We often work with sites that produce their own product descriptions, only to have dealers, vendors, or affiliates copy/paste their product descriptions and use them directly on their website.
But that’s duplicate content, and that’s a bad thing right? The short answer is… Kind of. It’s a bit more complicated when you’re talking about duplicate content that appears on an external site.
On-Site vs. Off-Site Duplicate Content
First, it’s important to distinguish that there’s a big difference between on-site and off-site duplicate content. If two pages that you manage use the same content, that’s not a good thing. Duplicate content can be caused by a few different problems, but you will likely want to either rewrite the content on one of the pages, delete one of the pages entirely, or setup canonical tags to identify the preferred version of the content.
Off-Site duplicate content refers to the same content that appears on separate websites. Google realizes that you are not able to manage content that is not found on your website and they’re willing to cut you some slack for it – it’s unlikely that Google would choose not index pages on your site if that content was found elsewhere on the internet.
Things get a bit tricky when you’re referring to duplicate content that appears on different foreign language sites. For example, the following two URLs may have the same URL structure and use very similar content: kevinscarpetchili.com and kevinscarpetchili.co.uk
This can usually be resolved by setting up Hreflang Tags to tell Google that the first website is for an audience located in the United States and the second is for those located in the United Kingdom. Even so, search engines are notorious for ignoring these signals even when they are set up correctly and preferring one version in all locations.
What can you do about off-site duplicate content
Google does a pretty good job of knowing the original source of content. There are likely many factors involved, which Google does not disclose to the public for obvious reasons, but the big ones are likely when the original content was produced and the level of authority of each sites.
Google also typically will not reward sites that use content from other sites. They may index the pages, but they will ignore the content and the page has an unlikely change of ranking well for competitive keywords.
If you have a good relationship with the other site that is using your content, you may want to encourage them to rewrite the product descriptions or content that they’re using on their site. It will not impact your traffic, but they may see a significant increase in traffic simply by using unique content on their own site.
Alternatively, you may also want to request that the site owner creates a link back to the original source of the content. This signals to Google where this content originated from and provides your site with a nice backlink.
If the other site is using your content illegally, you can take first steps by reporting the content directly to Google by using this link. This should only be done as a last resort, and only in situations where the content on the other site is outranking yours.