Your SEO can take a tumble if Google or the other search engines perceive that your website contains content that appears somewhere else on the internet, or even on your own site.
In some cases, business owners may not realize they have duplicate content on their site. However, in other cases, they may have chosen to use web copy hijacked from another source as a shortcut or a placeholder, with the intent of fixing the problem later.
What you may not realize is that Google can penalize you for this in the search engine rankings, and in some cases, remove your site from the search results — the worst possible scenario for businesses who rely on their online presence.
What Is Duplicate Website Content?
Experts in SEO and other aspects of digital marketing debate the specific definition of duplicate content.
Google describes duplicate content as substantive blocks of text that are the same as other text or that are “appreciably similar.” This can be on the same site or different sites.
Once upon a time (in the early 2000s or so), SEO pros believed that as long as you changed every sixth or seventh word of a block of web copy, you could get away with repurposing it. Today, however, Google’s algorithms are sophisticated enough to detect even the most well-disguised duplication.
When Google’s web crawlers index content, they have the ability to read and understand context, and to evaluate its quality. So even if you change every sentence and phrase within two pieces of content, Google still knows that the text has been duplicated.
You may also hear terms such as “scraped” and “thin” content. Thin content is generally regarded as low-quality or weak copy, whereas scraped content refers to text that has been stolen from another site.
Why Do Businesses Have Duplicate Website Content?
Companies may duplicate web content intentionally or by mistake, for pure reasons or for nefarious ones.
Sometimes sites duplicate content on purpose. A great example of this is having a printer-only version of one of more pages of your site. In that case, you can designate one of those pages (typically the printer version) as a non-indexed page. This means you tell the search engines to ignore that page when they index your site. If you don’t make this critical differentiation yourself, however, Google may notice it and penalize your website.
In other cases, companies duplicate content across their own site by accident, or because they didn’t realize that it would be harmful to their SEO.
The most harmful duplication occurs when companies take content from other sites and use it on their own. Google makes a judgment call about every case of duplication, based on their algorithms. That judgment will affect the site’s SEO one way or the other.
How Does Duplicate Website Content Affect SEO?
Google will rarely (if ever) promote duplicate content on two websites or two pages on the same site. Instead, the algorithms will attempt to interpret what happened and classify each location accordingly.
If the algorithms determine that the duplication did not occur for unethical reasons, Google will simply decide which version to promote and which to suppress. To make this judgment, Google will try to identify the source.
Consequently, if Google determines that you lifted content from an established site, your site will likely get hurt. This means that you will lose any traffic you might otherwise have gotten to the site that originally published the content.
If Google determines that content duplication occurred for a disingenuous reason — particularly if it appears you were trying to game the SEO system — your site’s rankings will take a big hit.
They will punish the perceived guilty site by pushing them down in the search engine rankings or even removing the site from the rankings. If that happens to you, getting back in Google’s good graces can take months or years, if you ever do.
But Isn’t Content Super Important for SEO?
Yes, content is a large part of effective search engine optimization, and done correctly, it will make a significant difference in your search engine results page (SERP) rankings. However, it must be the right content.
Good content is specific to your industry and your company, its products or services and its location.
Having no content will not get you any traction in Google’s rankings. Having duplicate content, however, can devastate your site’s ability to rank.
The best approach is to write high-quality, relevant and original content for your site’s pages, or have a professional web copy or internet marketing company write it for you. Once you address any unfavorable duplicate content, your site will get a boost from the search engines (assuming you didn’t end up in Google jail).
How Can You Tell if You Have Duplicate Content on Your Site?
It’s almost impossible to identify duplicate content with just a visual examination of your site’s pages. Websites can have lots of content that a casual visitor cannot see, although it’s available to the Google web crawlers.
The most effective way find out if you have duplicate content on your site is to talk to an SEO or digital marketing company and request an evaluation of your website.
An SEO professional can identify this and other problems with your site and make recommendations for how to address them. In most cases, it’s best to get duplicate content off your site as quickly as possible, and then replace it with original content.
If you discover that another website has scraped some of your content, your SEO expert can help you figure out the steps necessary to address that.
Duplicate Content and SEO for E-commerce Sites
Perhaps nowhere is duplicate content a bigger problem than on e-commerce websites. If 10 (or 50 or 100) sites across the internet sell the same set of products, you can imagine how this can become a problem for the search engines.
In many cases, manufacturers provide a generic product description that sellers use on their site. If everyone who sells those products uses it, Google could easily choose one of those sites and direct everyone there.
Doing SEO for e-commerce sites is a complex subject best left for a separate discussion. However, you will give your site a significant advantage if you write your own product descriptions (or have them written), as well as any other boilerplate content that you may get from a supplier or manufacturer.
Be Locally SEO provides expert internet marketing services to clients across the U.S. Contact us today for a free site evaluation and consultation. We will be happy to answer your questions and assist you in whatever way possible with SEO and any duplicate content issues you may have.