What is Duplicate Content? The SEO Dilemma Every Site Faces

Adam Steele
Jan 7, 2024
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A study by Raven Tools, which analyzed no less than 888,710 sites, revealed that 29 percent of websites contain duplicate content.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In the news industry, a study of 200,000 articles found that 62 percent of content isn’t unique. Sure, some of this can be forgiven. It’s not unusual for new articles to quote third-party sources. The problem? The amount of text copied goes beyond mere extracts and excerpts—large content segments are replicated across various sites without proper citation.

These numbers paint a pretty stark picture: the online world has a serious problem on its hands, one that could threaten the integrity of content, undermine trust, and pose significant challenges for both content creators and consumers.

To get you up to speed with duplicate content, in this guide, we’ll

  1. explore what duplicate content is,
  2. decipher why it’s important,
  3. and break down the nuances behind this issue and uncover how search engines like Google view duplicated content.

What Is Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content refers to identical or perceptibly similar content appearing in more than one location on the web. Duplication can occur both within a single website on multiple pages (internal) and across different domains (external). For further context, let’s explore internal and external duplication:

Internal Duplicate Content

Internal duplicate content happens when the same content appears in multiple places on a website. This can occur for various reasons, such as:

  • URL variations where different URLs lead to the same content, like HTTP vs. HTTPS or WWW vs. non-WWW pages.
  • Session IDs occur when websites use session IDs in URLs, creating multiple URLs with the same content.
  • Printer-friendly pages that create separate printer-friendly versions of pages can sometimes lead to duplication.

The problem: internal duplication oftentimes confuses search engines, making it harder for them to understand which version of the content to index or rank.

External Duplicate Content

External duplicate content occurs when the same content is found on different websites. This can happen through:

  • Content scraping involves third-party sites copying and pasting content from a website without permission.
  • Content syndication occurs when content is legally shared across different websites, such as news articles.
  • Duplicate product descriptions are common in eCommerce, where the same product description is taken from a manufacturer’s website and used across multiple online retailers.

External duplication can have more serious consequences, especially if it’s perceived as an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings or deceive users.

Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.

Why Is Duplicate Content a Problem? Understanding the Nuances and Misconceptions

Many believe that Google actively penalizes duplicate content, but the reality is more complex. Google has clarified its position, stating:

“Let’s put this to bed once and for all, folks: There’s no such thing as a ‘duplicate content penalty.’ At least, not in the way most people mean when they say that.”

This doesn’t mean that all duplicate content is treated equally. Google differentiates between content that is duplicated with the intent to manipulate search results and content that is duplicated for legitimate reasons.

What Constitutes Manipulation?

Manipulation tactics include scraping content from other sites and republishing it or republishing content without adding value. Google has been clear about these tactics:

“There are some penalties that are related to the idea of having the same content as another site—for example, if you’re scraping content from other sites and republishing it, or if you republish content without adding any additional value.”

The Impact on Search Results

Google acknowledges that non-malicious duplication is not grounds for manual action but may affect a site’s performance:

“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. Having this type of duplicate content on your site can potentially affect your site’s performance, but it doesn’t cause penalties.”

Most search engines, including Google, strive for variety in search results:

“Most search engines strive for a certain level of variety; they want to show you ten different results on a search results page, not ten different URLs that all have the same content. To this end, Google tries to filter out duplicate documents so that users experience less redundancy.”

This means that while duplicate content may not lead to a direct penalty, it can lead to a loss of visibility in search results, as search engines will filter out redundant content. Site owners should also consider the inherent risks of building a site that relies on content duplication.

A Nuanced Issue

The issue of duplicate content is nuanced—while there may not be a direct penalty for duplicate content, how search engines handle such content can lead to a loss of visibility and potential impact on site performance.

The key takeaway, as summarized by Google, is:

“Having duplicate content can affect your site in a variety of ways, but unless you’ve been duplicating deliberately, it’s unlikely that one of those ways will be a penalty.”

The emphasis, then, should be on creating content that adds a fresh perspective and value to the topic at hand rather than regurgitating ideas and content structure that appears to be favored by the search engine and ranking.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Now that you understand what duplicate content is, you might be wondering, how do you fix it?

We’ve got just the solution—jump on over to our guide on Duplicate Content SEO, where we break down the process of rectifying duplicate content.

But why stop there? Duplicate content is just one aspect of SEO. To truly optimize your website and ensure it’s performing at its best, consider leveraging Loganix’s SEO services. Our team of experts can provide a full audit, identify areas for improvement, and implement strategies tailored to your specific needs.

🚀 Contact Loganix today and take the first step towards a more robust and effective online presence. 🚀

Written by Adam Steele on January 7, 2024

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.