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09 Oct 2012

Duplicate Content and the Future – A Cautionary Tale

October 09, 2012On-Site SEO

Duplicate Content and the Future

Duplicate Content - Don't Do it!

Once upon a time, there lived a happy webmaster. He went about his webmasterly duties and regularly updated his website to reflect the latest SEO best practices. One day, he was visited by an evil Black Hat Magician who told him by stuffing keywords into places on his website and creating duplicate content, he would be able to jump to the top of Google and enjoy riches beyond his belief. What the webmaster didn’t know was that Google pushed out algorithm updates and he was penalized. His website disappeared from Google and he was never able to recover from these over-optimization penalties. The End.

Don’t let this tragic and common story happen to you.  Get ready to have this tale demystified and learn how to make sure your website is in tip-top shape!

Duplicate content can easily make a website with good rankings fall into the “Google void” and become almost impossible to find in the search engine results pages. Webmasters haven’t always been concerned about it, but after Panda and especially Penguin, it is now a very important aspect of search engine optimization that cannot be ignored. Many people are confused about what constitutes duplicate content and also what to do if it is present on a website.

What is What is Duplicate Content Duplicate Content??

The main thing to keep in mind is that there are actually a few types of duplicate content:

1. Content that is present on your website and also present on other websites

This means that another website out there on the Internet has a page (or pages) with identical content to your site.

2. Content that is duplicated within your own website

Perhaps you have a header, footer, or sidebar with content that is present on every page on your website or keywords that have been “stuffed” into the content on your site. These things used to be good SEO practices and helped to increase search engine results pages rankings. Now, it’s a one-way ticket to the “Google void.” Avoid it at all costs!!! Don’t forget about meta-titles and meta-descriptions as well. Those aspects are still considered content on your website.

3. Content that is based on the concept of canonicalization

According to Google, there are several versions of a website that can resolve. For instance, if you type in www.example.com and example.com, you go to the same page (or at least it looks like you do). Those are actually two separate pages and each has their own PageRank and Page Authority. This means that one of those pages is going to have more traffic and eventually gain more authority. You want to make sure that Google knows which page that is. This involves implementing a certain type of code to let Google and the other search engines know which page is preferred. A link is included later that will help you implement this code if necessary.

Can Duplicate Content Ruin my Life?

Since we are living in the infamous post-Panda/Penguin world, duplicate content can really have adverse effects on search engine rankings results and traffic. Imagine that you were ranking very well for all of your key search terms for several years. You wake up one day and see that you can’t find your site on Google anywhere! Duplicate content is one probable cause. Many people were following SEO best practices that worked at that time. Google, however, decided that duplicate content could produce search engine results that aren’t beneficial to users, since they unnaturally inflate rankings.

Google might penalize websites that have excessive duplicate content, which could mean certain death for websites that rely heavily on good rankings for the main source of their traffic. Don’t panic yet! There is a silver lining to this. Because Panda started over a year ago and Penguin was initially rolled out around April, chances are, if you were going to experience a drop in rankings, it should have already happened. You can take a look at the periods when you experienced the drops in rankings and traffic and try to correlate it to the various Google algorithm updates using Google Analytics. If they happen to coincide and you are still having problems with ranking, you might want to keep reading to find out how to identify the various types of duplicate content that could be present on your website.

A Sacred Quest for…Duplicate Content!

Now that you’re probably trying to think of all of the possible examples of duplicate content on your website, you’ll want to know how you can identify any possible issues on your website. There are several ways to do this based on the type of duplicate content that you are trying to identify:

  1. If you are concerned about duplicate content from another website, the easiest way to see if it is present on another site is by copying the content into Google with quotes around the content phrase and see if it is found on another other site.
  2. For example, copy: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore magna aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua. At vero eos et accusam et justo duo dolores et ea rebum” into Google.
    Sample result of duplicate content from Google
    This will tell Google that you are looking for this exact sentence and it will find every other page that has it on the internet.

  3. To identify content that might be present on your own website in more than one place, you might want to consider using an SEO site crawler for a more automated experience that can help streamline the process. Search Engine Watch created a great post about how to quickly identify duplicate content with a site crawl.
  4. Fixing canonicalization issues is another way to help eliminate duplicate content issues. You may need to consult a web developer for help if you’re not confident about doing it yourself. If you know a little bit of HTML, you can try implementing the rel=canonical tag yourself. SEOMoz does a good job of breaking down the procedure and providing examples of the code.

HELP! Please tell me how to fix my Website!

We have talked about the different types of duplicate content, what it can do, and how to identify it, but the most important thing to know is how to fix the problems and hopefully get your website back on track.

Google has created a nice page for Webmaster Tools content guidelines, which should answer a lot of questions and give you a good starting point. Yoast also wrote a dynamite blog post that highlights solutions for the various duplicate issues that could be present on your website.

The most important thing to keep in mind is following basic SEO best practices and avoid any black hat tactics, gimmicks, or shortcuts. Those are the things that usually lead to penalties and drops in traffic. Also, it will end up hurting you twice, because, once you are caught, you then have to change your website again and spend extra money. Resist the temptation to take the easy way out. It will be infinitely more difficult to recover from any penalties later on.

Bringing it all Together

Don’t become that complacent webmaster with a site waylaid by his own ignorance. Take charge and get your site back in the rankings where it belongs! Now is a great time to start reviewing all of the content on your site. Look for keywords that have been overused, meta-titles and descriptions that are identical and present on every page, 301 redirects, and other on-page issues that could cause Google to think you have duplicate content. Once you identify problems, go one step further and fix them! Don’t let them plague your website and further compound any other issues.

The best advice as you look forward to the future of your website is to try creating a long-term, sustainable SEO strategy. Every time you want to change something on your website, ask yourself, “Is this part of my SEO strategy I’ve decided upon? Is it spammy? Does it seem like a good idea?” Use your common sense and you could be on your way to great rankings while avoiding penalties from Google.

2 Comments

  • Gerri @ Ninetynineways Oct 09, 2012

    Thanks for the post. One question I have is, how do you deal with the issue if people are copying your content and posting it on their sites as their work? I recently came across a couple of sites (by mistake) that had copied content from one of my sites and hadn’t link back to the original article. Is there any way of policing this?

  • Ty Whalin Oct 12, 2012

    You should monitor your content with Google Alerts. Check for locations using your content with utilities like CopyScape or various others. Make sure you are providing unique content as well ; of course. Reach out the those places using your content and file a DCMA if necessary after you first ask them to remove your content from their site. If they do not then file a DCMA.