Quality content is the key to success in the SEO arena. Well-written, useful, unique content is what separates a dynamic web presence from a mediocre website. Unfortunately, duplicate content on your website will derail all your painstaking SEO efforts and earn you a Google penalty for plagiarism. Or will it? Lots of speculation has been swirling about the impact of duplicate content on a website’s SEO, and it’s important to separate the myths from the facts in order to optimize your site. Here is a closer look at the issue and what the experts have to say about this matter.
What Is Duplicate Content, Anyway?
Most cases are not spam or scraped text. In most cases, the duplication is completely harmless and possibly unintentional. There are multiple ways that text can appear on the web under more than one URL. The use of URL parameters for click-tracking and other analytic purposes can remit in problems. Pinter-friendly pages are another common culprit. Websites who host their mobile version at a different sub-domain instead of creating a single responsive site are also at risk for these issues.
Is Duplication Really That Bad?
Rumors abound about the alleged “duplicate content penalty” that can sink your rankings in the search results. It turns out that it isn’t as bad as you might fear. In a question-and-answer video released by Google, Matt Cutts weighed in on this topic. When asked about the rids of a penalty for duplicate text, his response surprised many experts in the SEO community: “I wouldn’t stress about this unless the content that you have duplicated is spammy or keyword stuffing.” Google had previously hinted that this issue rarely results in a penalty, but misconceptions about the issue continued to spread including the effects of plagiarized content.
The main problem surrounding the issue is that Google prefers to diversify the text that shows up in search results. The search engines need to know which page could rank well and which would be overlooked. They also need to determine which page could get the “link juice,” trust and authority that has been earned. When Google’s spider is faced with two duplicate pages, neither page may end up ranking quite as well as it might have without the complications of duplicate text.
Best Practices to Avoid Duplicate Content
Now that you understand the actual SEO implications, how can you minimize this issue on your own site? It’s actually not a difficult task. Whenever you have text that can be found on multiple pages, you should canonicalize it for the search engines. In many cases, the best way to do this is to create a 301 redirect from your duplicate page to the original page. This eliminates any competition between the pages and helps the original page rank better in the search results. Another way to handle and prevent issues is to use the rel=canonical tag. The tag is found in the head section of a typical web page. It lets the search engines know that this page should be treated as a copy of the original URL specified within the tag. This solution is often easier to implement, and it passes “link juice” to the original page just as well as a 301 redirect.
While 301 redirects and the rel=canonical tag are the most popular ways of dealing with duplicate text, a few alternatives are available. You could try using the meta “robots” tag with the values “noindex/nofollow” on pages you don’t want to include in search results. This tag tells the search engines to crawl the page for links but not to index the page itself. You could also use Google Webmaster Tools to tell Google how to handle different URL parameters. This method is very easy, but it only works for Google. You’ll still encounter problems with Bing and other search engines.
As you can see, there are a number of myths and misconceptions about duplicate & plagiarized content and its role in determining search rankings. It’s clear that this problem doesn’t generally cause a Google penalty, and the only way you’ll get in trouble with Google is if your duplicate content is spammy or plagiarized in nature. However, if you have duplicate pages, you’re relying on Google to figure out which one should show up in search results and which would get ignored. You’ll probably have better luck with your rankings if you play it safe and try to eliminate duplicate content from your website.