On a couple occasions, we’ve noticed that clients’ sites contain a problem that can hurt their SEO health, or they’ve had questions about it. It can be a confusing issue, so I’d like cover how it can affect your site.
That issue is Duplicate Content.
What is “duplicate content”?
I wrote a post in more detail about what duplicate content is and why it happens, but for the sake of this post, let’s go with a simple definition:
If a page has identical text (all or part) with another page that Google knows — one of them will be considered Duplicate Content.
Problems caused by duplicate content
Loss of rank power
It sounds like it, but this is not a penalty. Check out this (simplified) scenario to see what I mean:
- You run a website all about tea houses in Japan
- A user searches in Google for “English style tea house in Nagoya”
- Google finds 30 pages, and yours should be #1.
- However, another website copied your page’s text right after you published it.
Your content is great, but Google doesn’t know which is the original!
So now Google will have to choose just one copy to give the #1 ranking spot to.
Even though it’s not a penalty, it hurts your site by giving rank power to someone else, when you could be getting it.
Splitting and misplacing rank among your own pages
When you have duplicate content between your own pages — Google will be confused about which is the official copy. It will have to either choose a page, or maybe split the rank power up.
So Google sees 2 or 3 pages on your site with matching text and picks one to give most of the rank power. This might not be an issue for you — it’s ranking your own pages, after all.
But it could cause problems for you if you want to direct traffic to a specific page. Some examples:
- Updated post: you copied an old post and updated some parts.
- Important sales page: you have a sales page that’s meant to encourage people to contact you with Call-to-Action links. You copied text about one of your services from another page.
In these cases, you might want Google to rank these pages, rather than the originals.
If Google finds a couple pages with very similar or identical text, it may say, “hmm, I dunno!” and just split the ranking power. Both pages will result in a generally weaker rank, possibly pushing it down below other sites in the search results.
Google is constantly working on making their algorithm better at figuring out two things:
- searcher intentions — what a person actually wants/needs based on the keywords they use
- bad-faith writing — when you use unnatural wording and SEO tricks to influence your rank, rather than aiming to provide value to the human reading the page
If Google finds your duplicate content and concludes that you are trying something tricky to intentionally influence your rank, your site will be penalized.
That was a basic overview of the problems you’ll encounter if you’re not careful about duplicate content. While it’s not necessarily always a penalty, it can hurt your ranking in other ways.
If you want to know more about what it is and how it happens <– check out this post.
Or take a look at how to resolve hidden duplicate content in your blog archives.