What Counts As Duplicate Content and How SEO Can Fix It



Dec 21, 2023


min read

We say in marketing that “Content is king,” and as Google continuously updates search results to focus on helpful content, it’s more important than ever to produce unique, relevant, and valuable content that demonstrates your expertise

But even if you’re creating top-quality content, there’s an issue that can undermine your SEO efforts: duplicate content. Though it might sound self-explanatory, duplicate content can be more intricate than meets the eye. 

Over the course of this article, we'll dive deep into understanding what counts as duplicate content, why it's a problem, and, most importantly, how you can fix it.

What Is Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content, in the simplest terms, refers to similar copy that appears in multiple places online. This similarity can exist either within the same website or across different websites.

While some digital marketers may believe that duplicate content only refers to blatant copy-pasting, there are other ways that content replication can occur, both on-site and off-site.

On-Site Duplicate Content

On-site duplicate content can exist in multiple ways on your website:

URL Variations

Sometimes the same page can be accessed through different URLs due to tracking parameters, session IDs, print versions of pages, or even the “www” prefix difference. Without proper canonicalization, these can be seen by search engines as duplicates.

Similar Content Across Pages

When it comes to duplicative product pages, think of product descriptions on e-commerce sites. If several products share a near-identical description, it's potentially problematic. Not every repetition is malicious or lazy; sometimes, it’s a mere oversight or a technical glitch. But in the eyes of search engines, the differentiation might be less forgiving. 

When troubleshooting how to improve identical content on product pages, remember that content should be helpful for consumers. Imagine what information would be useful to them and build out your product pages accordingly. Based on your industry, adding ingredient information, product source information, or sizing information can create a more helpful user experience, and differentiate your products to search engines. 

Off-Site Duplicate Content

Off-site duplicate content involves two or more distinct websites. A classic example is when an article gets syndicated across multiple news platforms without a unique spin or attribution. If your content is going to be shared across multiple websites, be sure to use a canonical link to tell search engines which page is the original (although canonicals are “suggestions” to search engines and aren’t always observed).

Understanding what qualifies as duplicate content will help you identify and optimize your content to improve your website traffic for both users and search engines alike. 

Why Is Duplicate Content a Problem?

Duplicate content impacts site quality, which in turn affects SEO performance. We explore more below.

A Negative Impact on User Experience

While SEO keyword strategies aim to appease algorithms, the ultimate goal is to serve and satisfy real (human) users. Users want to find helpful and engaging information quickly, and their experience is very important to Google, especially in light of their recent Algorithm updates.

When duplicate content exists on a website, it can cause the following problems for those browsing your site:

Navigation Confusion

When multiple pages on a site present the same content, users might find themselves lost, unsure if they've navigated to a new page or merely circled back to one they've seen before.

Trust Erosion

Finding repeated content, especially on different websites, can erode trust with users, who might question the quality of the website or the originality and credibility of the source.

Decreased Engagement

Repetitive content can bore or frustrate users. Engaging content is diverse and unique, meeting different user needs across various stages of their journey.

Impaired Conversion

Duplicate content can impede a user’s conversion. If they're met with repeated information, the confusion or lack of trust in the source might prevent them from making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter.

Recognizing the impact of duplicate content on user experience is paramount. However, duplicate content can also negatively impact your SEO.

Negative Impacts of Duplicate Content on SEO

Duplicate content can also harm your SEO efforts in a few key ways. 

Self-Competition in Search Results

When on-site content is too similar, you might inadvertently make your pages compete against each other in search results, reducing the chances of the page you want appearing at the top. When Google sees duplicate content, it selects a canonical for you, which may or may not align with the canonical you would have selected for your site. If you're not actively managing duplicate content and canonicals, the wrong duplicate might get selected and ranked by Google.

Dilution of Link Equity

If different pages have identical content, backlinks might be spread across them rather than being concentrated on the page you want to rank. This can dilute the "link juice" or equity of your page, affecting its ranking potential.

Penalty Risks

While search engines typically don't penalize for unintentional duplication, blatant practices like scraping content from other sites can lead to significant penalties, severely affecting your website's visibility.

Decreased Crawl Efficiency

Search engines allocate a crawl budget for websites. Duplicate content consumes this budget unnecessarily, leading to important pages being left uncrawled or unindexed. An important advanced technical SEO concept is determining how to make sure your site is crawled efficiently.

