The Truth Behind Duplicate Content Penalties
Over the years we have been told to avoid duplicate content at all costs. Many people believe that if you are duplicating content, Google will red flag you and start penalizing your site. However, this isn’t necessarily the truth. Most people define duplicate content as taking content from one site or page and copying it to another page. This can lead to quite a lot of contortions on the part of content marketers trying to make unique pages. They could be worrying too much, and here’s why.
First, let’s see how Google defines duplicate content:
Search engines understand they cannot remove every single page or site that has duplicate content. Because of this, many sites are not penalized for having duplicate content on their site. Google has created guidelines for handling duplicate content and it’s suggested that all marketers follow Google’s guidelines.
Do Not Manipulate Search Engines
You may hear different things from different people in the industry, however, this is the underlying truth. You can share other site’s articles, as long as Google doesn’t think you’re trying to manipulate search engine results. In fact, Google will take some pains to not punish sites just for a duplicate content entry. For instance, Google creates internal search groups based on a user’s location and language. If the same article appears on a U.S. site and a UK site, that’s not going to be flagged as a duplicate.
If you scroll down to the bottom of some search results, you’ll often see a text block that says Google omitted similar entries. If it is a very popular subject this can be very common, and search engines understand it would be impossible to penalize all sites.
Best Practices for Duplicate Content
Ideally, all content you are adding to your site should be original ideas and new content. However, this is impossible in practice. It is common writers will use ideas from other articles in their own words, but even just talking about an idea may require significant levels of duplication. And if you’re running a curation site, you might want to be able to quote the article correctly without a duplication penalty.
If you decide to scrape content or duplicate an article word for word, it’s important to give credit to the original author/domain. This is done by adding a canonical tag to your article. Essentially, what this tag does says the original source of the article goes to a different domain. This way your site can still benefit from new content on popular topics, yet still give credit to the original source. Google really likes the use of the canonical tag and it’s a good way to avoid duplicate content errors. Here’s how to add a canonical tag.
Google also really likes consistency in a site. It helps them index the page better and helps their algorithm decide how to rank pages. Here are some best practices:
- Link repetitive sections of text on multiple pages, like a large copyright notice, to a single page and put a link in the footer instead.
- Keep your internal linking consistent. Most CMS will do this for you, but if you have a custom site, use the same style for all your internal links.
- Don’t create placeholder pages if you can help it. Placeholder pages often have duplicate content and they’re seen as stubs. If you must have placeholder pages, use a noindex tag to keep Google from counting it. Once the page is complete, be sure to remove it.
- Don’t block duplicate content using noindex or a robots.txt file. Instead, use a canonical tag.
- If you are porting a site to a new domain, be sure to use a 301 redirect. That will direct search engine spiders to your new site properly.
Overall, writers should aim to create new, compelling content, however, if you decide to use another site’s information, give credit. Search engines have been developing tools that sift through sites and can determine where they original content is from. Follow the guidelines for duplicate content and don’t try to fool search engines with malicious content and copying. If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to raise the amount of duplicate content you can have without jeopardizing your SERP position.