From the get go, let this one fact be clear: Duplicate content isn't a punishable offense in Google search result terms, but the act of spamming duplicate content is. For instance, if some spammer comes along and makes a page that contains plagiarized content from Wikipedia or other similar sources in order to drive up traffic for ecommerce's sake without so much as marking it up or adding valid content, then that's spamming by definition. This attempt at manipulating the system is a disservice to Google and its users. These are the sites that get punished and have their rankings reduced or revoked altogether.
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Duplicate Content Isn't Penalized
Wikipedia offers duplicate content all the time in the form of printable versions of their articles. However, there's an even worse scenario of duplicate content abuse that Google penalizes with extreme prejudice. Spammers who copy the content of Google in order to drive traffic to their sites are what Google refers to as people who deceive their users and manipulate their rankings. Duplicate content can be comparable to using bold tags, because they're both perfectly legitimate actions that spammers can abuse for their own good. More to the point, just because bold tags are used by spammers to spam their content all over the web, it doesn't necessarily mean that having bold tags is a punishable offense as far as Google is concerned.
The same could be said of spammers using duplicate content to manipulate their SERP placement to their favor; in both instances, the issue that Google is penalizing with lower rankings or outright omissions in the SERP is the act of spamming, not the act of making duplicate content or using bold tags. Let's suppose you have a website that uses different URLs. However, instead of all of them referring to one site, they're instead copies of the same site; different URLs, but the content on each separate page are all the same. This is actually a common mistake that websites do, such that aside from format and presentation differences, basically all the websites contain identical material (not only text, but also videos).
Examples of Duplicate Content Issues
To reiterate, producing duplicate content in and of itself isn't a punishable offense. However, because Google values unique and original search results more often than not, even the non-spam-related use of duplicate content has its respective problems. A website full of duplicate content will not be removed by Google. However, it will suffer from certain side effects and issues that aren't conducive to the healthy search engine optimization of a website. More to the point, having multiple links leading to separate pages containing the same content will instead dilute the popularity of what's supposed to just one URL.
If you have two pages with the same material but different web addresses, and you have ten back links each, then you'd have a less optimized website compared to one link that has all twenty back links leading to it. The one link with twenty back links will obviously rank higher in the SERP than two links with duplicate content sharing between then twenty back links. What's more, those two links will tend to disappear into the rankings because of Google's tendency to omit redundant links in favor of providing its users with unique and relevant results every time. Google also tends to collapse duplicate content pages together in one result, which could lead to a common link on the SERP with a user-unfriendly URL full of parameters and the like instead of the shorter, more easily branded URLs.
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