Ask any marketer: Content marketing is one of the most effective ways to grow your audience online. Sharing quality content consistently is a critical component of an effective search engine optimization (SEO) campaign and a driving force in guiding potential customers further along your funnel.
With the amount of work it takes to churn out unique, well-written content on a regular basis, it’s easy to see why duplicate content exists (even though most of it is unintentional). But does having duplicate copy result in lower rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs)? Yes and no – and not in a manner that you’d expect.
It is a common misconception in the SEO industry that duplicate copy negatively impacts your rankings because of a perceived Google duplicate content penalty. In a recent Google SEO office-hours hangout, Google Search Advocate John Mueller shared that Google doesn’t attach a negative ranking score on Google SEO duplicate content. It does, however, choose which pages to show.
“…it’s not so much that there’s a negative score associated with it,” said Mueller. “It’s more that if we find exactly the same information on multiple pages on the web, and someone searches specifically for that piece of information, then we’ll try to find the best matching page.”
So, that answers that. But just because it isn’t a negative ranking factor doesn’t mean it won’t impact your SEO – and negatively, at that. Read on for an explanation of how Google ranks websites to understand why duplicate content doesn’t affect ranking. We’ll also discuss the duplicate content SEO impact in detail, and determine why it’s still bad for your website, even with no penalty attached.
How Does Google Rank Websites?
When you’re searching for a piece of information on Google, it returns a set of results, each ranked according to relevance to your query. The rank of each page is determined through the following three-step process:
1. Crawling – Google uses complex programs called crawlers (commonly referred to as robots or spiders) to sort through hundreds of billions of web pages on over 1.83 billion websites to identify information found on each page.
2. Indexing – Google organizes the information found on each web page and stores them in a database called the index.
3. Ranking – Google pulls information from the index and displays the most relevant results.
When displaying the rankings of a website, Google looks at a plethora of Google ranking factors to assess each result’s relevance to the query. These Google ranking factors can be condensed into the following:
• Meaning of Your Query – this Google ranking factor determines the intent behind the query to find the best results using similar searches.
• Relevance on Web Pages – Google uses keywords, meta tags and interaction to signal relevancy.
• Quality of Content – this Google ranking factor assesses a web page’s expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) on a given topic.
• Usability of Web Pages – usability prioritizes user experience (UX), identifying user pain points on a page and returning pages that are deemed more usable over others.
• Context and Settings – context yields personalized results based on your location, search history and search settings.
Each Google ranking factor is assigned a specific weight, which varies depending on the nature of your search. For instance, context will play an even greater role in results that call for current events than it does for dictionary definitions.
What Is Duplicate Content?
The way Google ranks websites is pretty straightforward. Google finds your website, indexes the information on it and displays it when deemed relevant to the search. At the same time, it’s also a complicated process – especially when duplicate content is found. But what is duplicate content?
As the name suggests, duplicate content is when significant portions of the text match other content found on separate web pages or a different website. This covers anything, including product descriptions, headers and footers, copies of a blog post and other forms of non-malicious text (content copied without intent to manipulate search rankings).
For content to be considered duplicate, it either has to be an exact match or vastly similar. For instance, if you find the same dictionary definition on different websites when you Google duplicate content using the search term “what is duplicate content?”, that is a form of duplicate content.
Duplicate Content Penalty and Google SEO Duplicate Content Rules
As mentioned above, the Google duplicate content penalty is a myth. Google doesn’t impose a duplicate content penalty on web pages with duplicate copy. But while there are no negative Google ranking factors for duplicate content SEO, it can still harm your SEO strategies.
Here’s how Google SEO duplicate content rules affect your website:
1. It prevents your web pages from being indexed.
Did you know that Google bots follow a crawl budget in the process of indexing a website? In a nutshell, the Google crawl budget is the amount of attention its crawlers give your website. Crawl budget decides how much time bots spend crawling your website for pages to index.
A bloated website filled with duplicate content runs up the Google crawl budget. With a diminished crawl budget, unique web pages won’t be indexed correctly.