Duplicate content affects user experience and SEO performance. The best way to rectify the issue is to understand how it occurs.

How Does Duplicate Content Occur?

Understanding the root causes of duplicate content can equip you to proactively address them. Let’s dive into some common reasons:

• CMS Defaults: Some content management systemsmight generate multiple URLs for a single page, especially when tags or categories are involved.

• Syndication Without Caution: Syndicating content is a valid strategy for wider reach, but without proper attribution, canonicals, or unique content additions, it can backfire.

• Printer-friendly Versions: Some sites create printer-friendly pages, which, if not correctly handled, become sources of duplication.

• HTTP vs. HTTPS or WWW vs. Non-WWW: Migrating to HTTPS or deciding on a preferred domain version without proper redirects can cause duplicate content.

• Session IDs & Tracking Parameters: These can create multiple URLs for the same content, leading to perceived duplication.

• Human Error: Simple mistakes, like inadvertently publishing the same content on different parts of a website, can be a source of duplication.

Identifying the root causes is the first step for fixing your own site and reducing copied content. Equipped with this knowledge, you can preemptively address potential pitfalls and ensure a seamless user experience for optimal SEO performance.

How Can You Identify Duplicate Content?

Spotting duplicate content is a critical step in remediation. Here's a structured approach for identifying redundancies:

• Internal Audits: Regularly reviewing your site, especially after major updates or content pushes, can preemptively catch instances of duplication.

• Feedback Loops: Encourage user feedback. Sometimes, your audience might be the first to spot and highlight repeated content.

• Comparative Analysis: For potential off-site duplications, occasionally taking chunks of your content and searching them in quotation marks on search engines can reveal unauthorized reproductions.

Recognizing the instances and sources of duplication early on can save significant rectification efforts later and ensure your technical SEO strategy remains unhampered.

Tools for Identifying Duplicate Content

In the vast digital landscape, manual checks, while valuable, might not always be feasible. Thankfully, there are tools designed specifically for this:

Google Search Console (GSC): Beyond its other features, Google Search Console offers a “Coverage” report which can hint at duplicate content issues by flagging "Duplicate without user-selected canonical" warnings. More information on the various helpful tools from GSC is below.

Ahrefs: Known for its backlink analysis, Ahrefs also offers a site audit feature that can detect duplicate content issues.

Screaming Frog: This extensive SEO spider tool can crawl your website to identify duplicates, among other issues.

Copyscape: A favorite for many, Copyscape allows you to input your website URL and find exact matches of your content across the web.

Siteliner: Particularly useful for on-site duplicates, Siteliner scans your website to identify pages with high content overlap.

Leveraging these tools can simplify the detection process, allowing you to focus on optimization. While no tool offers a 100% catch rate, combining multiple tools and methods ensures a thorough check and comprehensive SEO health.

Manual Checks for Duplicate Content

While tools can streamline the detection process, there's inherent value in manual checks. They offer an element of human intuition and understanding that machines might miss. 

Here's how you can conduct effective manual audits:

• Regular Content Reviews: Periodically assess your website's content, looking for repetitions or very similar texts. This is especially crucial after content-heavy updates or site revamps.

• Browser Checks: By appending "site:yourwebsite.com" followed by a snippet of your content in search engines, you can identify if that specific content appears multiple times on your domain.

• Competitor Analysis: Regularly peruse websites in your niche. Sometimes, you'll spot content strikingly similar to yours, indicating potential off-site duplication.

• URL Patterns: Examine your URL structures. Look for unintentional patterns indicating multiple URLs pointing to similar content.

Manual checks, while time-consuming, can offer insights beyond mere duplication, like content relevance and user experience enhancement opportunities.

Using Google Search Console To Identify Duplicate Content

Google Search Console (GSC) isn't just a tool for performance metrics; it's a treasure trove for SEO diagnostics, including duplicate content identification:

• Coverage Report: As mentioned, GSC’s “Coverage” report provides crucial insights. Pages flagged with "Duplicate without user-selected canonical" suggest potential on-site duplication.

• URL Inspection: By inputting specific URLs, you can check if Google perceives them as duplicates and whether they're canonicalized correctly.

• Search Results Analysis: GSC's “Performance” section displays the pages ranked for specific keywords. If multiple pages from your site rank for the same keyword, it may hint at content overlap.

• Sitemaps: Ensure your sitemap only lists preferred URLs to prevent unintentional indexing of potential duplicate pages.

