SEO & The Dreaded “Duplicate Content Penalty”

SEO & The Duplicate Content PenaltyIn SEO circles and on Internet Marketing Forums you very often hear people refer to the dreaded Google “duplicate content penalty”.

Is there really such a thing? Can we find objective proof that this elusive animal actually exists in the wild, or is this the stuff of legend and urban myth – SEO’s chupacabra that sucks the blood, er, linkjuice, out of your website or page’s hard-earned PageRank?


First, let’s talk about what this SEO-killer is rumored to be:


What IS “The Duplicate Content Penalty”?


In short, the idea is that website A has a page of content, and website B has the exact same bit of content, that Google will penalize one or both of those sites or pages. How could this happen? Easy – let’s say you wrote a page of content and put it on your website but because that content was so scintillating, so brilliant, so eloquent – you decided to add it to an article directory too, maybe or Ehow or one of a zillion other article directories on the internets.


Or, maybe someone stole your content. Yep, came to your site and ripped you right off – or maybe they used a spider to crawl the interwebs based on a keyword search and automatically took your content and posted onto their site for their evil get-rich-quick affiliate marketing purposes or for AdSense clicks.


In any event, your content can wind up on someone else’s site by manual or automatic means.


How exactly will Google penalize you & what should you do about it?


Okay, time to separate fact from fiction, lies from truth, urban legend from actual reality. There is no duplicate content penalty per se. Google does not “penalize” you for having duplicate content on your site or any other site.


“So what gives? Why all the hubub about duplicate content if there’s no actual penalty?” – you must be asking? Right? Glad you asked…


The fact is that Google is on a mission to keep searchers (they call them “users”) happy.


And their research shows that users are not happy if they perform a search, let’s say “how to make purple elephant tables” and all the results the user gets are the same page.


Yep, the same page, over and over. This frustrates users. Think about it, wouldn’t you be frustrated too if you were looking for a number of options on how to build your purple elephant tables and all you got was the same page over and over and over… frustrating, yes?


So, Google wants to show just one page if they find 2 or more of the same pages in their index… your query “deserves diversity”, they reckon, and rightly so, and so that’s what they try to do.


This “penalty” is not really a penalty – Google just puts the duplicate content into a supplemental index.


There are many subtleties to this topic – if a site steals your content and has more authority than your site, you content page might get relegated to the supplemental index. Google is also moving to create “author rank” (more on this soon) in order to give authors the ability to be properly credited for their hard work and original unique content.


The canonical tag can be very useful, but this is mostly limited to websites on which you can update the Meta Data yourself, but it could be useful to specify your canonical tag in the Meta Data of your website’s <head> section such that if scraper bots rip you off, they probably will be too lazy to take out the rel=”canonical” tag. Another good idea, by the say, is to use a site like Tynt so that you might even wind up with a link after someone steals your content. Ha. Hats off & credit to Ian Lurie for this killer tip!


Finally, if you don’t believe me and are about to trash me in the comments section (go ahead, I can take it… but seriously, I do welcome your input and opinions, even your disagreements) you can read for yourself here that the duplicate content is indeed, just a myth, like Nessie, bigfoot, and affordable health insurance.


Creative Commons License photo credit: MythicSeabass

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