The reaction of the average SEO to duplicate content is pretty much the same as Bella Lugosi’s reaction to some open curtains and a wonderful sunrise, but it’s actually not quite a big a problem as you might think. For once, I’m going to tell you to put a little faith in Google and the other search engines to be able to tell good duplication from bad duplication.
What? There’s such a thing as good duplication?
Well, maybe not good but definitely harmless. Take a look at the average website – the same headers and footers are on every page. It wouldn’t make the remotest bit of sense for Google to treat that as duplication. The same applies to sidebars, disclaimers, and other pieces of repeated content. Some repetition is actually there to help the user – just because it’s on other pages of your site, doesn’t mean the customer has seen it.
“A really common case for example is with ecommerce. If you have a product, and someone else is selling the same product, or within a website maybe you have a footer that you share across all of your pages and sometimes that’s a pretty big footer. Technically that’s duplicate content but we can kind of deal with that. So that shouldn’t be a problem.”John Mueller, Google Search Liaison
So, what’s bad duplication?
Well, like a lot of things, Google won’t be explicit about that. One thing that John Mueller did part with that is this…
So if you have the same content on multiple pages then we won’t show all of these pages. We’ll try to pick one of them and show that. So it’s not that there’s any negative signal associated with that. In a lot of cases that’s kind of normal that you have some amount of shared content across some of the pagesJohn Mueller, Google Search Liaison
This is more important that it may initially appear. Coming back to our example of an eCommerce website, it’s entirely possible that you are faced with a large number of very similar products. If you’re not able to differentiate these pages sufficiently then only one of them is going to rank – and you may not be happy with which one that is.
So, whilst duplicate content may not be a “negative ranking factor” it does have the negative effect of making some of your pages vanish from the search index. As always, it’s a case of cutting through what Google is saying and trying to understand what the might mean. It’s a bit like dealing with The Riddler…
What should you do about duplicate product content?
If you’re faced with the problem of duplicate content across multiple products or pages, it’s a good idea to either combine the products together into a single page using either an overarching category or product variants. This should create a better user experience for your customer, ensure that Google ranks this page rather than one of the individual products, and enable you to focus your efforts on building and ranking a single page.