TL;DR: Duplicate and low value content can harm your SEO efforts. To avoid this, you need to:
- Understand the problem of duplicate content
- Carry out a duplicate content search
- Watch out for external duplications
- Deal with internal duplications
- Provide proper value
The content you post on your website plays a huge role in SEO and will determine how visible you are on search engines like Google. Producing low value or duplicate content is an easy way to never be found in search engines as it will harm your indexing, lower your trust in Google, and ultimately affect your ranking.
Before you dive into the content, it’s important to make sure that your technical SEO foundations are in place. If you haven’t done that yet, check out our previous posts on:
The problem of duplicate content
If the same content appears in more than one place with different unique website addresses (URLs), it’s known as duplicate content. There’s been a lot of talk about duplicate content over the years, especially when it comes to SEO. The most common mantra that you’ll hear is that you’ll be penalized for it by Google.
For years, Google has been trying to dispel this myth, first calling it a misconception back in 2008. But just because Google doesn’t actively penalize duplicate content in the way most people think, doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue.
Unless you’re fully plagiarizing content—known as scraping content—the risk you run is mostly that you’ll confuse search engines. If you have repeated content or URLs, Google won’t know:
- Which version to include or exclude from their indices.
- Whether to direct the link metrics, meaning trust, anchor text, link equity, etc. to one page or keep it separate.
- Which versions to rank in a search result.
This will impact you, the site owner, as Google very rarely shows the same content in its search results, meaning they’ll have to choose which version of your duplicate content is the best result. Sometimes it may be one version, sometimes the other. In the end, your visibility is diluted.
The other way it affects you is with your link equity. Backlinks, or the number of people who link to your website, is a fundamental aspect of your off-site SEO, and instead of those links pointing to one piece of content, they point to multiple. As your backlinks are a factor in how you rank, this will definitely affect your SEO efforts.
Carrying out a duplicate content search
There are a number of audit tools that you can use to undertake a duplicate content search. The first is called Raven Tools Site Auditor. With it, you can scan the website for duplicate or thin content and it will give you a report of which pages need to be updated. Another one that’s useful is the Ahrefs Site Audit tool, which includes a section on “Content Quality.” Finally, this feature is also available on our SEO Management Platform at Watchdog Studio.
However, it’s worth noting that these tools will only check content on your website for duplications. You should also make sure that your copy isn’t too close to pages on other websites. Even if you haven’t intentionally copied another website, the content you have may be similar to competitors’. To make sure your copy is unique across the Internet, you can use Copyscape, which has a limited free option and a more in-depth premium version.
Dealing with duplicate content
After carrying out a duplicate content search, if the results are external—i.e. not on your website—there’s not much you have to worry about. When people copy you, it’s the other people who have the issue. To know if Google considers you the original author or not, just search for the text that you’ve found duplicated in quotes. If you come up first, you’re the original according to Google.
On the other hand, if someone else is considered to be the original author, try tweaking the content on your site to avoid the issue.
Internal duplications: Noindex
When your duplicate content search shows repeated text on your own website, it doesn’t mean you have to rewrite the whole page. Instead you just have to go against conventional wisdom of having everything indexed. In this scenario, you don’t want your page to be indexed.
That means you have to tell Google to ignore that page in any search results. To do that, you’ll have to add a “noindex” tag, which you can read about on Google’s blog.
If you want to make sure it’s working, use the “Inspect URL” feature at the top of Google Search Console when you’re logged in and viewing your site. Simply type the URL you want to test into the search input at the top of the page.
By testing the live URL, you’ll see if it’s still being indexed. For it to be working, it should say “Excluded by ‘noindex’ tag.” If not, you’ll need to try again or reach out to someone you trust for support.
Providing proper value
Even if you ensure there is no content repeated on your website or across the web, if the content is low value, you’re still going to struggle to rank.
This is the point where technical SEO begins to blur with on-site SEO. The best way to avoid being penalized for thin content is to make sure you always put quality first. Write primarily for humans and the bots will be happy, even after new updates.
But this is only really a rule of thumb. The fact is you may not know that you’re producing low value content. Before anything else, take a look at what Google considers to be low quality. You’ll notice a lot of sneaky tricks there which you should avoid at all costs.
Our SEO Management Platform detects thin content as well as many of the other content issues we’ve discussed before. Once you’ve identified the underdeveloped content, the platform also features an AI writing assistant to help get your creative thoughts flowing. Alternatively, you can hire a copywriter to ensure your content is both valuable and unique or take the task on yourself.
Beyond the SEO implications, the content you publish on your website should always be the best you can feasibly manage to produce. Of course we want to do our best to please Google, but your target audience should come first and foremost, especially when we’re talking about content. If you provide them with value, Google will recognize this and rank you accordingly.
If you have any specific questions about your technical SEO, you can reach out to us for more information.