What does duplicate content mean for a search engine optimisation (SEO) campaign? The conventional opinion is dropped rankings in major search engines. How then, can a duplicate content problem be handled or avoided?
What is Duplicate Content?
Content that is duplicated refers to a substantial amount or large blocks of text (paragraphs) within a website (domain) or others that is either:
- Virtually identical or plagiarised (i.e.: completely matches word for word) to another piece of content that exists on the web
- Highly similar to another piece of content that exists on the web
Duplicate Content & SEO
Search engines continuously work at improving their services in order to provide the best possible quality and relevant content to their target audience; the internet user. Duplicate content is not favoured by a search engine for the reason that their “spiders” waste valuable time and processing power by having the crawl through that much more text which is indexed.
For the most part, duplicate content is not always intentionally copied, but can be done in a deceptive way that may be regarded as “malicious”. Non – intentional duplication of content can be found in the following forms:
- Discussion forums and blogs
- Printer – only versions of web pages
- E-commerce (product descriptions written by a manufacturer may also appear on other websites advertising the same stock items)
- Pure laziness (content is copied for the sake of copying or without the desire to put in any effort in creating new, useful and original information)
Content that is intentionally duplicated is usually done in an attempt to manipulate a website’s positioning on search engine return pages (SERP’s) or search engine rankings. In so doing, websites can gain increased traffic. Although this may work, the website experience of the internet user is likely to be poor if content is recognised as repetitive or similar to another site that they are familiar with.
Major search engines, such as Google, have filtering programmes in place which scan web pages with the sole purpose of indexing them and determining their distinct information. By doing this, comparisons can be made and “decided” which pieces of content are “designed” to manipulate and which are not. Duplicate content which is perceived by Google and other search engines such as Yahoo and MSN to be manipulative may incur a penalty. Penalties basically “black list” a website from being indexed on a search engine. Search engines then regard the website as one that is created by spammers who implement unethical or “black hat” SEO methods. Duplicate content which is not perceived to have been copied maliciously may merely suffer a lower ranking.
Duplicate Content Problems & Issues
Reasons why a website may have duplicate content can include:
- Affiliate programmes – affiliates may have a domain name that appears relatively similar to another. Search engines will thus interpret it as having duplicate content (e.g.: http://www.yourdomain.com?affid=123456 versus http://www.yourdomain.com).
- Syndication deals – Syndicating or distributing content (e.g.: articles) to directories can create duplications of the very same text onto other websites. Search engines generally select one of these copies; usually one that they feel is most appropriate. The problem may occur that the original copy is not selected when an internet user conducts a search.
- Site architecture – if multiple paths exist, linking internet users to the very same page of content, search engines may regard it as being duplicated.
- Cross publishing – Many websites may use the same content on more than one website for perfectly innocent purposes.
- Domains – Domains registered as e.g.: http://www.yourdomain.com or http://yourdomain.com could result in search engines perceiving content on either one as duplications of the other.
How to Handle or Avoid Content Being Duplicated?
A conventional opinion of many SEO companies and consultants is that nothing short of 70% of content published online should be entirely original. By ensuring this, content duplication concerns regarding being penalised should not be high. It is not known; however, just how much duplication of content may result in a penalty. Search engines could penalise for as little as 10 words if they so choose or as much as a whole page. This is why checking content duplication is an important part of SEO.
- Of all the problems that can cause duplicated content, there are none too great that a solution can’t be implemented to rectify it. There are many ways of handling or avoiding content being duplicated altogether, and ensuring that an online target audience has convenient access to the information that is intended for them to see. The following are some ways in which this can be achieved:
- Place a copyright notice on the bottom of all web pages containing original content.
- Website owners who may have multiple domains which direct internet users to the same content on a website can make use of a permanent re-direction method, namely the 301 redirect (status report). The 301 redirect “informs” a search engine “spider” of this permanent redirection. “Spiders” then perceive the content that users are being directed to from multiple domains is not actually duplicated.
- Articles intended to be re-published on other websites can be submitted in a text format. When the article is then re-published, it will need to be re-formatted. By re-formatting it, search engines will more than likely perceive the article as being “original”, not duplicated.
- If you are hosting someone else’s content and it appears to be duplicated, a “robots meta tag” can be placed in the head section in order to stop a search engine “spider” from being able to index that web page.
- Original content that has been duplicated can be given a refreshing change. This re-write will make the best of an unfortunate situation and give your original copy something more than the duplicate text will be able to benefit from: a fresh perspective. Internet users much prefer content that’s new, fresh and original!
- Be consistent when using internal links and try not to link to similar domains (e.g.: http://www.example.com/page/ and http://www.example.com/page/index.htm).
- If content is being syndicated, it is a good idea to provide a backlink to the original article, as well as request that the sites block their version of the text with robots.txt.
- Search engines such as Google can be notified as to which domain is preferred to be indexed if similar pieces of content is to be displayed on each of them.
- If a website has many web pages that are quite similar in content, you might consider expanding the pages to contain more unique copy or consolidating all of them into one.
Duplicate Content Tools
The following tools can be used to compare and check other websites who may be displaying similar or duplicated content:
- Duplicate Content – this online tool allows you to compare two different URL’s.
- Virante Duplicate Content – this online tool allows you to “diagnose” any potential causes and effects of duplicate content that may have been penalised by search engines.
- Duplicate Check – with this tool, “spiders” scan a website and provide a report to help you modify web pages on a site in order to avoid being penalised. The tool provides a list of URL’s accompanied by a percentage of closely matched web pages or content.
- Copyscape – this tool searches for copies of content that may be duplicated on the internet and provides a list of websites that are using it.
Duplicated content has no real profitable value for an SEO marketing campaign. If search engines perceive content to be substantially the same or similar to another, penalties can be incurred. Whether these are merely lower rankings or being banned from appearing from a search engine’s index (will not feature in SERP’s at all), high SERP positions and business growth (i.e.: sales) are not achieved. It is far more effective to produce original content that will not stand a chance of sabotaging the very purposes of SEO and its benefits.
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