Duplicate content: it’s not a penalty but it feels like one
Duplicate content is an issue for many webmasters. Although there is no penalty for having duplicate content on your website, Google has ranking algorithm filters that act very similarly to a penalty. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed at SMX last week that duplicate content does not influence the other pages on your website.
What’s the issue with duplicate content?
Duplicate content won’t rank on Google as long as there is another more popular page with the same or similar content. If your website has multiple pages that contain the same content, it can be difficult for Google to pick the right version.
Only one version of the content will be displayed in Google’s search results and the other versions will be hidden. For many webmasters, this feels like a penalty because other websites that have similar content are displayed in Google’s search results instead of their own websites.
What does Google think about duplicate content?
In general, Google does not consider duplicate content spam:
“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.”
They also admit that duplicate content can cause ranking problems:
“In rare situations, our algorithm may select a URL from an external site that is hosting your content without your permission. If you believe that another site is duplicating your content in violation of copyright law, you may contact the site’s host to request removal.”
Legitimate duplicate content can be caused by the mobile versions of regular web pages, by printer-only versions of web pages, by store items that are linked via multiple distinct URLs, etc.
How to avoid duplicate content issues
There are several things that you can do to avoid duplicate content problems:
- Use 301 redirects to redirect visitors to the correct pages on your website.
- Always use the same link, i.e. do not link to /page, /page/index.htm and /page/.
- Syndicate your content carefully. If the websites that show your content are more popular than your own websites, they will be shown in Google’s search results.
- Avoid long boilerplate texts on all pages. Better link to a page with the details.
- Avoid similar pages. If you have several pages with similar content, consider merging them into one page.
Duplicate content can lead to ranking problems on Google. Although there is no official duplicate content penalty, Google’s filters for duplicate content have a very similar effect.