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What Is Self-Plagiarism and Is it a Problem for SEO?

Jenna Kefauver
Published   December 29, 2017

When is casual writing okay?

Most people know what plagiarism is and that it is morally and legally wrong. However, most people wouldn’t consider self-plagiarism a problem. But before we get into why self-plagiarism can harm your website, let’s define what it is.

What Is Self-Plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism is exactly what it sounds like: taking content you’ve written and using it for another page that you’re writing. For example, if I took part of my 2016 post about plagiarism and pasted it into this blog, that would be self-plagiarism.

You might be thinking that you can’t possibly plagiarize yourself. After all, plagiarism is “taking credit for someone else’s words…ideas, style of writing, and sentence structure,” as I wrote in my previous post on plagiarism.

So how you can steal your own ideas? Rather, self-plagiarism of your content on your website is called internal duplicate content. That is, the same content appears on at least two pages within the same website.

How Does Self-Plagiarism Hurt My Website? And How Can I Avoid It?

When you write 20 pages on the same topic, it’s easy to end up with some internal duplicate content (i.e., using the same phrases and sentences).

For example, say you operate a personal injury law firm in Maryland and you handle cases in and around Silver Spring. You might want to create location pages for a personal injury lawyer in Silver Spring, Wheaton, Kensington, Takoma Park, Chevy Chase, North Chevy Chase, Rockville, Bethesda, and Montgomery County. With so many pages on the same topic (i.e., Personal Injury Lawyer in [City]), ending up with similar content is inevitable.

However, if you have the same content on two different pages, Google and other search engines might “get confused on which page to put in their index,” according to Jordan Kasteler, SEO Director of Hennessey Consulting.

As a result, Google may choose the wrong page (that is, the page you did not intend) to rank for a particular keyword.

For example, let’s say you are a law firm that handles mass tort lawsuits. You write a service area page about your law firm’s representation of people harmed by Drug X; you optimize it to rank for the term “Drug X Lawsuit Lawyer.” Then you write a blog post on the current status of Drug X mass tort cases and in doing so you copy/paste portions of your service area page.

Google will see this and become confused. It will not know which page to rank for the search term “Drug X Lawyer.” It may rank the blog post instead of your service area page for that term.

But this doesn’t need to happen to you. There are ways you can avoid creating internal duplicate content. Here are four tips to avoid internal duplicate content on your site:

Don’t Write Similar Pages Around the Same Time

If you write five of your 10 location pages at the same time, the language may be similar. If your schedule and deadlines allow it, write one page every few days to ensure you start each page with a clean slate. This will give your brain time to forget the language you used and allow you to create a new page free of your previous page’s influences.

Start with a Blank Slate

Don’t work off of existing pages similar to the one you are writing. For example, don’t start the Bethesda Lawyer page by working off the Silver Spring Lawyer page.

You might not realize it, but even just glancing at the previous page can affect the way you organize your new one.

Run Your Content Through a Plagiarism Checker

Run your content through a plagiarism checker like Copyscape to ensure you have not plagiarized external or internal pages. This will help you catch something you might have unintentionally taken from another source.

If duplicate content appears, do your best to rewrite it so the two pages are unique. In this case, I wouldn’t recommend merely rewording sentences. I would delete the section entirely and start from scratch.

If you write in passive voice, you might consider changing everything to active voice. It’ll help get rid of any duplicate content you might have — and it sounds better too!

Think of Different Ways to Approach the Content

If you approach each piece differently, it will help you avoid duplicate content.

Some unique ways to approach each page might include:

  • Using a different organizational structure/order
  • Presenting information using bullet lists or a table instead of in paragraph form
  • Making your page into an infographic

Consider the following examples. They all have identical information, but by presenting them differently, I erase the possibility of duplicate content.

Example 1:

A DUI conviction in Florida might include penalties such as fines between $500 and $4,000, prison time of up to five years, and a license suspension between six months and life.

Example 2:

If the state charged you with a DUI in Florida, you may face the following penalties, depending on how many prior convictions you have:

  • Up to five years in prison
  • Between $500 and $5,000 in fines
  • A license suspension anywhere between six months and life

Example 3:

The table below details the penalties you might face after a driving under the influence conviction in Florida

Conviction Penalties
1st conviction $500 fine

180-day minimum license revocation

Jail time up to six months

2nd conviction Between $1,000 and $2,000 in fines

Minimum five-year revocation (if more than five years passed between 1st and 2nd offense, 180-day minimum suspension applies

Up to nine months in jail

3rd conviction $2,000-$5,000 in fines

10-year minimum license suspension (if more than 10 years passed between 2nd and 3rd conviction, 180-day minimum suspension applies)

Jail time up to one year

4th conviction A fine of at least $2,000

Required permanent license revocation

Up to five years in prison


As you can see, it’s possible to change the language, organization, or presentation to avoid internal duplicate content on your site.

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