Why Duplicate Content Is an SEO Issue | Solutions Revealed

Copy, Paste, Publish: Why Duplicate Content Is an SEO Issue

By Clare HennigMar 21 /2024

Copy, paste, publish. We all know that plagiarizing someone else’s website content is unacceptable from a legal, moral and search engine optimization standpoint. But what about copying your own content? Why is having duplicate content an issue for SEO?

Duplicate content on your website is a tricky, nuanced topic that’s often misunderstood. Google issued their official stance on the “duplicate content penalty” back in 2008 and a lot has changed since then, especially in terms of user experience on websites – which, coming full circle, also impacts SEO.

So, where does that leave us now?

Let’s explore why having duplicate content can be an issue for SEO for reasons you may or may not be thinking about, and how to strategically resolve these persistent problems.

Understanding Duplicate Content in SEO

Duplicated content is, as the name suggests, website copy that’s the same as content published elsewhere. It could be word-for-word identical or it could be content that’s substantially similar, just slightly reworded. Snippets of content, like quotes, aren’t typically flagged as duplicates, nor are translations.

Duplicated content can be copied from other websites or appear on different pages on the same website. Easy to understand, right? From a technical SEO perspective, there’s also another type of duplication that can occur: having multiple URLs on the same domain that point to the same content.

There are a few reasons you may have duplicated content on your website. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that you’re not plagiarizing, stealing or scraping content – if you are, that’s a bigger problem than just search engine penalties.

An issue with your CMS can lead to repeated content or you may be inadvertently republishing articles. Or perhaps you use the same chunk of text over and over again in different places – this is common for product or services pages aimed at audiences in different locations, for example.

How Duplicate Content Affects Your SEO Strategy

What does this all mean for search engines? Well, Google cleared up the fact that there is no duplicate content penalty for non-malicious duplications a long time ago.

But having multiple versions of the same copy is bad from a user experience perspective. On top of that, even though Google says they won’t necessarily take action against your site, duplicated content can still indirectly affect your overall rank just because of the nature of how search engines work.

Why Search Engines Dislike Duplicate Content

Google and the other search engines want to serve a variety of unique results to users. Having the first page results for a search term show ten different URLs all with the same content is not a great user experience. What’s worse, it begs users to go try another search engine for different, if not necessarily better, results

So, search engines strive to reduce redundancy and better serve the end user by showing a variety of content in the top results. The way this works is that search engine algorithms will group duplicated content into a single cluster and then select one to represent that cluster – and the one that shows up in the search results may not be what you want.

Duplicate content confuses search engines, affects indexing and can lead to inefficient crawling. It can also dilute your link equity, splitting the strength of the content’s ranking across multiple URLs instead of consolidating it under just one.

All these factors can lower search ranking for pages with the same copy, even when you’re not explicitly being penalized by Google for duplicate content.

Identifying Duplicate Content on Your Site

The first step to addressing these issues and improving your SEO is to identify duplicate content on your website. The easiest and most effective way to do this is by working with an SEO services partner to elevate and support your strategy.

But if you want to know what goes into it, here’s the background.

Leveraging SEO tools like Copyscape, Siteliner or Semrush can help you compare your content with others online, highlighting potential duplicate content. It’s worth using Google Search Console (GSC) too as a way to identify duplicate title tags and meta descriptions, which can be indicators of duplicate content.

You can also manually check by picking random sentences from your site and searching for them on Google in quotes. This can help identify if the same sentences appear elsewhere.

Evaluating your site for duplicate content isn’t a one-time event. It’s important to keep an eye on it over time by:

  • Conducting regular content website audits, which can be part of a broader SEO or content strategy review.
  • Compare content across your site to ensure that different pages have unique content, especially on eCommerce sites with similar product descriptions.
  • Checking if other sites have scraped or copied your content with the SEO tools mentioned above.

To help avoid duplicate content issues in the first place, avoid these SEO pitfalls:

  1. Having different URL parameters or session IDs. Ensure each page has a canonical URL.
  2. Not setting a preferred domain (www vs non-www) or not migrating properly to HTTPS from HTTP.
  3. Repeating the same large chunks of content (like long disclaimers) across multiple pages.
  4. Forgetting to use 301 redirects when moving content from an old alias to a new one.

Strategies for Resolving Duplicate Content Issues

The Role of Canonical Tags in Addressing Duplicate Content

Canonical tags play an important role in helping to manage content effectively. There’s a reason why canonicalization is also sometimes referred to as deduplication!

In a nutshell, canonical tags tell search engines which version of a duplicated page is the master or preferred version. This helps the search engine only show one version of your content in the results when you may have similar content for legitimate reasons like region variants, device variants or other factors.

Google decides which is the primary piece of content for indexing and then crawls that page more frequently. You can indicate to Google which page you prefer as canonical by adding a rel="canonical" link element in the header of each duplicated page, pointing to the preferred URL. When doing so, make sure that the canonical tag points to the most authoritative or relevant page.

Effective Strategies To Prevent Duplicate Content

To proactively address and prevent duplicate content issues, consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Use 301 Redirects: Permanently direct traffic from old addresses to new ones. This ensures more seamless user experiences while also preventing duplicate content indexing.
  • Modify CMS Settings: Adjust settings within your CMS to tackle the most common URL formatting issues like trailing slashes in URLs and establish a preference between www and non-www versions of your site.
  • Craft Unique Product Descriptions: Particularly in eCommerce settings, make sure that each product description is unique. Avoid duplicating manufacturer-provided descriptions to maintain distinctiveness and enhance search visibility.
  • Follow Syndication Best Practices: If you are syndicating content from other sources, or syndicating your content onto broader platforms like Medium or Substack, make sure the syndicating site links back to the original content with a canonical tag. Keep in mind that there are a few ways you may be syndicating content, including news, blogs or social media.
  • Regular Audits and Content Management: Conduct ongoing content audits to identify and fix any instances of duplicate content promptly.

Partner With a Team of SEO Specialists

Improve your website’s search engine rankings, proactively address issues and achieve your SEO goals by working with a full-service digital marketing company.

At Kuno Creative, our team of SEO specialists and other marketing experts help you drive targeting traffic to your site with tailored adjustments and insightful recommendations based on best practices and your goals. From monitoring the health of your site to boosting organic search numbers, working with Kuno Creative ensures that your website remains competitive and crawler-friendly.

Schedule a content strategy and SEO consultation with Kuno today

Clare Hennig
The Author

Clare Hennig

Clare is a strategic writer and content creator, specializing in digital storytelling. She brings together years of experience in the newsroom with a mission-driven attitude from non-profit marketing. Clare has lived, worked, and studied in 11 countries, and now calls sunny California home.