thing that has plagued the SEO industry for years has been a lack of consistency
when it comes to SEO terms and definitions. One of the most prevalent misnomers
being bandied about is the phrase "duplicate
content penalty." I’m here to tell you that there is no such thing as a
search engine penalty for duplicate content. At least not the way many people
believe there is.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that the search engines like and
appreciate duplicate content — they don’t. But they don’t specifically penalize
websites that happen to have some duplicate content.
Duplicate content has been and always will be a natural part of the Web. It’s
nothing to be afraid of. If your site has some dupe content for whatever reason,
you don’t have to lose sleep every night worrying about the wrath of the Google
gods. They’re not going to shoot lightning bolts at your site from the sky, nor
are they going to banish your entire website from ever showing up when someone
searches for what you offer. The duplicate content probably won’t show up in
searches, but that’s not the same thing as a penalty.
Let me explain.
The search engines want to index and show to their users (the searchers) as
much unique content as algorithmically possible. That’s their job, and they do
it quite well considering what they have to work with: spammers using invisible
or irrelevant content, technically challenged websites that crawlers can’t
easily find, copycat scraper sites that exist only to obtain AdSense clicks, and
a whole host of other such nonsense.
There’s no doubt that duplicate content is a problem for search engines. If a
searcher is looking for a particular type of product or service and is presented
with pages and pages of results that provide the same basic information, then
the engine has failed to do its job properly. In order to supply its users with
a variety of information on their search query, search engines have created
duplicate content "filters" (not penalties) that attempt to weed out the
information they already know about. Certainly, if your page is one of those
that is filtered, it may very well feel like a penalty to you, but it’s not —
it’s a filter.
Search engine penalties are reserved for pages and sites that are purposely
attempting to trick the search engines in one form or another. Penalties can be
meted out algorithmically when obvious deceptions exist on a page, or they can
be personally handed out by a search engineer who discovers an infraction
through spam reports and other means. To many people’s surprise, penalties
rarely happen to the average website. Most that receive a penalty know exactly
what they did to deserve it.
Honestly, the search engines are not out to get you.
Matt Cutts isn’t plotting new ways to
take food off your table. If you have a page on your site that sells red widgets
and another very similar page selling blue widgets, you aren’t going to find
your site banished off the face of Google because of this. The worst thing that
will happen is that only the red widget page may show up in the search results
instead of both pages showing up.
On the other hand, if you’ve created a
Mad Libs spam site — i.e., one that uses a pre-written template where
specific keyword phrases are substituted out for other ones — the pages in
question might get filtered out completely. Not so much because of their dupe
content (although that’s part of it), but because it’s search engine spam
(low-quality pages with little value to people, created solely for search engine
The bottom line is that the engines are actively seeking out lousy content
and removing it from their main results. If this sounds like your site, don’t be
surprised to wake up one day and find you’ve lost some or all of your rankings.
It’s time to bite the bullet and use them as PPC landing pages instead. There’s
definitely some irony in the fact that those types of pages are welcome in
Google if you’re willing to pay for each clickthrough you receive, but those are
obvious moneymaker pages, and Google has a right to demand their cut.
Regionalized pages are another duplicate-content "spam" model that has been
losing ground with the engines lately. Those consist of hundreds of pages/sites
selling the same basic thing, but they are targeted to every city in the US.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to how to create high-quality pages that
do the same thing.
Suffice it to say that just about any content that is easily created without
much human intervention (i.e., automated) is not a great candidate for organic
Another duplicate-content issue that many are concerned about is the
republishing of online articles. Reprinting someone’s article on your site is
not going to cause a penalty. At best, your page with the article will show up
in a search related to it; at worst, it won’t. No big deal either way.
If your own bylined articles are getting published elsewhere, that’s a good
thing. There’s no need for you to provide a different version to other sites or
to not allow them to be republished at all. The more sites that host your
article, the more chances you will have to build your credibility as well as to
gain links back to your site through a short bio at the end of the article. If
the site your article is hosted on shows up instead of yours, so be it. There’s
nothing wrong with that, as your site can be easily clicked to from your bio;
the pros far outweigh the cons. In many cases, Google still shows numerous
instances of articles in searches, but even if they eventually show only one
version, that’s still okay.
When it comes to duplicate content, the search engines are not penalizing you
or thinking that you’re a spammer; they’re simply trying to show some variety in
their search results pages.
Jill Whalen is
owner of High Rankings, a search
engine optimization firm founded in 1995. She speaks and writes regularly on SEO
issues and also maintains the High
Ranking Forums, where the community over of 10,000 members discusses SEO
topics. The 100%
Organic column appears Thursdays at
Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.