2. It prevents your web pages from being ranked.
Aside from using up the Google crawl budget, duplicate content also prevents previously indexed pages from showing up on SERPs. Google doesn’t like showing identical content, even if it’s highly optimized SEO duplicate content. So, when crawlers find SEO duplicate content on your web pages, they immediately try to find the page that provides the best match. Instead of five pages getting indexed and shown on rankings, only one will ultimately show up on SERPs, diluting the visibility of your website.
3. It dilutes link equity.
When a web page gets backlinks, more authority is passed to it through link equity. As more pages link to that page, its own authority improves because Google will see it as authoritative content. But when you have multiple versions of the same page, other sites might link to different copies of that page, diluting the amount of link juice you’re getting. That could be problematic if you’re looking for specific pages to rank.
A more succinct way of looking at Google duplicate content is it’s content that competes against itself. In other words, as more instances of duplication occur, a page has more competitors.
How To Manage Duplicate Content SEO Issues
Solving Google duplicate content issues isn’t easy. You can’t just delete duplicates, especially if they are external to your domain.
The best way to manage these issues is to set up controls that point to the original content, telling Google “this is the one you should index.” You can set up such controls as a 301 redirect and a canonical tag, among others. But what is a 301 redirect? What is a canonical tag?
Find out more below.
Locate Issues with a Duplicate Content Checker
You can’t fix duplicate content issues without first knowing where they are. The most effective way to do so is by using tools like a duplicate content checker to detect where they are. Whether it’s blocks of text or duplicates of an entire page, an automated duplicate content checker can help you catch these issues. Run through a list of the best online tools you can use and choose one.
Set Up a 301 Redirect
First, let’s answer the question, “What is a 301 redirect?”. The 301 redirect is a control used to permanently point to a page while passing full link equity. Setting up a 301 redirect is often the quickest and easiest way to solve issues with duplicate content. You can use it to pass all links that point to a duplicate page to the original page, eliminating competition between the two pages.
For instance, if you originally had a blog post that answers “what is a 301 redirect?” and merged it with one on “what is a canonical tag?”, all users will be automatically pointed to the combined blog post. You can set up a 301 redirect by accessing your server’s .htaccess file.
Use the Canonical Tag
If you don’t want to set up a redirect, you can also use the canonical tag. What is a canonical tag, you may ask? The rel=canonical attribute indicates that a specific page is the original and everything else is just a duplicate.
Do all pages have to use the rel=canonical attribute? If you want the page to be correctly ranked, then yes. By declaring a page to be canonical, you tell Google that “this is the one I want displayed on SERPs.”
To use the rel=canonical attribute, access the backend of each duplicate page, add the link to the canonical page under the HTML head and add the “rel=canonical” attribute to the link tag. The format should be as follows:
<head> <link href=”original page URL” rel=”canonical” /> </head>
Add the Noindex Meta Robots Tag
Another way of controlling duplicate content issues is through meta robots, specifically by using the “noindex, follow” attribute. Using the tag explicitly tells Google to exclude certain links from its index while still allowing the page to be crawled.
You can find the meta robots tag under the HTML head of each page. Use the following format:
<head> <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”> </head>
Modify Preferred Domain Settings on Google Search Console
In cases where you have multiple domains (www and no www), you can set the preferred domain on Google Search Console, allowing you to specify how Google crawls various URL parameters. You can locate this option under Site Settings on Google Search Console.
Do take note that this only covers how Google handles instances of duplicate content. Bing and other search engines will still crawl your website normally.
Leveraging excellent, unique content consistently is a tall order. With the Google duplicate content penalty not actually existing, do you still have to worry about these issues? Of course. Other problems may arise that could still count as another form of duplicate content penalty. You can manage these issues effectively by following the tips we shared above.
Your content marketing strategy is more crucial than ever in 2021. With more than 93 percent of all web traffic going through search engines, implementing a robust content marketing plan is the best way to put your business’s growth on autopilot when executed the right way.
Amplify your reach and automate sales by leveraging high-quality content from Thrive. We are a professional content marketing agency dedicated to keeping your content fresh and unique. We help you stay competitive by creating content that offers value to your audience and aligns with your goals. Above all, we take care of any issues with duplicate content so you stay ahead. Give us a call at 866-908-4748 or fill in our form and start working with us today!