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Unintentional Duplicate Content: What It Is and What to Do About It

This blog post is not about plagiarized content. And there is really no point in discussing anything plagiarized – it’s just plain wrong to copy somebody else’s text. But did you know that content might be considered duplicate by Google even if a text is written by you or your team? It is a very important topic that is often overlooked. In this blog post, we'll cover the definition of duplicate content, its examples, as well as risks and the ways to address them.

What is duplicate content?

Each of us may have our own top-of-mind definitions, mostly leaning towards “somebody else’s content that was copied”; but relying on assumptions is really a bad idea in the world of SEO. A rule of thumb is to always start by checking what Google’s guidelines say. And while SEO often does mean assumptions and experiments (and at times may feel like moving in the dark), Google actually does a pretty good job with detailed summaries, examples, and best practices. Just google it 🙂. 

According to Google's Search Central documentation, “Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content in the same language or are appreciably similar.” 

Let’s look at the examples that don’t seem like a duplicate to content marketers but unintentionally become such.

Examples of duplicate content 

The below are examples of only three types of content, but there is a similar use case in almost every industry. 

Example 1. Hotels usually work with hundreds of travel websites to promote and sell their inventory. A hotel creates a description of its property and then has it published on these multiple websites. The end result? Hundreds of identical texts that, quoting Google, “match other content in the same language.” 

Example 2. A product description that is published on several retail websites. Most brands sell directly to consumers from their own sites, but also work with many distributors, retailers, and resellers to increase sales. Of course, product descriptions need to be consistent and include all core product specs. But when an identical copy of a product description is published on different websites, there is a risk of this content being seen as a duplicate one.

Example 3. A food CPG company wants to promote its brand and get in front of a larger audience through a recipe where a brand is one of the ingredients. If one and the same recipe is distributed to many websites, there is a risk that the text on all but one website will be considered a duplicate.

The three duplicate content examples above are for the text that is distributed via 3rd parties. But when the same description is published on multiple pages of your own website, this is also duplicate content. It is quite common to see the same copy on several pages of one website. Sometimes this is intentional and is done in hopes of getting more traffic by having more pages (not a good idea), but oftentimes the same piece of text simply seems to be relevant and is used in different sections of a website. 

Risks and possible solutions

Your site and the websites of those with whom you shared identical descriptions may not rank in search. All the hard work, time, and budget that you put into creating content will simply be wasted. 

There are several ways to resolve the issue, and the solutions broadly fall into two categories. 

The first one is on the technical side – follow Google’s guidelines. These are relevant for the website that you manage, not the 3rd party websites.

It’s trickier with the websites that you don’t manage, but there is a solution, too.

Have unique content for each of your content distribution channels. If it sounds impossible, it is not! With recent advances in content marketing technologies, it’s no longer as difficult and time-consuming to create unique and high-quality content at scale and at a fraction of traditional content creation costs. But first, let’s take a closer look at how having unique content will help grow your business.

You already know that if a description of your product is the same for everyone, only one website will be considered as having original content, and others will rank significantly lower. By providing distributors and resellers with identical content, there is a risk that most of it will be considered by Google to be duplicate, damaging your brand’s organic search discovery. This leads to higher ad spend and less traffic.

If your company has multiple resellers or distributors, providing them with original descriptions of your product can help improve search visibility for both you and them. When all content is unique, and provided all other SEO factors like loading speed, page experience, backlinks etc., are there, there is a much bigger chance that Google’s bot will appreciate your unique content and will rank your and your distributors’ websites higher. So you and your distribution partners will get more “real estate” on the search results page. The share of the brand’s organic search will go up, and this will help improve brand awareness as well as sales: you get better visibility in search through multiple channels and platforms, all leading to the growth in impressions and clicks, and ultimately to conversions and purchases.

This is equally important not just for companies that sell online, but for any brand or business that has its content shared with 3rd parties. Search is not only about sales; it’s a vital element in brand discovery and building brand awareness. The more space you as a brand “own” on the first page of Google, the more of a brand-building is in your hands.

If you still have doubts about the importance of having unique content for every channel, there is a stat we’d like to share. According to ahrefs’ data from 1 billion pages, 90.6% of all pages get no traffic from Google! There are many reasons for that, including technical health and hundreds of other signals that are taken into account by Google. But content is one of the top factors that matter to search algorithms. Is the text original? Does it match customer intent? Does it answer a search query? Can it be shown to a customer in top search results? The answer is “not so much” for 90.6% of all pages on the internet.

For marketers working with dozens of product variations to be published on hundreds of websites, we recommend looking at AI-powered content marketing solutions like Intentful. Replace slow and expensive traditional ways of creating texts that don’t get discovered with data-driven and AI-powered solutions designed to keep up with the digital age. This will let you optimize content production costs while still keeping content on brand, on message, and unique. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Intentful can help you with your content marketing, please get in touch.