Is Duplicate Content Bad for Search Engine Rankings?

Duplicate avocados appear too similar to determine which one is better.
Is duplicate content bad for your website? The answer to this question is: Yes. No. It depends.

In this article, let’s explore:

To start, it’s important to understand there are two types of duplicate content:

  1. Duplicate content involving webpages on your site only
  2. Duplicate content involving webpages on your site and other sites

When Duplicate Content is Deceptive

Let’s start with the deceptive type of duplicate content.

If you have content on your site that is duplicated on other sites, it lowers the quality of your website. That’s true even if you didn’t intend to deceive the search engines. Why would your pages rank if they’re pretty much the same as hundreds of other pages?

Worse, copied content could be seen as deceptive. That definitely can harm your search engine rankings. While Google does not have a “duplicate content penalty” per se, the search engine reserves the right to remove your pages from its index altogether.

In a help file, Google states:

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. … if our review indicated that you engaged in deceptive practices and your site has been removed from our search results, review your site carefully.

This usually happens when a website has scraped content. Some examples of scraped content, per Google, include:

  • Sites that copy and republish content from other sites without adding any original content or value
  • Sites that copy content from other sites, modify it slightly (for example, by substituting synonyms or using automated techniques), and republish it
  • Sites that reproduce content feeds from other sites without providing some type of unique organization or benefit to the user

When Your Own Site Duplicates Content

Now let’s turn to a common problem for many: duplicate content within the website. If you have duplicate content within your site, it is not considered deceptive. And your site won’t suffer a Google penalty or be in danger of removal.

To support that, let’s go back to the Google help file referenced earlier, which 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.

Google’s John Mueller discusses duplicate content in this video, saying it’s not a negative ranking factor:

However, duplicate content on your site can still impact rankings. When you have duplicate content on your website, Google may filter out some of your webpages from the search results. Filtered means they won’t rank.

Here’s how that works: When Google is presented with two webpages that appear to be too similar in content, Google picks the page it believes to be the best for that query and leaves the other page out of the results.

And the page that Google picks may or may not be the page that you want showing up in the search results for a particular keyword.

In the video above, Mueller confirms:

“With that kind of duplicate content it’s not so much that there’s a negative score associated with it. It’s more that, if we find exactly the same information on multiple pages on the web, and someone searches specifically for that piece of information, then we’ll try to find the best matching page.

So if you have the same content on multiple pages then we won’t show all of these pages. We’ll try to pick one of them and show that. So it’s not that there’s any negative signal associated with that. In a lot of cases that’s kind of normal that you have some amount of shared content across some of the pages.”

Another way duplicate content can impact your site is by lowering the overall quality of the site. Having 1 million faceted search pages certainly lowers rankings. Is it a penalty if an algorithm determines you are low quality? I would argue yes.

So, What’s Considered Duplicate Content?

Google defines duplicate content as:

Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.

Reputable sites are not engaged in scraping, so most website publishers create duplicate content inadvertently. A long list of issues could result in duplicate content, so it’s worth understanding.

Duplicate content can be a result of common issues such as:

  • Two site versions
  • A separate mobile site
  • Trailing slashes on URLs
  • CMS problems
  • Meta information duplication
  • Similar content
  • Boilerplate content
  • Parameterized pages
  • Product descriptions
  • Content syndication

To learn more, read our in-depth duplicate content article to understand how to handle each of these root causes.

So, to sum up: Is duplicate content bad for search engine rankings? In most cases, yes. If you care about having better control over which webpages rank in Google, then you’ll want to ensure that the content on your website is original.

Our team of experts provides content services and SEO consulting to help improve your search rankings. Reach out to us today for a free estimate.

FAQ: How does duplicate content affect my website’s search engine rankings?

Duplicate content—the presence of identical or substantially similar content across multiple website pages—can significantly influence how search engines evaluate and rank your web pages. This issue stems from search engines’ commitment to delivering diverse and relevant user results. When search engines detect identical content, they grapple with deciding which version to show in search results, often leading to unfavorable outcomes for your rankings.

Google and other search engines prioritize unique, high-quality content that provides value to users. Duplicate content, however, dilutes this commitment by fragmenting the relevance and originality of your content across various pages. Consequently, search engines might choose to rank a single version of your content, relegating duplicates to lower positions or excluding them altogether. This dilution can thwart your efforts to secure prominent search engine rankings and reduce the visibility of your website.

Beyond these direct ranking concerns, duplicate content can also lead to missed opportunities for link consolidation. Inbound links are vital for SEO, as they signify the authority and credibility of your website. When identical content exists on multiple pages, these valuable links might get dispersed among various versions rather than accumulating to bolster the authority of a single, consolidated page. This decentralized link equity can hinder your overall SEO strategy and hinder your website’s ability to compete effectively in search results.

To address these issues, consider implementing these expert insights. First, conduct regular content audits to identify and consolidate duplicate content. Utilize canonical tags to indicate the preferred version of a page to search engines. Additionally, focus on crafting compelling, original content that provides unique value to your audience. Investing in creating engaging and informative material can mitigate the risks of duplicate content and strengthen your website’s search engine rankings.

