What’s Wrong With Duplicate Content? An SEO Beginner’s Overview
Whether you’re new to content marketing or a seasoned pro, it can be tempting to duplicate your content on multiple pages — especially when you know that content speaks to the heart of your customers’ pain points, provides real solutions to their problems, and positions your company as a visionary organization in your space.
The reason duplicate content is so tempting is that it seems so simple. No one will ever know, right? Wrong. The absolute most important player in the digital marketing game, Google, is already hip to what you’re trying to pull and will show no mercy.
Okay, but aren’t we shooting for brand consistency across the board, here?
Sure, of course we are. But plagiarizing yourself (or far worse, plagiarizing others) because you don’t have the time or creativity to replicate good work with unique messaging isn’t brand consistency; it’s laziness. And in marketing, as in all things, laziness can have serious consequences.
Brand consistency isn’t about repeating specific messaging over and over again; it’s about establishing a universal tone, voice, and perspective across your internal and external communications. Therefore, we should look at duplicate content as the proverbial hot stove: don’t touch it, and you won’t get burned.
But what exactly is duplicate content? How can it hurt your SEO efforts? And what are some good alternatives for repurposing effective, well-written content?
Let’s find out!
What Is Duplicate Content and How Can It Damage Your SEO?
In simplest terms, duplicate content is any content that appears on more than one web page with a unique URL. If you’re saying the same thing and using the same words on multiple pages, you’re a duplicate content offender. In fact, one study showed that nearly 30% of web pages include duplicate content (1). This is problematic for several reasons.
Any content that Google deems “appreciably similar” will make it difficult for search engines to determine which page is serving up the most appropriate content when users search for those topics. Specifically, duplicate content makes it hard for search engine crawlers to understand which page they should rank higher based on query results — and, oftentimes, they’re not even sure which version (or versions) should be included in their indices. As a result, none of the pages housing this duplicate content will rank as high as they could if the content wasn’t duplicated. This can wreak havoc for your organization, your various web properties, and, of course, your potential prospects (who won’t be able to find the information they’re looking for).
Another unintended negative consequence of duplicate content is that it can damage your link equity (sometimes referred to as “link juice”) — a search engine ranking factor based on how the ranking authority of one page can potentially transfer to a separate page when the “larger” page links to the “smaller” page. When other sites want to link to your content, they have to choose which page to link to, which means you’re not getting the full benefit of referral traffic to your preferred page.
Let’s say a major trade publication knows that your manufacturing company is a pioneer in your industry and wants to link to a services page on your site that explains a complicated process in a way that is concise and easy to understand. However, about a month ago, you decided that the page was so well written, so insightful, and was driving so much traffic that you should repurpose the page to write a blog.
On its face, this is a great idea. We strongly encourage repurposing content whenever possible.
The problem is that you didn’t take that topic and rewrite it as an evergreen article with a new and original take; you copy and pasted the entire thing and published it on your blog. Now you essentially have two of the exact same pages on your website, which not only means that Google will struggle to determine which should rank higher but also that the aforementioned trade publication might link to the blog rather than your service page. While you definitely want your blog to rank highly, your service pages will provide far more value to your bottom line (that’s what they’re designed to do, after all), which means you just squandered a golden opportunity to leverage that glorious link juice!
How Does Duplicate Content Happen?
In many instances, like the hypothetical scenario outlined above, duplicate content occurs as a result of a basic lack of knowledge around SEO best practices. However, it’s rarely intentional and can happen in a number of different ways.
- Internet Plagiarists: When people steal and repost your content on their pages, Google might not know which one to index or reward and mistakenly grant higher page rank to the imposter. The problem is that most people never realize there’s a problem. There are literally trillions of web pages out there, so you can’t monitor them all. If you find your content verbatim on another site, however, you should reach out to the webmaster to ask them to remove the content. If they do not, you could consider legal action.
- Different Versions of the Same URL: This occurs when you have multiple pages of the same page but with different variations of your URL parameters. For instance, in addition to your standard URL for a given page, you might also have one with a unique URL slug that signifies that a certain piece of content is print-only.
- Different URL Prefixes: If you have both “www” and “non-www” prefixes or “http” and “https” for pages with otherwise identical URLs, you have a duplicate content issue on your hands.
Whether duplicate content is intentional or not is irrelevant. It causes SEO issues that directly influence your traffic, leads, and buyers, so you need to clean up these problems before they snowball into something worse.
If you suspect you’re having issues with duplicate content, you need to assemble your web and content teams to work together to streamline URL naming conventions and parameters and also identify pages and blogs that need to be re-written.
