There has been a lot of misinformation doing the rounds on the web regarding the duplicate content and its subsequent impact on the ranking of your webpages or website on the search engine result page (SERP). But before proceeding further, let’s understand what counts as duplicate content? Duplicate content could be characterised by the presence of the same content on more than one URL. The duplicate content could be ‘appreciably similar’ to the original one or could have ‘substantial blocks‘ of content in it which completely matches the original content. In simpler words, if the same content is present on more than one webpage or website on the Internet, it would be treated as duplicate content.
Most of the time, the intent behind duplicate content is not malicious or deceptive, and Google gets it. For instance, if you had an online store selling hats, the product description of one particular hat could be shown or linked through more than one URL. That’s duplicate content but without any intention to wrongfully manipulate search engine rankings for your website. Then, another example could be ‘printer-only’ versions of web pages. Having a website with many identical pages is possible and you can easily point out to Google your preferred URL by the process of canonicalisation. Should you not be worried about duplicate content, then? It is good to know that Google does not penalise your website as such for duplicate content but it does cause a negative impact on your website’s search engine ranking.
There are certain issues which duplicate content can create for your website. Google has a tough time determining which version of the identical content to index or not to index; then when it comes to directing link metrics such as trust, authority, anchor text, link equity etc., there is an issue deciding between whether to direct all link metrics to one page or distribute it among multiple versions; and finally, in case of a search query, which version to rank on the SERP. This may lead to a loss of incoming traffic to a particular page as in the presence of duplicate content, it gets distributed. Not only the visibility of each page gets diluted but the link equity also suffers a loss in its value. As we know, that inbound links coming or directing to your website are a ranking factor, duplicate content may result in loss of ranking of your website.
Fixing the duplicate content, thus, is essential. There are ways to indicate Google which version is the original or correct one and that can be done by canonicalisation. Adding 301 redirects to the preferred URL, or the rel=canonical attribute are some of the ways to do it. Having consistent internal linking, being careful while syndicating your content on other sites, using a top-level domain for country-specific content, using parameter handling tool to reduce any boilerplate repetition and having fewer similar pages on your website, does help with most of the duplicate content issues which your website might face.