There are two intertwined myths about duplicate content:
1: That Google is on the warpath against it, penalizing sites left and right.
2: That duplicate content is a thing – one specific problem.
Neither is true, because of one fact: there are many different types of duplicate content. (Google says so, too.)
That’s even more true in local SEO – because to rank well in local search you’re not just dealing with your site, but also with a bunch of listings.
Some types of duplicate content hurt your rankings, whereas many are just a mild drag or are harmless.
It’s not bad SOP to try to make all your content everywhere unique. But sometimes it’s just not necessary, and you don’t want it to suck up too much of your time and distract you from stuff that really matters.
I can think of at least 12 types of duplicate content. Pay attention to the types that (at least in my experience) might hurt you, and don’t spend time worrying about the harmless ones.
1. Mirror sites
Same content, different domains. The rationale is that maybe both the sites will rank well, or that one of them will have a call-tracking number to “prove ROI!”
Google’s warnings are strongest for wholesale duplicate content between sites. In my experience, using mirror sites never ends well. Either one site ranks OK and the other doesn’t, or neither ranks well. Mirror sites confuse Google and would-be customers alike.
2. Duplicate / near-duplicate Google listings
Google listings that have nearly identical names, addresses, and phone numbers can hurt your rankings. Use Michael Cottam’s excellent duplicate-finder tool to uncover them.
By the way, “practitioner listings” often aren’t a problem, in my experience. (In other words, if you’re a doctor, lawyer, real-estate agent, or insurance agent, it’s OK if you have a listing in your name and the practice or agency has one in its name.)
3. Duplicate citations
Not a big deal if you have 2 very similar listings on, say, MojoPages or Brownbook – one of those little sites. But do you have one YellowPages.com listing named “Acme Dynamite” and another named “Acme Dynamite Company”? Delete one of them, or else Google might scrape YP (a trusted third-party source) and create an unwanted Google Places listing for you.
Also, you should be gung-ho about removing duplicate listings on highly visible sites like YP, Yelp, and Facebook. To the extent you get reviews on those sites, you’ll want to get the reviews piled up on one listing, rather than spread them thin between several listings.
4. Internal duplicate title tags
Does your “Services” page have the same title tag as your homepage? Google won’t penalize you or anything; it’s just that you’ve lost an opportunity to help different pages rank for different search terms.
5. Duplicate title tags between sites
Similar problem as in point #4.
But there’s an additional problem: if you have multiple sites that include the name of your business in the title tags, you may mess mess up your brand-name search traffic. When people search for your business by name you want one site to come up in Google, so that everyone goes to that site. Why? Because Google loves brands. The more you can seem like one (i.e. popular offline and online), the better. But you don’t want to confuse Google as to what site represents your “brand.”
6. Duplicate / near-duplicate pages on your site – particularly “city” pages
I’ve never noticed a site get penalized specifically for barfing up two dozen pages that target different cities by swapping out the city names (“HVAC Contractors Atlanta,” “HVAC Contractors Decatur,” etc.).
But a few problems remain: (1) those clone pages often don’t rank well, (2) even if they do rank well they eventually drop because users pogo-stick away from them, and (3) they usually don’t produce many phone calls.
Low-quality “city” pages aren’t as much a drag on your rankings as they are a giant lost opportunity. Yours don’t have to suck, though.
7. Reviews cross-posted by customers
Scenario: a customer writes you a nice review on Yelp, so you ask her to write a review on Google+. Just make sure it’s not the same review. Make sure the words are significantly different, or the review might get filtered on both sites. (By the way, Yelp and Google are the only sites that aggressively filter reviews – at least as far as I know.)
Not a problem:
8. Reviews that you copy and put on your site
This isn’t against Yelp’s or Google’s (or other sites’) policies, and I’ve seen so many businesses copy and paste their reviews onto their sites that I’ve concluded it’s just not a problem.
9. Duplicate descriptions between listings
You can use a different description on Yelp from the one you use on Manta, or you can have those descriptions and all your others can be pretty much the same. (I say “pretty much” because different sites have different length requirements for your blurb, so a little variation is inevitable.) Doesn’t matter.
10. Website content cross-posted on listings
Want to use a blurb from your homepage as your description on Angie’s List? Harmless.
11. Google+ posts duplicated on multiple Google Places / Plus pages
If you’ve got multiple locations – each with a Google Places page – it’s OK to publish the same post in each one’s “Posts” stream.
12. Re-posting Google+ reviews
Google allows this. Very few businesses know that they can show off their Google reviews in their “Posts” stream.
Can you think of any other types of duplicate content, in the context of local SEO?
Which ones have you found to be harmful vs. harmless?
Leave a comment!
Erick Racedo says
Great post Phil! I have a client who had a nightmare of duplicate content spread across several websites, and he also made about 12 Google Business pages… He’s got duplicate listings all over the place too. To my surprise though, getting rid of the extra Google Business pages made a huge difference in his rankings. We’re still cleaning up some of the duplicate listings (might take a while…). Do you have any recommendations for an easy way to handle all those listings?
