Duplicate Content & SEO: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

Have you ever heard the term duplicate content? If so, you might also know that it could mean bad news for your site’s rankings and organic traffic. But don’t panic quite yet. Here’s everything you need to know about duplicate content and SEO.

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What is Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content is when content can be found at more than one URL address. This could be content duplicated between URLs on the same site or content duplicated between multiple websites. Duplicate content often happens because of poor website design and is simply a technical error in most cases. However, there are some cases where content is malicious as well, like when copy is intentionally plagiarized from external sources.

In either case, it’s important to understand that duplicate content can have negative impacts for your SEO. Here’s what you need to know.

Types of Duplicate Content

Here are a few common causes of duplicate content:

HTTP vs HTTPS vs WWW vs non-WWW

Your website address can appear in many forms. There are four different variations your website can have:

  • https://www.yourdomainname.com
  • http://www.yourdomainname.com
  • www.yourdomainname.com
  • yourdomainname.com

In these cases, best practice calls for establishing a canonical address. If you don’t have a canonical URL, you could be presenting duplicate content to search engines. If you don’t set the canonical, all four of these addresses are live on the web, and search engines will treat them as distinct URLs. Because they will all be presenting identical content, this could then lead to duplicate content penalties.

Scraped Content

When content mirrors or is stolen from another website without permission, it’s called scraped content. You might also call it plagiarized content. This is typically a malicious practice, but there are cases when it is not malicious—for instance, an eCommerce site using a manufacturer’s product description. However, your content may be marked as scraped if it’s too similar to a higher-ranking piece.

Reusing Content

Some webmasters copy/paste content between pages in an effort to reduce the need for producing original copy. Additionally, some webmasters may create copies of pages for special promotional purposes. When doing any of these things, it’s important to consider how search engines might interpret your pages. If you are copying content across internal pages or worse duplicating entire pages, search engines could view that as duplicate content.

How Search Engines View Duplicate Content

In most cases, duplicate content will not earn you a penalty, but it can impact your SEO. Simply put, duplicate content can cause confusion for search engines, which can negatively impact your site’s rankings and organic traffic. Here’s a simple breakdown of why a search engine may be confused by duplicate content:

  • It doesn’t know which version of a page to index
  • It doesn’t know which version of a page to rank above another
  • It doesn’t know how to direct link metrics (trust, domain authority, anchor text), It may point all the links to one page or splay them out across each version

If search engines are unsure which page to index, they may choose to rank one and not the other—or neither. This is why it’s important to avoid duplicate content when possible, and take actions to resolve duplicate content issues when it is necessary to include duplicate content on your site.

How to Resolve Duplicate Content

Unless you’re scraping content, resolving duplicate content is a piece of cake. So, take a deep breath and read on to find out how you can resolve duplicate content issues and boost your rankings in the SERPs.

301 Redirects

A common solution for duplicate content issues is to omit the duplicated page and 301 redirect it to the authoritative page. Be sure that you know which page is currently indexed and performing best in search engines.

To set up a 301 redirect, you’ll need to access your website’s .htaccess file and alter the code or use the free Redirection plugin for WordPress sites.


This HTML element is an easy way to consolidate your duplicate content and is much less work than setting up a 301 redirect for every link. If for some reason you need the pages with duplicated content to all remain on your site, omitting pages and implementing a 301 redirect might not be viable. Instead, you can use a canonical to keep the pages live while resolving the duplicate content issue. Adding the rel=canonical element to a page will allow you to tell search engines which version of a page is preferred for indexing, while the rest can be ignored.


This is a simple but powerful little hack to boost your traffic and consolidate duplicate content that you don’t want to delete or can’t consolidate like empty pages or syndicate content. Keep in mind that the noindex tag tells search engines not to index a page. When using noindex tags, it’s important to be absolutely sure that you are adding the tag to the correct pages.

For Empty Pages

If a web page you’re still developing is being marked as duplicate content, you don’t have to delete the page and start again. Instead, put it on the back burner without losing your progress by adding a noindex tag in the HTML code.

For Syndicate Content

The same goes for syndicate content pulled from external sources. If you have a great piece that’s been bringing you a lot of new readership through other channels (not organic) and don’t want to delete it, you can noindex it. This is a great resolution if you run into duplicate content issues with guest blogs, for instance.

Set a Preferred Domain

This goes back to the problem of http vs https vs www vs non-www sites. The duplicate URLs confuse search engines, but you may be able to easily fix the problem by setting a preferred domain with Google Search Console.

Just be aware that this only applies to your search ranking in Google. All other search engines will still index your content as duplicate if this is the only action you take.

Resolving Duplicate Content is Important

Although penalties for duplicate content are rare, search engines can still treat duplicate content pages as less authoritative than pages without duplicate content issues. the number one reason you should concern yourself with fixing your duplicate content is so you can improve your SEO and organic traffic.

ClickGiant is a leading SEO agency serving clients nationwide. Get in touch today to request a free site audit.

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