Nicole Turley

September 21, 2023

Duplicate Content: What You Need to Know

September 21, 2023

For years, a myth has been perpetuated that search engines penalize a site for duplicate content. However, there has never been a duplicate content penalty from Google or other search engines. So long as your website doesn’t intentionally plagiarize other sources, having duplicate information, as in information with the same description of a product or service, should see no loss in search ranking. Here is a look at how search engines handle duplicate content and which content they view as spam.

How search engines rank content

It helps to start this discussion with a clear overview of how search engines like Google rank content. Search engines use complex algorithms to compile search results, including factors such as the relevance of the content to the search query, location, originality of content, authority of the website, user experience, and amount of traffic to a website. User behavior and feedback can also affect how search engines improve their algorithms over time.

The goal of search engine algorithms    

The ultimate goal of search engines is to provide users with the most relevant and helpful content for their search queries. They want users to feel like they are getting detailed, original, accurate, and helpful information, not information that is trying to manipulate, deceive, or scam. Their goal is to continue elevating quality content and weed out poor quality, spam, or content that is unhelpful or harmful to the user. 

Understanding duplicate content

Duplicate content refers to identical or near-identical content appearing at multiple places across the web. Specifically, Google defines duplicate content as “blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content in the same language or are appreciably similar.” This description can apply to a wide range of content on the web. While some of this content is intentionally spam, plagiarizing, or aimed at manipulating search results, a large majority is not, and search engines know this.

Examples of duplicate content

According to Google, between 25% and 30% of all web content is duplicate. Labeling it all as spam or penalizing it would be unfair, inaccurate, and impossible for search engines to manage at scale. Repetitive or duplicate content is surprisingly common, and a certain amount is expected. Here are some key examples:

  • Product descriptions. Generic or manufacturer-provided descriptions of a product used across multiple sites/sales outlets.
  • Different versions of the same web page. Examples of this would include printer or mobile-friendly versions of a regular webpage or both HTTP and HTTPS versions of the page being accessible.
  • Same page/different locations. When a company uses the same or a similar service or product page for multiple locations.
  • Boilerplate content. Content that appears the same on most pages of a site, such as a footer that contains a disclaimer that is the same on all sites.
  • Content syndication. When content is republished on other platforms with the originator’s permission.

The above are some common examples of how duplicate content can be relevant and useful. Search engines anticipate this and adjust their programming accordingly. 

How search engines handle duplicate content

It is important to reiterate that there is no specific Google penalty for duplicate content. Instead, they take a more nuanced approach to handling duplicate content with the goal of presenting the “most valuable” version of the content. Basically, this means search engines will group duplicate content together under the same search results cluster. Then, they will try to identify the “most valuable” version of the content and rank it. Similar content will then appear as alternative options to the ranked URL. 

Several factors are considered when choosing the “most valuable” version, including the originator, the authority of the website, and the site with the most traffic. However, location is usually the most significant factor affecting the performance of a piece of content. When deciding between two pieces of the same content, the search engine is likely to prioritize the piece most relevant to the searcher’s location. 

Therefore, content can be almost entirely reused, with the only difference being the structured data indicating different practices and locations. In these cases, different practices can use the same content, and the content’s performance will be more relevant in search based on the area the practice works out of.

What do search engines penalize?

What search engines target for penalties are SEO practices considered deceptive or manipulative. Therefore, unless you are producing a site that is deliberately trying to “cheat,” the risk of significant negative impacts is low. For example, Google states: “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.” A prime example of this is plagiarism or scrapping, when websites publish another’s original content without permission and claim it as their own.

Dispelling the myths around duplicate content

Most online marketers need not worry too much about duplicate content. As long as they are not using this content in an intentionally deceptive way, their SEO is unlikely to be significantly harmed. Google and other search engines know that a certain amount of duplicate content is normal. Therefore, they do not penalize duplicate content but consider it along with other relevant factors when indexing and ranking a site.