It depends what kind of duplicate listings they are. Unless they’re “practitioner” duplicates, those listings are a problem, and they’re probably caused by messy citations. Without knowing more about the specifics, I’d say the solution is to keep hammering away at the duplicates while cleaning up the citations, so that the dupes don’t return.
Thanks Phil. That’s what I figured I might have to do :-/
On another note, you mentioned in your post about having city pages that are duplicates throughout your website. If someone really hates the idea of creating a unique page for every city, but they’re worried about getting hit with a penalty, I recommend using the canonical tag 🙂
Good call, Erick, but there’s still the issue of those pages not producing a single phone call because they’re so bad. Yours might be OK – I’m talking about 95% of the city pages I’ve seen 🙂
Erick Racedo says
Haha! I know exactly what you mean 🙂 To be perfectly honest, I say we should all try our best to create unique content on every page of a website. When I write city pages I do research about that city and its history. I pay attention to my client’s location compared to the city I’m writing about and note how long a drive it is, that “we’re neighbors” and any relationship between the two cities. It might take a little extra time, but it adds value to the website and could result in a better SERP position (as I’ve seen with my clients and their city pages).
If you have an ecommerce store, the reviews cross posted by customers is a big problem to manage and most store owners don’t realize. I was recently looking for a new phone and reading the reviews on multiple websites – I noticed one particular user who was unhappy with the product had posted the same 200 word review criticizing the product on nearly 5-6 pages (as well as posting the same review on multiple brands owned by the company). Store owners need to check each of their reviews for plagiarism that their site may be penalized for no fault of theirs.
I don’t believe there would be a penalty for that, but I agree that duplicate ecommerce reviews can look bad to would-be customers.
Linda Buquet says
Way to start the New Year off Phil. You always have the best post ideas.
You likely knew I’d be over to share that I have a much different opinion on #2 the practitioner dupes part.
I deal with listings all day long that suffer ranking problems and being disconnected from the pack due to practitioner dupes. Once I explain how my strategy of how to minimize the practitioner listing the practice listing pops right back up in the pack. Just did it again with a tough last week at the LocalU forum. A week after he made all my recommended changes his client was back at the top of the pack.
All the consultants I train tell me it works and Google even put their stamp of approval on the strategy.
Now I will say that post-Pigeon are not quite as much of a problem. Before dr dupes would always knock you out of the pack. Now they do sometimes and sometimes they don’t. BUT if they do cause a problem, I’ve never seen a case where “minimizing” doesn’t fix it in a week or two.
My experience has been that practitioner dupes only hurt rankings in the sense that they can rank in the pack while the main practice doesn’t rank there. In which case I’d agree that you need to minimize the dupes. But when the practice is already ranking in the pack I haven’t noticed that practitioner dupes drag the rankings down. That’s just my experience.
Joy Hawkins says
For #1, I work with a big franchise that has mirror sites for every location but they add canonical tags on them and that makes it so only the main site is indexed and not the mirror site. It’s a good way to still be able to use a vanity URL for AdWords (or to give out to customers) but not hurt the SEO of the main/big site.
Awesome article Phil! We ran a test where we took about 4 pages that were fairly close/borderline duplicate in content and redirected them to the highest ranking page about that topic (it was a dentist website). It didn’t happen overnight, but the phrase we were targeting did move from page 3 to page 1! We’ll have to test this on some more clients to say that’s for sure what Google was disliking about the website, but it looks like on-site near duplicate content was hurting.
Another thing to be aware of is there’s a certain SEO service out there run by an internet/phone company (that probably don’t know much about SEO) where they give the client a “FREE” website if they sign up for 4 months at a low price, and then if they cancel they get to keep the website. The company makes a mirror site to work on. We’ve had clients come back and didn’t notice the mirror site for a few months and it definitly hurt rankings! Once it was redirected they shot back up to previous rankings though 🙂
Thanks, Kate. I think we’re thinking of the same internet/phone company 🙂
Yeah, that’s fine for AdWords. But those sites can’t play into a local SEO effort.
Joy Hawkins says
Sorry maybe I worded that wrong. I was meaning to state that mirror sites aren’t always bad. If they have canonical tags on them they don’t negatively impact the main site.
Thanks, Joy. That’s a great point, and I agree. What you’re describing is smart if you’re doing AdWords, need to keep your mirror sites around, and want to minimize the harm to your local SEO campaign. My point is just that mirror sites can’t help your local SEO.
I like your concept (have vanity URL and keep main site’s SEO), but when I tried fixing another set of websites that had duplicate content by going thru and setting rel canonical to the website I wanted to rank, it didn’t seem to work. I had that setup over a stretch of about four months. Maybe I didn’t try for long enough, or maybe there were other complicating factors — but I think you’re lucky that works. Best of luck to you!
Jim Froling says
Great insight! I had not considered that. Do now.
Matt Maglodi says
I like this post for a few reasons. It’s a good kick in the butt to start the 2015 Seo Season. Does Seo have a season, sure why not. I def. agree on the mirror sites, I’m sure we know a few big players that use mirror sites for adwords.
