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Duplicate content is exactly what it sounds like — content (usually text) on one site that identically matches the content on another site or page. Duplicate content can be damaging to a website's SEO.
Website owners should be vigilant in minimizing duplicate content, as it can negatively impact the amount of trust your site receives from search engines and significantly hinder your SEO efforts. This means understanding the effects of duplicate content, knowing how to fix the issues, and taking measures to avoid these problems going forward for a properly optimized website.
On the surface, duplicate content sounds fairly straightforward — content (usually text) on one site that identically matches the content on another site. However, there are several ways — unintentionally or not — duplicate content can exist on a website. Depending on the volume of duplicate content on your website, and whether it is deliberate or not (to manipulate search engine results), Google may take action — which may involve deindexing repetitive pages.
It is important to keep in mind that not all replicated content is considered duplicate content. According to Google’s Search Console Help, "duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are applicably similar." However, if you have a website where you deemed it necessary to have a repeating segment of content that is fixed in place — such as a footer, widget, or contact region — it is typically acceptable. Where a site may get in trouble is having large volumes of exact match (or close) content placed on several pages deliberately to manipulate search engine rankings.
Duplicate content presents problems for both search engines and site owners. In many cases, when you replicate content you are standing in the way of your own SEO efforts. Duplicating content can have consequences in the following ways:
Additionally, inbound links to one page will hold more link equity than being spread out among several pages (duplicates). Links, of course, are a ranking factor, and visibility could be further impacted — making all pages rank more poorly. Site owners should conduct a regular audit of their site for penalty recovery, traffic loss diagnosis, website migration, and more.
As formerly mentioned, there are several ways duplicate content may pop up on your site, and fixing the problem will depend on how the content is replicated. The following are some common ways content can be duplicated, and webmasters should check in on their pages to minimize their chances of a decline in the search engine results pages:
Analytics code, click tracking, session IDs, and printer-friendly versions of content can create alternate versions of URLs — creating a variety of pages with the same content. Site owners adding URL parameters should be aware that it may unintentionally create duplicate content.
Thin content provides no added value, is typically generated, and may even be scraped. Webmasters will also need to look out for the original content of their site being scraped, therefore creating multiple iterations of the content across several webpages.
In a word, no, there are no automatic duplicate content penalties. However, there are manual penalties that may be applied to sites that are caught scraping content and republishing it with no added value — essentially, having the same content as another site, without proper attributions.
The Google Panda algorithm puts an emphasis on correcting thin pages that have little to no value, are low-quality, and elicit poor user satisfaction. While you may not be penalized by Panda, the algorithm will take action to limit the visibility of redundant or other low-value pages, and this may mean that duplicates may be excluded from indexing and SERPs as a result.
If you have found that your site has duplicate content issues there are several adjustments you can make. First, identify which duplicate you would like indexed and displayed in the SERPS and consider the following:
Even if you have rectified your duplicate content issues, you are not out of the woods just yet. Webmasters will need to stay alert and make sure replicants don't happen again. In many cases duplicated content is unintentional, but now that you know how pages are duplicated, you can stay ahead of the headaches by following a few rules:
When multiple pages serve the same purpose for the same audience, you are effectively competing with yourself — Google will usually pick what it considers the "better" page and choose not display the other. Consider carefully crafted keyword-focused content creation to fulfill your targeted keyword needs in one page and to avoid similar content issues.
Duplicating content deliberately, such as via scraping techniques, can be an easy way to get more content on your site — but this will only hurt it in the long run. Unintentional duplication does actually happen quite frequently too, so if you want a properly optimized site you will want to take care of your replicants.