Some people copy content in order to fill a website; others have all original content except for a list of automotive parts that really can’t be reworded. The hot question circulating in the online community is how much duplicate content will hurt you?
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, says that today “something like 25 or 30 percent of all the web’s content is duplicate content.” For years, duplicate content has been a search engine optimization issue that has caused much debate. Some say matching content has led them to ranking ruin, while others claim it’s mostly harmless.
Understanding Duplicate Content and Why It Must Be Avoided
Simply put, duplicate content is the content that shows up multiple times in numerous places on the Internet. Search engines are on a mission to provide the best search experience. As a result, they avoid displaying identical material. There are three big issues with duplicate content:
- Search engine algorithms don’t know which content version(s) to include or exclude.
- Search engines cannot determine whether to direct link metrics to a single page or separate it between several versions.
- Search engines cannot decide which version(s) to rank for query results.
You should avoid duplicate content whenever possible. It will only serve to decrease your SERP ranking and decrease traffic potential.
Disclaimers, Legal Information, Terms, and Conditions
Depending on the nature of your business, your service or product website might need to display a disclaimer, terms and conditions or some other sort of legal information. Let’s face it; nearly every website out there has something along these lines—even if it’s as minor as the same copyright information displayed on every page of the website. Duplicate content of this nature is going to exist. It’s virtually unavoidable.
Here’s the good news: Google understands. If they were to rank websites negatively for duplications that arise from disclaimers, legal information and terms and conditions, they would likely cause a negative impact on overall search quality. In Cutts’ words, “I wouldn’t stress about it” when it comes to the necessary legal jargon.
Ingredient, Product, Service and Other Lists
Lists are another element found on almost any website. Companies display lists of ingredients, parts, specs, and so forth. Your website might have a list of affiliates. In general, these types of lists should not detract from your ranking. However, a word of caution does demand attention: if you have just an affiliate feed or the exact same paragraph(s) of text that mirror what everybody else on the web puts in their list, duplicate content could become a problem.
Quotations and Citations
Don’t worry if you use quotations or citations. It is okay to quote, provided you link to the original source and indicate that you are quoting. Google won’t see this as duplicate content. However, remember, quotes are the golden nuggets of copy. Don’t write copy that is quotation heavy. This will be seen negatively by Google’s eyes.
Avoid “Fly-By-Night” or Duplicate Content Branding
Duplicate content brands a website as “fly-by-night,” meaning the content was quickly copied and pasted from somewhere else just to get the website up and running with a shot at gaining quick SERP ranking. It’s important that your webpage content not give this deadly impression.
The solution is simple: use original content as much as possible. By using original content throughout your webpages, little duplicates (such as the ones we discussed above) won’t carry much weight because your original content will far outweigh any matching material. In essence, showing that you are a reputable, established presence depends on value. How valuable is your content to the potential customer and the researcher who wants to be educated and informed?
Keyword Stuffing is Deadly
One of the largest contributors to duplicate content on the Internet has been the previous SEO strategy of stuffing content with keywords and keyword phrases. Up until now, this used to be a solid way to show up on search engine result pages and generate website traffic. Today, Google is smarter. Their search algorithms are able to identify synonyms and extrapolate relevant search results to a query based on concept. What does this mean for your content?
Do not stuff keywords or phrases! It will create rapidly recognized duplicate information. Your search rankings will take a not so graceful swan dive, and you’ll likely be branded a “fly-by-night” website by search engines.
The Practices to Avoid to Stay Free of Duplicate Content
Cutts makes an interesting statement about duplicate content. He says that in general, “duplicate content is not really treated as spam.” Most of the time, it’s “treated as something that [needs to be] cluster[ed] appropriately.” It’s important to realize that search engines are endeavoring to preserve quality search results.
Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. If they are looking for a local mechanic, then their search engine results need to return with several unique hits. They will then surf their way through these before choosing which mechanics to contact. If their search query returned a page with 10 links, all to the same mechanic’s website just different pages, they would be frustrated. It’s likely they would avoid giving business to this mechanic due to the sheer frustration of only his pages appearing.
Google wants to ensure the audience is happy. They’ll weed out duplicate content as their algorithms allow, and you don’t want to be a weed that gets pulled. Here are the practices to avoid:
- Keyword stuffing.
- Using the exact same paragraphs over and over on multiple pages.
- Reusing the same biography, about or general company/business information because that’s all there is.
- Using lists that appear on other websites.
- Creating multiple domains, subdomains, or pages with duplicate content.
The Practice to Adopt
How do you not worry about duplicate content? It’s really very simple: stay original.
One of the best ways to ensure your content stays creative and original is to hire a professional. An expert copywriter or copywriting agency can be an invaluable ally, able to adeptly craft engaging, original content that will preserve and even improve your SERPs.