Thanks, Matt. I think we’re thinking of the same “big players.”
will stevens says
Phil, Awesome post -I’m curious as to where google states not to repost reviews on your site ? your point on #8
Where it says “…don’t post the same content multiple times” at https://support.google.com/plus/answer/2622994
Pretty vague – and I think it’s intentionally vague.
But there’s also the part about copyrighted content: “Don’t post reviews that infringe others’ rights – including copyright.”
If I post a review on Google Plus, Google owns the content – I don’t:
As I mentioned, I think it’s fine to show off Google reviews on your site. But it’s still a gray area, so I can’t recommend it outright.
Darren Shaw says
I’m thinking that if you share the review as a post, then embed that post, it should be fine with Google. This way you’re not copying the content, you’re embedding it from Google with proper attribution.
Great point, D!
Xavier Major says
Duplicate content can hurt but i am curious to see how much it really hurts to have duplicate listings, reviews etc?
Random question – Will using a job listing site like ziprecruiter.com which produces duplicate content (i.e., the same job posting across dozens of job boards, including a link to our website) hurt our SEO? Thank you!
No, I can’t see how that would hurt.
Regarding #4, “Internal duplicate title tags”: I manage a WordPress website on which each author has a bio page titled “John Doe | My Site”, and then, by default, the author archive has the same title tag, “John Doe | My Site”. Since neither the bio nor the author archive is a major landing page, and the main focus of the site is not “John Doe” but the subject matter, I haven’t bestirred myself to change the WordPress default. Do you think that’s a mistake?
Based on what I know, I’d say that’s not a problem.
With your showing Reeves Law group, I can see on their site that they are not only reusing Google reviews at the bottom of their site, but they’re even marking them up w/ schema data too – then Google is not only indexing the review, but even rewarding them with the SERP stars for their efforts!
(ex. https://bit.ly/1xT72an ) Whats up w./ that?
Good find, Scott. I didn’t dig that deep.
Awww… I was hoping you’d say “Oh he’s using the Google review feed tool which is perfectly okay and gives you stars – 😉
Well, even if Google technically frowns upon cross-posting, they don’t seem to be filtering reviews that show up outside of Google Plus. So on that level it’s OK.
Have you heard of reviewmanagement(dot)com? They have a tool that collects reviews from your clients and posts them on multiple review sites. According to your article, this would be a bad thing, right? But they say it really helps SEO, especially getting up there in the map listings on google. What do you think, Phil?
Erica, I’d definitely steer away from any service that posts reviews on behalf of customers. Even if they don’t get filtered, they’ll look weird and unnatural to any would-be customers. Ethically it’s also a slippery slope.
Yep! That’s what I’m thinking too. Thanks for the confirmation!
Mark Klinefelter says
Hello Phil. Timeless post. I am using yoast seo. Be it a listing of blog posts or custom posts I see that yoast “reads” all the headings, keywords on ALL the listings even though the display only posts custom excerpts with a “Learn More” link to the actual article. Is this duplicate material since google is apparently reading the listing page and the actual article when someone clicks on it in the listing?
Great post, I think I’m starting to get a foot hold on the whole duplicate content thing (A year after you originally posted this article!).
Can I tack a case study onto the bottom of a service page copied from elsewhere in the site? I wouldn’t want to loose the ranking for my service page so I can add a 301 or a canonical
That would be fine.
I don’t see why you’d do a 301 redirect in this case, though.
Possibly add the canonical tag, if the content is identical or nearly identical. But I wouldn’t bother even with that if the content just overlaps partly.
Pamela H Lappin says
What if I have an etsy shop plus a stand alone site with the same product listings? One is shop.madgeshatbox.com and the other is https://www.etsy.com/shop/MadgesHatBox. I would prefer google search to go to the first one.
Daniel Combs says
This is good information, but I’m still looking for info relating to duplicate content on the same site, like listing the same information multiple times on one page or throughout the site. Is there any negative SEO impact on this type of dup content?
The “rules” with local seo compared with national seem to be different. if say I was a roofer in Florida setting up a new website, what would be the issue with taking the content from the website of a roofer in New York and just pasting it into my florida website? what I mean is, in terms of confusing the search engine users theres actually no confusion there because the people searching in florida are never going to come across the new York site and vise versa
At that point, it’s mostly a question of ethics and of what you plan to do if the New York roofer sends a DMCA takedown to your hosting company. (I’ve sent them on behalf of clients who’ve been aped by others. They’re effective.)
seems odd for Google to really not care if websites basically just steal copy from elsewhere on a local level tough doesnt it. all the emphasis they put into their algorithms and stopping spam link building etc and yet when it comes to content basically they have no issues with florida roofer site being exactly the same as New York roofer site
I think it’s partly that Google feel they’ve got uglier problems to deal, and partly that it is tough to figure out who wrote what first, what constitutes “stealing,” exactly what to do about it, etc.
I am kinda new to SEO stuff and came across this page.
I wanted to ask to clarify something about removing duplicate listings or entries.
When you referred to Yellow Pages, Yelp, Facebook, etc and remove duplicate entries, did you mean duplicate listings in any one single directory/social media sites — or — are you saying that if a business is listed in Yelp, we should not also list the same stuff in Facebook and Yellow Pages also?