Duplicate Content Revisited

Duplicate content — having the same text at your website repeatedly, or having the same text found elsewhere on the web – is the kiss of death from an SEO standpoint. Google doesn’t want to show people several sources of the same content, so the SERPs show only the first website that published that content, and ignore all the others. That’s clearly what’s best for searchers.

What’s more, plagiarism — copying other people’s work and presenting it as your own — is, like spelling and grammar errors, one of the typical characteristics of spammy, low quality websites.

While working on websites recently, however, we’ve encountered a lot of duplicate content. A lot. It made me start wondering, how do smart, honest people end up with lots of duplicate content on their websites? Here are some of the reasons we think we’re seeing:

  • It seems logical. We’re working on a couple of large healthcare websites right now. One includes 18 clinics in Northwest Arkansas and the other has 35 senior care facilities across the Eastern U.S. When there are so many things in common from one facility to another, doesn’t it just make sense to use the same words? In fact, it doesn’t. The various facilities aren’t actually identical, and writing each one separately gives us the chance to make those differences clear, and to write the best content for each one.
  • It’s more efficient. It is faster to copy content from one page and paste it on another than to write it fresh for each page. But it’s not more efficient, because the results you get will be poor. In one case, a major CPG brand, we were initially mystified by the poor rankings of some of their pages. When we discovered that someone, years ago, had cribbed the content from a competitor, it was clear that they had years of being ignored by Google to make up for. Fast is not the same as efficient.
  • It’s better for brand identity. We encountered this objection to making text changes, and we understand it. We have two suggestions, though. First, prioritize. Is it really essential that your waffles be “scrumptious, fluffy waffles with dairy-fresh butter” every time? That’s probably not the aspect of your brand identity that matters most to your consumer. Second, make sure you’re not confusing your website with an ad. Consistent brand messaging may be top priority when you want to grab the attention of people driving down the street, but it’s less important than SEO for people who willingly come to your website.
  • You’re quoting a reliable source. Some of the duplicate content we saw credited the source and some did not, but we can see why it might seem best to use information directly from a national organization building awareness for an illness. Doing so will keep you off the first page of search results, though, so far fewer people will get your message. What’s more, your company or organization is a reliable source, isn’t it? If not, you shouldn’t expect people to come to your website.

These may be plausible reasons for duplicate content in your mind. However, the search engines don’t slap you with a fine when you use duplicate content. They just don’t show your website. It doesn’t matter how plausible your reason. If you have duplicate content, root it out and replace it.

Tell your web pro, too, if you know there are sections of your site that were copy-pasted. That can speed up the process.


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