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Written by Finn Ruijter, 01 March 2022

Tackle your duplicate content for better rankings

Duplicate content is one of the biggest SEO issues for websites. And that really doesn’t have to involve stolen content right away: often it involves text on different pages of your own site, such as when you post snippets of related blog posts or when you have a lot of content in your footer.

In this article, you’ll discover when duplicate content exists, what consequences you may face and what you can do about duplicate content. We give you practical tools but at the same time urge you to engage SEO professionals. Because the faster and more thorough you proceed, the better you rank in Google’s search results, which in turn brings in more visitors.

What is duplicate content?

Duplicate content is an English term for duplicate content. These usually involve texts. Once identical text appears on two or more Web pages, it is duplicate content. Apart from the possible legal consequences, copied content can be penalized by Google. You can read what that means for your search engine rankings later in this blog post.

Many people automatically think of duplicate content as being stolen by others. In other words, a competing website boldly copying your texts. But it may also be that instead of being a victim, you are the perpetrator, without realizing it. Or, which is also quite possible, that you place texts you have written yourself on multiple pages of your site.

A classic example is a company copying a product description from a manufacturer or distributor. Or an employee who produces content for you, but “borrows” just a little too literally from external sources to do so. Even a CMS can cause duplicate content, such as when it prepares pages with the same text by default. Even when the same text recurs site-wide, such as in your footer, that can already set off Google’s alarm bells. So you see: duplicate content is in a small corner.

Does it affect SEO?

To understand the implications of duplicate content, it is good to remind ourselves of Google’s mission: to make information organized, usable and accessible. Such a mission obviously does not include linking to identical texts, as this does not benefit the user. When Google encounters such a situation, the search engine will make a choice: one of the pages will get a ranking and the rest will not (or at least will be much lower).

Google can see which page posted content first. That first page is considered the original source and is shown as normal in the search results. Pages that have the copied text published at a later date will not be indexed or rank low.

Besides, sooner or later the culprit burns his fingers if he really gets into the thick of it. If Google becomes suspicious that a website is copying a lot of content with the intention of ranking higher, in the worst case scenario this can lead to a Google ban: a website then disappears completely from search results.

Duplicate content on your own website

We have no doubt that you are honest. And proud. So duplicate content is not an option for you. At least, not knowingly. Moreover, there is a considerable SEO risk involved. Yet that duplicate content can creep into your site unnoticed. For example, by using substantial blocks on multiple pages. Precise figures we do not know, but the estimate is that duplicate content occurs when 30% of the content on pages is the same.

Too few words also creates internal duplicate content

Duplicate content can also occur when you have too few words on pages, or just a lot of words in the footer. This is because Google counts all words, even those in the navigation menu. We therefore recommend a minimum word count of 400. If you really want to rank well, much longer texts are needed.

Your text copied by another website

It may happen that your texts appear on someone else’s site. This creates external duplicate content, which you can do nothing about. It is very annoying when the text that you have slaved so hard on is copied blindly without citing the source. In fact, it involves theft. The legal side aside, the question is what this does for your search engine rankings.

Your original content ranks

If you have discovered that another site has copied your content, you might want to look at the consequence first. If all goes well, you optimize all your web pages for certain search terms and track the rankings of your pages. Now use that search term to find the web page in Google. Does it still rank more or less around the same spot as it did during your last check, then Google rightly sees your as the original author.

The other website rises in search results

Worse is when your texts are plagiarized and then the culprit starts ranking, while you disappear from the search results. Now we have to be honest here that this rarely happens, because Google is pretty good at detecting who the first author was. But then again: it will happen to you! In any case, check the index coverage report in Google Search Console first, just to be sure. In it, you can see which pages of your site are indexed.

Having copied content removed

Whether or not your rankings suffer because of external duplicate content, it is unfair for someone else to make off with your texts. The first thing you can do is point out this violation to the webmaster of the site in question. If that does not yield results, you can hire a lawyer. Who can give the creator an ultimatum and threaten to press charges and/or a fine. On top of that, you can have Google remove the site from search results.

How can you check duplicate content?

Many webmasters are pointed out by others up duplicate content. So then the harm is already done. The longer you wait to address duplicate content, the greater the damage can be. Therefore, wouldn’t it be nice if you knew about duplicate content almost immediately?

Searching in Google

A simple and free way to detect duplicate content is to paste a piece of text from a page into Google’s search bar and do a search. If you put this text in quotation marks, Google searches for the exact same wording.

Do websites with the same text come up in search results? Then there is duplicate content. Read below what you can do then.

Tracking with free tools

Checking for external duplicate content, i.e. sites that have stolen your content, is done with the free tool Copyscape. You enter your URL and, after a scan, see which other pages on the Internet contain (parts of) your texts. If you produce a lot of content, it’s a good idea to run a Copyscape check periodically. That way you find duplicate content in a timely manner and can take immediate action.

Your own site can also have identical content on different pages. You check for this internal duplicate content with the Siteliner tool. That scans up to a maximum of 250 pages and shows you which texts on pages match. Your challenge is to reduce the overall percentage of duplicate content as much as possible.

How do you solve it?

Have you discovered duplicate content through the above tips? Then it is important to resolve it as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are several efficient options for that. You don’t even always have to retype the whole text, which in turn saves time.

Canonical tag

Duplicate content is not always punishable. If you use the so-called canonical tag, you can have the same content reflected in multiple places on your site. An example is a hotel chain that links to a hotel description from the Locations menu item and does the same from the Congresses page. Each of those pages gets its own URL, but the text on it is the same. By adding that canonical tag to pages, you are letting people know which page the original text is on. We call that preferred page the canonical URL.

Noindex tag

If the canonical tag is not relevant in your situation, you can deploy the noindex tag. This is a metatag that tells search engines not to index a page. You can add a follow tag that does allow search engines to follow the links from that page.

Remove and redirect

The quickest and immediately most drastic solution to duplicate content is to remove it. Indeed: away with that page. In that case, make sure you set up a 301 redirect. With this, you automatically redirect visitors from the former page to a new or existing page. But before you do, ask yourself if it is wise to completely remove a page that receives link juice. Wouldn’t it be better to change those texts to eliminate duplicate content or set a canonical?

Rewriting content

One obvious solution is content rewriting. As a copywriter, I have a tip for that: don’t rewrite texts sentence by sentence, but read an entire paragraph first, delete it and then rewrite it from memory. This is also another good check to see if you actually understand the topic you are writing about (see also our blog post on B1 texts).

Other tricks include changing the structure, placing examples or quotes and adding an anecdote (storytelling). You get better quality text anyway by drawing not from one source, but from several. If you don’t have time or inspiration for rewriting, you can ask 2manydots for help.

Need help from a specialist?

Duplicate content is a pretty serious SEO problem. Solving them should therefore be a priority in your digital chore calendar. 2manydots always performs a duplicate content check as part of the Resultsmatter pre-screening process. In it, you can immediately see which pages have issues. You can then modify these yourself, but it is also possible to engage me or one of my colleagues.