Don't worry too much about duplicate content

December 19, 2020
Josh Orr

In a lot of client meetings, we hear clients express their concerns about whether they’ll be penalized for duplicate content. It’s unlikely, and here’s why.

Understanding duplicate content

Let’s imagine you run a SaaS company that helps companies manage subscription billing. And your site has a blog post titled “What is billing management?” Perfect.

You want to build your expertise in this area, so you start writing related posts – let’s say, “Billing Management vs. Accounting.”

At some point, you’re going to have to define ‘billing management,’ and that definition is going to look an awful lot like the one you wrote in the previous piece. Or perhaps you think there’s a need for a new article that would benefit from whole sections of content that you wrote for other posts.

The myth is that, based on this “duplicate content”, Google will assess some kind of penalty, making it harder for you to rank and acquire traffic.

What duplicate content (and the duplicate content penalty) really means

It might be the phrasing that scares people. “Penalty.” Punishment!

But really, the duplicate content penalty just means that duplicate content – and by “duplicate content”, we generally mean content that is exactly the same – will confuse Google, and may not show up in search results. Because, as they say on their site, Google tries hard to index and show pages with distinct information.

Google is focused on providing the best possible user experience. When you, the user, type a question into the search bar, you want to search results that offer varied answers.

If Google identifies the exact same answers – word for word – on several sites, it’s going to rank one of them much higher and the others much lower.

So, don’t think of the ‘duplicate content penalty’ as a mode of punishment. Rather, it’s a system that puts a premium on unique information. (Of course, Google is not a purely agnostic search engine, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Scenarios you shouldn’t worry about

Most businesses are working really hard to produce original content in strategic ways that assert their expertise. Still, they worry about duplicate penalties. Some scenarios that will not trigger duplicate content penalties:

  • Reusing text you used elsewhere. Just make sure you paraphrase or rephrase it.
  • Multiple posts on one topic. So long as the posts are individualized with different headlines and subheads, multiple posts on a topic are actually great for SEO.
  • Multiple posts in one keyword area. Fear not: this is another very effective strategy for building credibility and search performance.

None of these examples are actually duplication. Rather, they might be considered iteration, or repetition, or variations on a theme – all of which are the content marketer’s friend.

In general, an effective content marketing strategy involves making the most out of all the content you have. Strategies we recommend to clients include:

After all, you spent a lot of time crafting this content – with a little revision time, you can give it new life. And by doing so, you know that everything on your site is relevant and active.

What to do about truly duplicate content

OK, there are a few cases where you may have truly duplicate content.

Most commonly, this is caused by CMS errors rendering the same content on multiple URLs. Technical issues like these are common but easily found with a technical audit of the site.

Or, your duplication might be intentional. Perhaps you published a blog on your site and Medium (which we don’t recommend). Or you’ve got event info on multiple pages of your site. Or you have press releases that are republished elsewhere.

If you can, set some canonical tags. They’ll let Google know which of the duplicate pages should be ranked higher. SEMrush has a great little guide for canonical tags. But in any case, you’re very unlikely to be assessed any kind of real penalty for this.

Of course, another cause of duplicate content is straight-up plagiarism. Don’t do this. It’s not good for your brand or your soul or even your SEO. Search engines will notice your duplicate content if you plagiarize, and assess actual penalties. Like, penalty penalties, also known as “manual actions”.

This is very unlikely to be a problem unless you are doing it intentionally.

Conclusion

For most businesses, duplicate content penalties are not a huge danger. Google ranks duplicate content lower when it can’t decide which of the pages has primacy. So when we talk about penalties, we’re really just talking about weaker search performance.

If you’re taking time to create original content and publish it in a consistent way, you’re probably not at much risk for these ‘penalties.’ Optimizing your site for SEO means taking inventory of your content, and making sure there are no duplicates.

Fear of duplication should not stop you from repurposing and reusing content, or from building numerous assets around individual keyword groups. These tactics are the backbone of an effective content marketing program. Cases like republishing are not necessarily good, but are unlikely to cause you problems.

Have any questions about your duplication fears? We love to talk shop. Hit us up in the chat below.

Josh Orr

Josh Orr is Ercule's Community Manager. Hit him up on LinkedIn.


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