fix duplicate content

Backlinko

You need to make sure that each variation of your URL has a canonical pointing to the original page. You can also work with a developer to adjust the way your URL system creates URLs. 

Another option is to use a rel=canonical, which we’ll cover below.

Publishing the Same Content on Multiple Sites

If part of your content marketing strategy involves publishing content on third party sites to expand your reach. This content syndication tactic can be very effective when done well.

But if it results in duplicate content, it can actually hurt your reach.

For example, if you published a content pillar that just didn’t get as much traffic as you thought it might, you might also publish it on Medium and LinkedIn to get more eyeballs on it.

But if you don’t follow best practices, none of the posts will be visible on search engines. 

How to Fix It

The best way to handle duplicate content when syndicating it is to go with a canonical tag. A canonical tells search engines, “Hey we duplicated this content intentionally, and here is the original post!”

canonical to fix duplicate content

Moz

Some sites who syndicate content should handle this for you. If you’re unsure, check with the publisher first.

Boilerplate Sections of Content

Boilerplate content refers to sections of copy repeated throughout your site with little to no variation – used most often for “about the company” sections.

For example, if you had ten landing pages focused on services you offer, it might make sense to have an “About Us” section at the bottom of each of these pages. Instead of writing ten variations of the same content, it would be much easier just to use the same content.

example of boilerplate content

Could this result in any issues?

Most SEO experts agree that Google’s algorithms are plenty smart enough to identify boilerplate sections on your site, and it’s unlikely to result in any issues with ranking. That said, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines do recommend keeping boilerplate sections minimal.

Running with our example, instead of having a 500 word section about your company at the bottom of each page, they would recommend maybe 50 words with a link to your About page.

Consider a Content Marketing Agency

Duplicate content is unlikely to result in any kind of penalty, but it can definitely hurt your SEO and content marketing efforts.

Be smart as you create content, have a plan for duplicate content, and if you ever have doubts, consider contacting a content marketing agency for help.

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