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Why Duplicate Content Hurts SEO And How to Avoid It

Last updated on October 24, 2019
11 minute read

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Duplicate content is just what it sounds like — content that appears on the internet in more than one place. Since that “one place” is defined as any location with a unique URL, duplicate content can include large blocks of text that appear on different pages of the same website or across different domains.

Although Google won’t technically penalize your site for having duplicate content, this practice affects SEO and user experience in other ways. This guide will cover why you need to avoid duplicate content and some steps you can take to ensure your site is free of duplicate content. 

Types of Duplicate Content

Copied Content: This refers to large blocks of content that are copied from another site or within the same site. When there is copied content, Google will only rank the original source or the one with the most authority. If it’s unclear where the original content came from, Google might ignore the pages with duplicate content altogether. This is why it’s important to ensure that pages have as much unique content as possible to give them a better chance of ranking.

Boilerplate Content: This is the content that might apply to multiple pages on your website, such as cancellation policy, the starting point for your tours, or a list of what to bring. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines recommend that you “minimize boilerplate plate repetition,” meaning they don’t want to see the same content repeated everywhere on your site. (More on how to manage boilerplate content in a moment.)

Why is duplicate content bad?

When search engines come across a site with duplicate content, they don’t know which version of that content to include in their index. Duplicate content presents a problem for search engines because they don’t know which versions to rank for query results. Essentially, they see two versions of what to them appears to be the same page, which causes confusion over which one is the “master” version or the one that’s more likely to have the best result. 

Besides creating confusion for search engines, duplicate content can cause ranking and traffic losses for site owners. For example, this could occur when tour and activity providers offer a morning version and an afternoon version of the same tour. Because the tours are so similar and only differ based on when they are offered, site owners tend to include the same content on each page. This can negatively affect the site’s ranking since the search engine could decide to drop rankings for both of the pages if it is too hard to tell which one is the “main” version.

Google rewards uniqueness and added value, which is why it’s important to write unique descriptions for each of your activities and category pages to signal to Google that each of these has valuable content for the reader. As a general rule, 20% or less of a page’s content could be duplicate; the rest must be fully original.

Unique content also helps your customers understand the difference between each of your tours, helping them decide which tour is best for them. If they see multiple activities with the same content, they might get frustrated because they don’t understand the difference and therefore don’t know which one to book. You want to make the booking process as easy and intuitive as possible for your customers. 

How to Avoid Duplicate Content

Write your own content.

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but the first step to avoiding duplicate content is to never plagiarize from another site. When writing about a location, its history, or other general-knowledge information about the place where you offer tours, it can be tempting to copy and paste a couple of paragraphs from a site like Wikipedia. But aside from being considered plagiarism, this practice can also hurt your SEO. When deciding which page to rank between two pages with the same content, search engines will always pick the one with the most domain authority and with the most valuable content, which tends to be the larger, more established site. 

As a tour operator in your area, you are an expert in your city or region. Put this expertise to good use by writing original content that appeals to your customers and to Google. Of course, you can pull up the Wikipedia page or another information page about your location for reference, but make sure you’re writing your own content from scratch and you’re adding that unique knowledge that you have gained in your experience as a tour operator. This not only shows search engines that your content is unique and valuable, but it also provides value to your reader, helping them see you as an expert they can trust.

If you encounter an article or piece of information that you want to include on your website because it would be beneficial to your customers, you can always link to it from your website with clear attribution to the site or author.

Pro-tip: Only do this if the third-party content is really valuable to your customer’s and overall business strategy, as including an external link will take people away from your site. Better yet, learn how to create content that sells with this webinar.

Combine activity pages when it makes sense.

It’s common to see duplicate content on activity pages when there are multiple activities that are similar to each other. However, as previously discussed, this can hurt the chances for these activity pages to rank, especially if they’re ranking for similar keywords. To avoid confusing search engines and give your activities the best chance of ranking, it’s often a good idea to combine similar activities. 

For example, if you offer a walking tour that takes place in the morning, afternoon, and evening — but they all follow the same routes and have identical descriptions — you should combine these activity pages on your website. This way, you can focus on writing solid, unique, valuable content for this activity only once, giving it a chance to rank well in search engines and drive more bookings. 

Think before you copy and paste. 

As a general rule, you want to avoid copying and pasting as much as you can on your website. This is the easiest way to avoid duplicate content. However, there might be times when copying and pasting make sense. 

For example, perhaps you have two lines of boilerplate content about your cancellation policy that you want to appear on every single activity so this information is easily accessible to your customers. What Google is really focused on is the primary content of your pages. So if your activity description has three or four paragraphs of unique, valuable content, followed by those two brief lines of copied boilerplate content, that’s okay. The primary content of the page is unique, which is what’s most important. 

There are other occasions where it’s best to only have boilerplate content once on your site. For example, if you have an FAQ section that spans multiple paragraphs, it’s best to create a unique page for FAQs. When you’re not sure whether you should copy and paste boilerplate content into multiple pages on your site, just think about the ratio of unique to duplicate content on the page. Remember, you want to keep duplicate content below 20%. 

Don’t “spin” similar content. 

Avoid the temptation to “spin” duplicate content to make it slightly different. You might think changing a couple of words and using synonyms will do the trick, but Google won’t fall for it. In fact, John Mueller from Google has said this practice is counter-productive and will not help your site. 

If you find yourself trying to spin your content, think about applying one of the solutions above instead. If it’s just a few lines, leave them the same and ensure that the rest of the page’s content is unique. If it’s a long block of text, there’s probably no need to copy it at all; have this information only once on your site, and link to that page from other pages if needed (for example, add a hyperlink at the bottom of your activity description that takes visitors to the FAQ page). 

While duplicate content can sometimes feel like a convenient shortcut that saves you precious time, in the end, it can hurt your site’s search engine ranking and cost your business potential bookings. Dedicate some time to ensuring each of your pages has unique, valuable content so you can feel confident that you’re giving your site the best chance of ranking. For more content tips, explore our content marketing guides.

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