There is an ongoing debate in the SEO community about whether or not duplicate content affects your site. The phrase “duplicate content penalty” is frequently used, but is it accurate and can it really affect your Google rank?

Duplicate content refers to large blocks of content within or across domains that are either identical or very similar. Generally speaking, this is not deceptive in origin. Examples of mostly harmless duplicate content include: discussion forums that generate both regular and mobile pages, e-commerce items shown or linked via multiple URLs and printer-only versions of web pages.

Most duplicate content is harmless until it isn’t

Google generally doesn’t penalize you unless the use of duplicate content is particularly egregious. Repeating a line or two, like a slogan or call to action on a blog post, won’t really affect anything. Large portions of content have to be nearly identical for there to be a problem. 

However, there is still some potential for disaster. Neil Patel provides the following example on his blog: A new website went live. To save time the PR firm copied the home page text and pasted it into a press release rather than write their own original copy. They then released the document to newswire services, immediately creating hundreds of versions of the content. Google took notice and the domain was manually blacklisted by Google, meaning that it was taken out of the search engine results entirely. 

It took filing a reconsideration request to have the domain re-indexed. Why was the site blacklisted? Because there were hundreds of instances of the same text that all appeared at the same time on a brand new domain. It’s easy to understand how this was flagged as spam.

That’s because duplicate content presents certain issues for search engines. They don’t know which versions to include or exclude from their indexes, they can’t determine whether to direct the link to one page or keep it separated between multiple versions, and they don’t know which version to rank for query results.

Google provides direction on managing duplicate content

Google offers suggestions for effectively managing duplicate content and it’s always best to proactively address any issues and maintain consistency throughout your website. It’s especially important to implement the right tags directing Google to your preferred URL. This is commonly referred to as canonicalization

In the end, with the proper tags, duplicate content can be used. However, use of these tags means that the page that the content on isn’t spidered by Google, so why would you waste a perfectly good opportunity to use your website’s real estate? That just doesn’t make sense. Reserve those tags for programmatic use only. 

In addition, if you are going to use content in other areas (e.g. a company blog and Medium), make sure you always post to your company blog first. In most cases, Google will recognize the content primacy based on the post date. 

If you have vendors offering you blogs or other digital content for your site, find out if they are offering it to all of their partners. If they are (and spoiler alert, they probably are) make sure you use the canonical tags to block the search engines (if you are OK with posting filler content that doesn’t do anything for you in the search engines) or, better yet, rewrite according to the same theme adding local references such as town/city names or references to your business to create unique content for your site. If you don’t have time to do rewrites and don’t want to post it as-is, but would still like to use your third-party provided content, you can use it in an email newsletter without any duplicate content penalties. 

In the end, it doesn’t matter what the pundits say, it’s a question of what works and what Google has to say about it. Avoiding duplicate content is a best practice that has been in place since the dawn of search engines and there’s no reason to abandon it now with the exception of specific use cases. While Google has made duplicate content less of a priority than it did a decade ago, there’s no telling when the algorithm could be changed to make it an issue again. Also, duplicate content may not pass an EAT analysis, and we’ll get into all of that in a future blog post. 

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