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Killing the Myth of the Duplicate Content Penalty

It seems like it happens to me on a weekly basis, where someone, deeply concerned will ask:

‘But what about the ‘duplicate content penalty?’

Usually a customer will bring this up during a meeting about CEO; by which he means SEO or Search Engine Optimization.

This week however the customer who brought up the issue is well versed in the ins and out of the web, online marketing and SEO. However,  the myth of the penalty for repeating exact pages of content remains consistent and deadly in the minds of so many that I felt compelled to present the reality of the situation.

The Facts

All website have tons of duplicate content. And in reality, no one can honestly say that his or her website does not have it.

Think of how many legitimate ways the same page on your website can have the exact same text. Here as some obvious ones:

 The same page can have:

  •         Different URLs; starting with HTTP or HTTPs, www or non-www
  •         Category pages that list the same pages all over the place
  •         Tag clouds that lead to the same page
  •         Mobile version of the same page
  •         Off-site versions of the same page in the form of press releases or shared content on other websites
  •         Social media posts to Facebook or similar places
  •         Localized and translated content

Like it or not we all have it at some time!

I will let you into a secret! Google knows this too and does not issue penalties for these kinds of pages.

In fact, according to John Mueller of Google, there is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty.

But what Google does have is finite resources. They are all too aware that the storage of reams of similar information in their search index is wasteful. While search bots have over a billion websites to visit and have limited time on each site, they do not literally issue these kinds of penalties.

The only time Google penalize a site for content that is duplicated is when they consider the website content to be spam. Which only happens when unscrupulous webmasters purposely spin content and seed it to multiple sites, something no legitimate site owner will never knowingly do.

Crawl Budget

Each site is allocated a slice of computing time for its content to be read and analyzed, which is called crawl budget. Making the best use of your crawl budget is important; you don’t want search bots to waste precious time on your site chundling through pages and pages of the same drivel. Thus It is worth spending the time to filter out as many copies of the same content as possible, freeing up time for bots that visit your site to find and index your new and updated content.

Tweaking Content

It may seem counter intuitive, but spending time reworking your similar content to be different is simply a waste of time.

First, Google is exceptionally smart at figuring out which content is similar so you may well be fighting a losing battle.

Second, time spent scratching your head looking for ways to say the same thing differently is better spent improving existing content and ensuring a better user experience.

Lastly, Google does not recommend artificially rewriting content to appear different.

This kind of effort can lead to the impression that your content is spammy. The best option is to leave your exact duplicate text alone. Google will recognize this and will fold the pages together, making a far stronger page in its index than each of the pages together.

What Can I Do About Duplicate Content?

This is an easy one. There are measures that your webmaster can take to indicate to Google that content on your site is duplicated. The most commonly used option is to employ the canonical meta tag to indicate which page is the master or ‘canonical’ page.

And if you can’t find a way to ‘fix’ this, then just sit back and relax; Google will sort it out for you!

The Bottom Line for Website Owners

Always keep in mind the golden rule, which says ‘Make sure that everything you do one your site is aimed at improving user experience by giving users easy access to content that is relevant to their immediate requirements’.

More Info

The best way to find out more about this is from the horse’s mouth. Watch the John Mueller of Google explain it here:

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