Duplicate content: why it’s bad and how to avoid it

Richard Rooney
Thursday 23 November 2023

It’s it’s not not much much fun fun reading reading the the same same thing thing twice twice, is is it it?

Sorry! But I hope I at least proved repetitive content can be confusing and annoying.

And those are only two of the reasons you should avoid copying or duplicating content that is already available online.

It’s a problem that affects many large websites. Here is how to avoid it.

What is duplicate content?

There are two main forms of duplicate content affecting the University website:

  • content that is already available elsewhere on the site
  • content that is available elsewhere on the wider internet.

In some cases, web pages will be exact, or near exact, copies of existing pages. The content may even be copied and pasted from one page to another.

But we can also create duplicate content issues when we write new pages on existing topics.

Why is duplicate content a problem?

Duplicate content can be harmful for many reasons. Here are some:

  • Poor user experience: online users are busy and impatient. They want clear and simple answers to their queries. If we present them with many similar options, they must decide which version to use. It’s more likely they will just give up and go elsewhere.
  • Hurts search performance: search engines such as Google exist to point people towards the best sources of information on any topic. Duplicate content makes this harder. Google is less likely to send people to sites it judges feature poorly organised and generic content.
  • Environmental impact: sustainability is becoming an increasingly urgent issue as the full environmental impact of digital technology becomes clearer. Every piece of digital information we create takes up storage space and consumes energy when served to users. Every word, image and page should provide a clear purpose. Or it should be removed.
  • Infringes copyright: copying and pasting content without proper attribution can violate copyright laws, putting the University at risk of legal action.
  • Wastes time: copying existing content wastes the time of the person doing the copying and anyone who has to make sense of both.
  • Complicates work: keeping multiple versions of the same thing up-to-date and accurate is harder than maintaining a single page.

Why do people publish duplicate content?

With so many reasons to avoid duplicate content, you might wonder why it happens. Here are some reasons:

  • Trying to be helpful: it’s common to think putting a copy of information into another part of the website will make it easier for people to find it or save them a click.
  • Lack of research: we’re sometimes so focused on creating new content that we forget to check what’s already there.
  • Habit: it used to be impossible to go back and change content that had already been published in physical forms, so we got into the habit of starting a new version each time.
  • Choice: we might not like what already exists.
  • Duty: if we’re asked to cover a topic we might feel it’s our duty to write our own version.
  • Confusion: universities are big and complex organisations. It’s not always easy to know what already exists or what others might be working on.
  • Record keeping: many pages, documents and policies have to be updated each year, and departments want to keep versions from previous years as a record.

How can I avoid publishing duplicate content?

Duplicate content on the University website is usually accidental. Here are some ways to cut it:

  • Research: the first stage in planning any new content should be to check what already exists. Search the site. Use Google single site search. Ask for advice, and only create new content when you know it is needed.
  • Update: if your research uncovers pages that have fallen out of date, it’s usually better to update those pages than create new ones.
  • Link: always look for opportunities to link to existing information rather than repeat it. This isn’t taking a lazy shortcut – it’s how the internet works. You can link to other parts of the University site, or other reputable sites on the internet.
  • Archive: if you need to keep previous versions of information for record keeping, that’s OK. But we can archive the older ones so general users only find the most up-to-date.
  • Follow the rules: the process for creating a new University web page will help you avoid the most common pitfalls.

Any questions?

If you have any questions or comments about duplicate content, the Digital Communications team are always happy to hear from you.

Email [email protected] or contact any of the team directly.

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