Duplicate content poses a substantial threat to your website’s search engine rankings. By understanding the intricacies of this issue and adopting strategic measures, you can enhance your website’s visibility, authority, and overall performance in search engine results.

Step-by-Step Procedure: How to Address Duplicate Content for Improved Search Engine Rankings

  1. Conduct a Comprehensive Content Audit: Identify duplicate content on your website using specialized tools or manual analysis.
  2. Prioritize Quality Content Creation: Focus on generating original, valuable content that caters to your target audience’s needs.
  3. Implement Canonical Tags: Use canonical tags to indicate the preferred version of a page, helping search engines understand your content hierarchy.
  4. Consolidate Similar Pages: Merge pages with duplicate content into a single authoritative page to concentrate link equity and improve rankings.
  5. Use 301 Redirects: If necessary, set up 301 redirects to guide users and search engines to the preferred page version.
  6. Utilize URL Parameters: Leverage URL parameters to ensure dynamic content variations are not mistaken for duplicates.
  7. Employ Noindex Tags: For non-essential duplicate pages, use noindex tags to prevent search engines from indexing them.
  8. Syndicate Carefully: If syndicating content, use canonical tags or noindex tags to specify the original content source.
  9. Optimize Product Descriptions: E-commerce websites should craft unique product descriptions to evade common duplicate content issues.
  10. Create Authoritative Backlinks: Earn high-quality backlinks to the preferred version of your content to bolster its authority.
  11. Regularly Monitor Indexing: Keep tabs on how search engines index your pages and make necessary adjustments.
  12. Leverage Google Search Console: Utilize this tool to identify and rectify duplicate content issues Google encounters.
  13. Prioritize User Experience: Design your website intuitively, ensuring users can easily navigate to the desired content.
  14. Utilize 404 and 410 Status Codes: Properly handle pages that are no longer relevant by using appropriate status codes.
  15. Educate Your Team: If you have content contributors, educate them about duplicate content risks and prevention techniques.
  16. Stay Updated: Keep abreast of search engine algorithm changes to adapt your strategy accordingly.
  17. Engage in Guest Posting Carefully: If guest posting, ensure the content is exclusive and not duplicated across multiple websites.
  18. Regularly Review Syndication Partners: If you syndicate content, verify that your partners follow best practices to avoid duplication.
  19. Utilize Webmaster Guidelines: Follow search engine guidelines for best practices to maintain healthy SEO practices.
  20. Monitor and Adjust: Continuously monitor your website’s performance, rankings, and duplicate content issues, adjusting your strategy as needed.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the BruceClay.com website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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13 Replies to “Is Duplicate Content Bad for Search Engine Rankings?”

Hi Bruce,

Is there anything you can do if your content is stolen and then they outrank you because they have better domain trust?

Claire

Robert Stefanski

Hi Claire,

Thanks for your question! We’ve had similar problems in the past (even with someone in the same city we operate in!). When we notified the police, they informed us that there’s nothing they can do unless the site is copyrighted.

If you want to defend your content, you should pay for a federally issued copyright on your site. Then, you may consider putting a disclaimer on the site that the price of your content is worth $2,500 per page, with prior permission from the author. This will serve as a detractor because if someone steals content from your website, they are committing a felony. We’ve tried this approach with great results.

Another way to protect yourself is to pull important quotes from your content and create a Google alert for them. When Google indexes a page that contains those specific quotes, they will notify you to let you know.

Keep in mind that there are certain instances when it is OK for people to steal (or borrow) your content. For example, they can use up to 150 words if they are using them for educational purposes.

Hope this helps!

Eden

What about blog content? We have an information blog, and on occasion internet publications will ask to pick up a blog and repost it on their site. They give us credit and link back to our site. Is this more helpful or hurtful to us?

Thank you Bruce for adding value to everyone reading this article.
It is nearly impossible to manipulate search engines with duplicate or spun content these days as the algorithms are stronger and accurate.

And what about if change the content through article rewriter tool ? Does it affect SEO?

Duplicate content is a mess I have a website which have a very large content, sometimes i used only large paragraphs same for the details. But they also sucks.. sometimes my pages does not get indexed.

Duplicate content is not going to immediately affect the search engine rankings. But if the search engine finds that duplicate content was intentionally created to manipulate search engine results, then that can affect your website ranking.

Nice post . This information helpful for us . You said about duplicate content from other site danger for your site . But if we make some changes in content then it will be effective for our site ?

I’ve used duplicate content sparingly for some of my best articles and I haven’t noticed any negative effects per say. I think you don’t need to fear it in moderation just as long as you’re not overdoing it in an obvious attempt to boost SEO.

Well said. from today I can’t even use the same line in my content. thanks for uploading.

Having large amounts of duplicate content on a website can negatively impact “Google rankings.” When there are several versions of content available, it’s hard for search engines to determine which version to index, and subsequently show in their search results.

I am always scared to use content from other websites but this article solved all my problems.

Paula Allen

Arya: Did you have any follow-up questions about this? It turns out you have been right to avoid using other people’s content!

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