Speaking of which, instead of continuing to duplicate your content and shoot your SEO efforts in the foot, let’s learn a few simple tricks for how to repurpose all that great content!
Easy Solutions to Your Duplicate Content Problem
Don’t worry, intrepid marketers. Just because you have piles of duplicate content on your site doesn’t mean that you can’t work together to solve the problem. Here’s how!
Create 301 Redirects to Preferred Pages
The fastest and easiest way to solve your duplicate content problem is to simply create a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect is the process of forwarding a user who clicks on a link to your preferred page.
So, again, in our hypothetical mentioned above, rather than just deleting the blog, which will lead to a 404 error (not a great move from an SEO or user experience perspective), you can create a 301 redirect. This way, when users click on the blog, they’ll be immediately forwarded to your services page. They’ll still receive the same helpful information but on a page that is more likely to lead to further engagement. They likely will never know the difference, and everybody wins!
If only part of the page contains duplicate content, simply consolidate the original material and point your users to a single page.
Point Toward Original Content Using Rel=Canonicals
Similar to a 301 redirect, a rel=canonical is a great way to alert search engines to your preferred page, even if the content is “appreciably similar.” Essentially, using a rel=canonical classification tells the search engine that all pages with duplicate content are basically copies of the original URL and that all the link juice associated with these pages should be attributed to that original URL.
Placing a rel=canonical is a fairly simple process. All you have to do is add the attribute to the HTML of all subsidiary pages and add the URL of your preferred page. This will tell the search engines everything they need to know and, like a 301 redirect, will also pass along all link equity to the original URL.
Put Pen to Paper and Rewrite Your Content
Throughout this blog, I’ve been careful to draw a distinction between “repurposing” content and “duplicating” content. Duplicate content is reusing content verbatim, whereas repurposing content is reusing that content in new and innovative ways with fresh copy that explores the subject from a slightly different angle or perspective — or by using a slightly different voice or tone.
Great content is great content and should be repurposed whenever possible. But your copywriters need to understand your different audiences and how they engage on your different channels (web, social, email, etc.) to achieve best results. This will require a periodic review of your buyer personas and industries and that your writing staff is able to create content for each audience using appropriate messaging for each segment.
At Act-On, we always follow the “Rule of 4,” which states that “for every piece of content, there should be four ways” to use it. For instance, if you write an eBook, you could then use that content to:
- Write a blog series supporting each section of the eBook and designate your primary call-to-action (CTA) to direct to the eBook landing page
- Promote the eBook on all social media platforms and encourage employees and colleagues to share it through your shared social media module
- Include the eBook (and related blogs) in your newsletter
- Identify previous blogs that are generating good traffic and update the CTA to direct the user to the eBook landing page
- Create a pop-up or featured content section on your home page (and related product or service pages) that links to the eBook landing page
- Host a webinar built around the content of the eBook
- Rewrite the content for different audiences and industries, making subtle but impactful changes along the way to ensure maximum engagement
- Create an infographic highlighting the key points, statistics, and quotes in the eBook that you can use digitally and as part of your events marketing strategy
The list could go on and on, but the important thing to understand is that content assets should never live in a vacuum. Re-use to your heart’s content but do so with purposeful intentions, fresh copy, and a creative outlook!
Act-On’s SEO Audit Tool Can Help You Eliminate Duplicate Content
No matter your skill set, experience level, or the size of your marketing team or organization, duplicate content is bound to pop up at some point — it’s unavoidable, especially as businesses attempt to scale.
The trick is to implement best practices and processes to help minimize these instances. Execute period content reviews of all your digital properties and assign team members appropriate tasks based on the outcome of those reviews.
For instance, while your webmaster should be focusing on applying rel=canonical attributes or noindexing certain pages to prevent search engines from listing them in search results, your writers should be repurposing content and helping out the web team by implementing 301 redirects.
There are a lot of useful sites out there to help you perform great SEO research and review of your various digital properties (SpyFu, Moz, SEMRush, and Ahrefs among them), but Act-On’s SEO Audit Tool is one of our most dynamic features and can help you solve your duplicate content issues. With SEO best practice guidelines readily available, you can use our SEO Audit Tool to analyze any page with a functioning URL (including your competitors) and then use that information to make critical improvements.
To learn more about how learning and following SEO best practices can improve the quantity and quality of your leads, please download our eBook, “How to Attract More Prospects.” (See that? Repurposing content in action!)
Or, if you’re ready to learn more about Act-On’s powerful and dynamic marketing automation platform, please complete this brief online form.