Is Duplicate Content Bad for Search Engine Rankings?
Is duplicate content bad for your website? The answer to this question is: Yes. No. It depends.
In this article, let’s explore:
- When duplicate content is deceptive
- When your own site duplicates content
- What’s considered duplicate content?
To start, it’s important to understand there are two types of duplicate content:
- Duplicate content involving webpages on your site only
- 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. There is a long list of issues that 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.