November 24, 2016
“Oh, I don’t have time to write a new meta description. I’ll just copy this one.”
“Yeah, it’s got a Copyscape hit, but that doesn’t matter!”
“Dang, another site copied my content! Oh, well.”
If you’re like most content creators, you’ve uttered or thought these words to yourself in the past. And, hey, we get it. Content is a lot of work, and sometimes it seems like a little bit of duplicate isn’t going to kill anyone.
Unfortunately, duplicate content can do way more harm than most publishers realize and, over time, can lead to a loss of rankings, a drop in organic traffic, damaging Google penalties, and even the potential of legal complications.
To avoid all of these things, here’s what you need to know.
What is Duplicate Content?
While most people understand that copying and pasting someone else’s entire site or page would fall into the “duplicate content” category, duplicate content can also be much more insidious than that. For starters, there are two separate types of duplicate content: malicious and non-malicious.
Non-malicious duplicate content is what most site owners struggle with. For example, an eCommerce store that sells several very similar products may repeat the same product description on each page, regardless of the fact that the products are slightly but definitely different. Alternately, a content marketer may use the same meta description to describe each of his various pages or duplicate a headline on each distinct segment of his site.
While this is non-malicious duplicated content, meaning the site owner didn’t “steal” it from anyone else, it can still have disastrous effects on Google rankings.
The other type of duplicate content is malicious content, meaning it has been stolen from another site, or intentionally manipulated to alter traffic rates. Examples include scraped content and plagiarized content.
How to Avoid Duplicate Content
Now that you know what duplicate content is, and why it’s so critical to avoid it in your content, let’s talk about how, exactly, you can do that.
1. Never, ever scrape content
Scraped content is one of the most offensive types of malicious duplicate content out there. And this goes for a few different reasons. On one hand, scraped content offends Google because it’s not very useful. Because scraped content is a mechanical process, it is often not grammatically correct, doesn’t take reader questions into account, doesn’t seek to provide unique value, and often doesn’t even make sense.
What’s more, scraped content doesn’t add anything to the Web. It just clogs up the search results with stuff that isn’t relevant, useful, or interesting to readers.
With this in mind, avoid scraped content at all costs. If you need content but you don’t have the time to create it yourself, hire a content agency you can count on to do it for you. This will save you from Google penalties and allow you to create stellar content without risking duplication.
2. Cite all of your sources properly
Most writers have accidentally ripped off someone else’s writing, even if they didn’t know it. This happens when you’re in a rush, when you’re so enamored with someone else’s content, you want to base your own on it, or when you simply don’t understand the components of proper attribution. No matter why it happens, though, it can have massive and devastating effects on your content’s ranking.
With this in mind, cite all of your sources correctly. This involves mentioning a person who made a quote, hyperlinking his or her site, and giving credit where credit is due to sources and individuals who break statistics, report on news, etc. While it takes some time to learn to cite sources correctly, it’s critical to ensure that you’re not accidentally duplicating someone else’s content.
3. Check for duplicated parts of your page
One aspect of duplicate content people seldom consider is what happens when someone duplicates your site. Unfortunately, this happens all the time! Luckily, it’s also easy to check for. A few times a year, run the various pages of your site through Copyscape’s batch search feature, which is part of the platform’s paid plan.
A simple, fast way to check all of your pages for plagiarism and duplication at one time, this little test delivers an e-mail containing the results and allows you to remedy duplicated content if you do find it. If someone has copied your site, you have a few options.
First, you can contact the site owner to ask him or her to change it, you can pursue legal options (which is often more time, money, and trouble than it’s worth), or you can simply re-write your own content so that it’s no longer duplicate. While the latter isn’t a fun process, it’s one of the realities of doing business on today’s Web.
Duplicate Content 101
Today, duplicate content is a major issue on the Web. Fortunately, people who understand what it is and how it happens are better equipped to avoid it, both now and in the future.
Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.