Leveraging GSC for duplicate content isn't just about detection. It’s also about understanding how Google perceives your site, enabling proactive measures to ensure optimal indexing and ranking.

How To Fix Duplicate Content

Once you've identified duplicate content, the next crucial step is fixing the issues to improve your SEO performance and enhance user experience. Let's explore effective solutions:

Using Canonical Tags

Canonical tags signal to search engines which version of a page is the "master" or authoritative one, ensuring that this version is the one that gets indexed.

The canonical tag is a piece of HTML code added to the header section of a webpage. For instance, if example.com/page-a and example.com/page-b have similar content, and page-a is the preferred page, you'd add a canonical tag on page-b that points to page-a.

Cross-domain canonicals come in handy when the same content exists across different domains. You can canonicalize content on one domain to its counterpart on another.

Canonical tags offer a solution to duplicate content issues, especially in cases where such duplications are unavoidable, like in e-commerce settings with product variations.

Using 301 Redirects

301 redirects are a powerful tool for addressing duplicate content while also preserving the SEO value of the redirected page. These are particularly useful when consolidating content or when restructuring a website:

• Understanding 301 Redirects: A 301 redirect is a permanent server-side redirect. It tells search engines (and users) that a particular page has permanently moved to a new location.

• Preserving Link Equity: One major advantage of 301 redirects is that they transfer a significant portion of the SEO value (or "link juice") from the original page to the new one.

• Implementation: Depending on your website's platform, implementing a 301 redirect can involve editing your .htaccess file, using plugins, or server configurations.

• Use Cases: If you're merging two similar pages into one or if you've changed the URL structure of your site, a 301 redirect ensures users and search engines find the new page and understand its relationship to the old one.

• Caution: It's crucial to ensure that redirects are set up correctly and tested. Chains of redirects (one page redirecting to another, which then redirects to another) can hamper load times, confuse search engines, and affect SEO results

Consistent URL Structure

A consistent URL structure not only enhances user experience but also prevents inadvertent content duplication:

• URL Parameters: Ensure parameters like tracking codes or session IDs don't create perceived duplicates. If they're necessary, instruct search engines which version to prioritize using canonical tags or the parameter handling tool in Google Search Console.

• Case Sensitivity: Some servers differentiate between uppercase and lowercase URLs. Decide on a consistent case structure and stick to it.

• Trailing Slashes: Decide whether to use trailing slashes (example.com/page/) or avoid them (example.com/page). Ensure internal links and sitemaps adhere to your chosen structure.

• WWW vs. Non-WWW: Choose one version (either www.example.comor example.com) and make sure all internal links, sitemaps, and other mentions are consistent. Use 301 redirects to guide traffic from the non-preferred version to the chosen one.

By ensuring a clear and consistent URL structure, you reduce the chances of accidental duplications and offer a cleaner, more navigable site to users.

What Are Some Other Tips and Tricks To Avoid Duplicate Content?

Beyond the common solutions, there are additional practices that can shield your site from content duplication:

• Pagination Attributes: For multi-page articles or listings, use rel="next" and rel="prev" tags to signal the sequence of pages to search engines. When using pagination attributes, it’s important to be aware of pagination best practices.

• Set Geographic Targets: If you have country-specific domains or subdomains with similar content, specify your geographical target in Google Search Console to minimize perceived duplication.

• Mobile Versions: If you have separate mobile pages, ensure they're linked with their desktop counterparts using the rel="alternate" and rel="canonical" tags.

• Regular Monitoring: Make duplicate content checks a part of your regular site audits. This proactive approach can nip potential issues in the bud.

The Bottom Line

Duplicate content, while a common concern, is rectifiable with the right strategies. By understanding its origins, leveraging tools and manual checks, and employing effective fixes, site owners can optimize their content for both users and search engines. When in doubt, reach out to GR0 — we have the tools and expertise to keep your site lean, functional, and fully effective in the domain of SEO and beyond.

Remember, the goal isn't just to appease search algorithms. It's to provide a seamless, valuable experience to your audience. When your content strategy is built on authenticity, originality, and user-centricity, both SEO and user engagement thrive.


Learn About Sitemaps | Google Search Central

Duplicate Content Myths and Facts | Neil Patel

How to Solve Duplicate Content Issues: The Complete Guide

A Beginner's Guide to Content Management | Motley Fool


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