Duplicate Content & SEO – The Facts

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How Bad is Duplicate Content?

Advice commonly thrown around the SEO community is ‘content is king’ and that your content should be ‘unique’ and not copied from other sources – else you’ll be penalized in search. Although this holds a general truth, duplicate content is not as serious as it’s all hyped up to be. Duplicate content has been used prevalently throughout the Internet since the birth of digital syndication. It’s not uncommon for many different sites to share the exact same content from a syndicated news story, or from referencing useful data. Duplicate content is only a serious issue if you deliberately copy content off another site for deceptive purposes, such as to manipulate search engine results. If Google recognizes that you have such intentions, this is when you’ll get penalized.

Here is what Google says about duplicate content:

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.

However, in some cases, content is deliberately duplicated across domains in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings or win more traffic. Deceptive practices like this can result in a poor user experience, when a visitor sees substantially the same content repeated within a set of search results. – Source: Google

So, as stated earlier, duplicate content won’t necessarily hurt your site. In an SEO point of view, you probably just won’t get ranked for the keywords you are targeting. The reason Google hates similar content all boils down to user experience. For example, when a particular user searches on Google and sees the same content for each webpage in the top 10 results, then it definitely won’t be useful for the searcher. You can read more about what Google’s says on duplicate and it’s best practices here.

How to check for Duplicate Content:

If you are worried about SEO and you want to make sure that your site doesn’t have duplicate content, there are a number of ways to check it. The most popular plagiarism-checking software is CopyScape. When you want to use it for free, you can simply type the URL of your webpage on the site’s textbox and click Go. A Premium (paid) CopyScape account allows you to paste any content on the web-based, plagiarism-checking software and check if it has a similar copy on the Internet. As of August 2013, a Premium CopyScape account will cost about $0.05 per search (one content check). Other alternatives to CopyScape include PlagTracker.com, DupliChecker.com, PlagiarismChecker.com, PlagiarismCheck.org, Plagium.com, and PaperRater.com.

How to Resolve Duplicate Content issues:

So you’ve checked the vast web for replicas of your content and found some of your articles living on other websites; now what? I suggest you take action. This is because it is now possible that your page will not get ranked, while the other site with your stolen content does. Logically, you’d expect Google to rank the page that has been indexed longer, since that indicates it’s truly the original content since it was crawled first. However, this is not the case. Here is what Google says:

Google will always show the version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer. – Source: Google

What factors Google bases this decision on are unknown. However, one could speculate that the signals of higher trust, higher PageRank, or better relevancy may play a role.

Get It Removed

One option is to contact the webmaster or site owner through email or their contact form, and politely ask them to take down your stolen content. I would take this approach if the site seems to be shady or untrustworthy; such as an XXX site, a Gambling site, or a site that is used for black-hat techniques – like a link-farm or a content spinning blog.

However, if the site seems creditable, or even better, has a high PageRank, another option would be to capitalize on this opportunity for a link back to your site. Ask them to build a link pointing to your original content, giving you credit as the source.

Implement a Canonical Attribute

You can also ask them to place a Canonical URL tag attribute in the head of their page pointing back to your article as well. This is done by adding <link rel=”canonical” href=”www.preferredURLhere.com/articlepage”>  to the <head> section of the duplicate content. The Canonical URL tag attribute is similar in to a 301 redirect from an SEO perspective. It is used for purposes of both onsite and offsite duplicate content, you can find more details about it here, where you can request to remove content from Google.

Report It

Finally, as a last resort, if the website chooses not to acknowledge your request, you can file a copyright infringement request here.

Final Thoughts

Remember, that duplicate content is not good for SEO when it is use for malicious purposes, such as tricking the search engines to rank your site over another site who owns the original content. However, if you have duplicate content for non-malicious purposes (such as having copies in discussion forums, quoting someone, or referencing good information), remember to always link to the source to give the author credit, and make sure you’re site is SEO-friendly and penalty-safe.


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About Author

Jourdan Rombough is a SEO Expert specializing in Website Visibility & Internet Strategy. He is an SEO Manager at MERKLE | IMPAQT, assisting Fortune 500 Companies with their visibility strategies. More...

2 Comments

  1. Hi Jourdan,

    Really informative post; i just want to point out that duplicate content issues are rarely a penalty. It is more about Google knowing which page they should rank and which page they should not. Google doesn’t want to show the same content to searchers for the same query; they do like to diversify the results to their searchers.

    • Hey Keyur, I completely agree. That is the message I was trying to relay in the 5th paragraph down (right above “How to check for Duplicate Content”), but you summed it up much better. Thanks for your input 🙂

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