There are essentially two types of duplicate content.
The first is content that has been copied off of another webpage and pasted into your webpage.
The second is content that you have written for your own page and that you use on more than one page. Both of these types of duplicate content can be terrible for small business SEO and many small businesses might not even realize that they are ruining their own ranking when they uses these types of content.
Just about every web developer has worked with a client who has provided content that they have simply scraped off of the website of a similar business.
This is rarely done with malicious intent.
It’s easy, cheap, and if you have a landscaping business in Philadelphia, it is probably a safe to assume that the Californian landscaping business the content originally comes from will never find your website.
That is not, however, how Google sees the situation.
Why does Google come down so harshly and with such swiftness against small businesses who try to use duplicate content?
It’s important to remember what Google’s goals are. In short, Google is designed to present its searchers with the most relevant and valuable webpages, as quickly as possible.
If one business uses the same content that is on another’s webpage, that content is going to be less applicable and less relevant to that offending business.
Because that content was not written for that business.
You might have the same services, similar values, and similar business structure, but because the content was written for a different market and for a business that is fundamentally different, it will not fit your business exactly.
It’s also fair to say that Google simply likes to penalize any attempt to game their system or take shortcuts around the algorithm.
The short answer is, then, yes, using duplicate content really is that bad.
But there is more to the world of duplicate content and what is and what is not penalized is actually a little more complicated.
Duplicate Content: Copy and Paste from Another Website
Businesses who are strapped for cash and for time, who simply do not know how they are going to generate content for their own website, may be tempted to find a similar website, copy their content, and paste it onto their website.
Copying content from a website that is already doing well seems like a really simple way to quickly and easily rank.
It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s free.
It’s not ethical, however, and Google does not really make any allowances for this kind of content.
Removing ethics from the discussion entirely, duplicated content will not work for you, simply because there is already another website that is using that content.
Google is going to continue to give preference to the older website, with established authority.
A website that simply uses another’s content adds no value to search results, so Google is not going to give it a high ranking (if it is going to rank it at all).
Google’s ranking algorithm centers on value.
Which websites are adding value?
Who is the most valuable?
Which websites, when presented to searchers, will provide them with the most complete answers to their questions?
Copied content simply does not meet that criteria and is therefore not considered to be worth ranking.
Boilerplate Content: Copy and Paste from Your Own Website
There is another type of duplicate content, often called “boilerplate” content, that is more innocuous, but can also earn you a penalty and make your webpages difficult to rank.
Take, for example, a dentist office that serves a large portion of a city and wants to have a webpage that caters to each individual neighborhood.
That office might use the exact same content for each neighborhood, simply switching out the name of the neighborhood.
The content itself might be original to your domain, but if the same block of text is used over and over on different pages, this is a problem.
Google might rank one of these pages, but because the others just look like copies of that exact same page, it is probably going to filter them out.
The solution to this problem is to have unique content written for all of those pages.
Even if each page has the same general message, each page should still stand alone, so that Google does not just see ten pages that are exactly identical.
It sees these pages and marks them not as an attempt to bring your message to more people, but as an attempt to flood the search results with your brand name and stifle the competition.
Duplicate content is a serious problem. Google sees it as being lazy, and having duplicated content can be a death sentence for an otherwise healthy small business SEO campaign.
The issue is this: Google simply does not know what to do with duplicate content, especially in the boilerplate form.
There is no way for the algorithm to know the intention behind that duplicated content, so it assumes that there is a bad intention and that it is therefore not worthy of being in the search results.
Content is the foundation of search engine optimization, and for small businesses, it is the best way to get your voice heard—but only if you actually have something original to say.
You started a business because you had something original to say. Don’t let unoriginal content stifle that spark.