With the rollout of Google Panda, we have heard sad stories of sites that have been either devalued or removed from Google’s index entirely.
One of the reasons for the huge drop in some sites’ rankings has been duplicate content — one of the problems that Panda was released to control.
Most of the sites that have experienced a drastic decrease in rankings were content farms and article directories; that is, sites loaded with thousands of duplicate articles.
While it had been made clear that duplicate content was one of the primary things Panda frowns on, some content authors breathed a sigh of relief after Google appeared to say that “There’s no such thing as a ‘duplicate content penalty’ ” in a blog post several years ago.
But duplicate content remains a controversial issue. It has kept bloggers and webmasters nervous about publishing content that could hurt their rankings. Like many other things, there are two sides to the issue. There’s duplicate content that Google allows and there’s the type that hurts your website’s rankings.
Let’s try to clear up the difference.
What type of duplicate content can hurt your rankings?
To determine whether a sample of duplicate content is going to pull down your rankings, first you have to determine why you are going to publish such content in the first place.
It all boils down to your purpose.
If your goal is to try to punk the system by using a piece of content that has been published elsewhere, you’re bound to get penalized. The purpose is clearly deceptive and intended to manipulate search results.
This is what Google has to say about this sort of behavior:
“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”
If Google has clear evidence that you are trying to manipulate your search rankings, or that you are practicing spammy strategies to try to improve rankings and drive traffic to your website, it could result to your site being removed from Google’s index.
The effects on users
Publishing duplicate content could also hurt your reputation in the eyes of the users.
The ultimate goal of the search engines is to provide users with the most valuable, most useful, and most relevant information. If you publish a bit of content that has been previously published elsewhere, your site may not show up for the same search, because search engines tend to show results only from the main content sources.
This explains why the search engines omit duplicate results to deliver only those that the users need.
When users read content on your site that they have already seen previously on a site that they trust more, chances are their trust in your site will diminish.
But is there ever a case where duplicate content is acceptable?
When duplicate content can be acceptable
There may be instances when duplicate content is accidental, and therefore should not lead to any penalties.
One such instance is when the search engines index tree identifies separate URLs within a domain that point to a single content. An example is the following trio of URLs: http://abc.com, http://www.abc.com, and http://www.abc.com/index.htm. There’s clearly no indication of manipulation or intent to spam in this case.
Another case of legitimate duplication occurs when a content sample is published in several different formats to cater to specific users. With the explosion of mobile web browsing, content is now published to suit desktops, tablets, and mobile phone web users. Publication of a single content in several formats is not subject to any penalties for duplicate content.
Also, keep in mind that there are instances when publishing a copy of a piece of content, in part or in whole, is needed for reference, such as when citing a news source. If the purpose is to reference or to add value to users, such content duplication is not subject to penalties.
Avoiding duplicate content that provokes the Panda’s wrath
Simply put, avoiding duplicate content is your best defense against any duplicate content penalties administered by Google Panda. Remember that Google and other search engines strive to provide search results that are unique and of high quality.
Your goal must therefore be to publish unique and original content at all times.
However, if duplication cannot be avoided, below are recommended fixes that you can employ to avert penalties:
Boilerplates. Long boilerplates or copyright notices should be removed from various pages and placed on a single page instead. In cases where you would have to call your readers’ attention to boilerplate or copyright at the bottom of each of your pages or posts, insert a link to the single special page instead.
Similar pages. There are cases when similar pages must be published, such as SEO for small and big businesses. Avoid publishing the same or similar information. Instead, expand on both services and make the information very specific to each business segment.
Noindex. People could be syndicating your content. If there’s no way to avoid this, include a note at the bottom of each page of your content that asks users to include a “noindex” metatag on your syndicated content to prevent the duplicate content from being indexed by the search engines.
301 redirects. Let the search engine spiders know that a page has permanently moved by using 301 redirects. This also alerts the search engines to remove the old URL from their index and replace it with the new address.
Choosing only one URL. There might be several URLs you could use to point to your homepage, but you should choose only one. When choosing the best URL for your page, be sure to keep the users in mind. Make the URL user-friendly. This makes it easier not only for your users to find your page, but also for the search engines to index your site.
Always create unique content. Affiliates almost always fall victim to the convenience of ready-made content provided by merchants. If you are an affiliate, be sure to create unique content for the merchant products you are promoting. Don’t just copy and paste.
Whatever your intent is, the best way to avoid getting penalized by Google Panda is to avoid creating duplicate content in the first place. Keep in mind that quality is now at the top of the search engines’ agenda.
It should be yours too.