Frequently asked questions about duplicate content

Has there ever been a duplicate content penalty?

There has never been a specific duplicate content penalty. This is one of the biggest myths in SEO. Search engines have confirmed this throughout the years, but for some reason, this myth still persists, partially due to predatory SEO competitors. Though duplicate content can have some impact on SEO, search engines continually update their programming to distinguish manipulative content from unintentional or harmless duplicate content. 

Can duplicate content affect SEO?

While not intentionally penalized, it can impact search rankings since the search engine must choose which piece of content to rank. They will use other important ranking factors such as location, originator, and authority to help do this. However, a search engine sometimes gets it wrong, which can impact rankings. Fortunately, there are actions web administrators can take to help search engines identify the “right” version of the content. In addition, administrators can use other tools and methods to help cut down on the unintentional duplicate content they produce. 

How do search engines actually handle duplicate content?

Though search engines do not want to penalize non-malicious duplicate content, they want to present users with the most valuable search results. Part of this means not showing them a bunch of URLs with the same content. Therefore, instead of penalizing it or removing it from the search results entirely, a search engine will try to identify the “right” or “best” version and rank it the highest. Search engines like Google have a system of doing this that involves identifying the original creator while considering other factors, such as authority and its usefulness to the specific search query. Usually, what is considered the “best” content is heavily influenced by local search. 

When is duplicate content considered deceptive?

This is a difficult question to answer because duplicate content itself is not the target. Rather, search engines are concerned with how it is used. A search engine’s programming aims to provide the most valuable experience for the user, and duplicate content is not necessarily always devoid of value. An issue for search engines is duplicate content that intends to mislead in some way. Here are some examples of deceptive use of duplicate content: 

  • Affiliate marketing overload. Creating multiple pages with the same content but with slight variations to promote different affiliate products without providing unique value to users.
  • Auto-generated content. Populating pages with content generated by AI
  • Cloaking. Showing search engines keyword-rich content while showing users unrelated or low-quality content.
  • Content Scraping. Copying content from other sources without crediting them or asking for their permission.
  • Doorway Pages. Creating multiple pages with similar content funneling users to a single page (This is usually to generate ad revenue or affiliate sales).
  • Inflating Page Counts. Creating multiple pages with slight variations in content to artificially increase the number of indexed pages.
  • Hidden text/links. Using hidden text or links that are invisible to users but intended to manipulate search rankings. 
  • Mirrored Website. Creating multiple websites with the same content but slightly different domain names in an attempt to target the same keywords and manipulate search results.
  • Misleading Redirects. Using redirects to take users to different content than what was initially promised.

What should I do about duplicate content?

If you are not using manipulative tactics like those described above, duplicate content will not be an issue for your SEO. As long as your site’s content continues to cover multiple topics over time, explores fresh angles on established topics, and strives to add value to the reader, you will avoid the pitfalls of content cannibalization. 

Separating SEO fact from SEO fiction

There are many myths circulating about SEO, and the duplicate content penalty is one of them, usually perpetuated by predatory SEO competitors. The average practitioner who is honestly trying to connect with patients and promote their practice online has little to worry about. Here at Doctor Genius, we help practices navigate the sometimes complicated world of SEO and online marketing. If you are concerned about duplicate content, reach out to one of our representatives today.

Doctor Genius, located at 16800 Aston Street, Suite 270, Irvine, CA 92606, provides a range of services for practice success. We seek to meet our clients’ needs by providing a variety of marketing, SEO, practice optimization tools, and coaching to transform the healthcare experience. Though we work to provide the most accurate information, the content found on this website is solely intended for entertainment purposes. Therefore, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is entirely correct. You may not use the information on this site to cure, prevent, or diagnose a perceived medical issue. If you have healthcare-related needs, please speak directly to a healthcare professional. Never self-perform medical treatments discussed on this website. All images displayed are also for entertainment purposes only, and personal experiences may differ. Please note that the business tactics mentioned on this site might not be applicable to your industry or practice.