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August 20, 2013
Duplicate Content: Not Foe, Not Friend
 
Doesn't it annoy the guff out of you when you search for a specific term on Google, and the first ten results are the exact same article, simply hosted on different sites? (Maybe not if you're the author or sponsor of said article, but for the rest of us, it's a huge PITA). Such barrages of duplication often occur because a press release has been issued on the topic, and every relevant site has published it. Google searchers aren't happy about this sort of thing. And if searchers aren't happy, corporate isn't happy.
 
That's why Google has been tightening up its content policies.

Those (somewhat) in the know worry that their sites will be outright penalized for having the same content that another site has. This is not technically true, but having duplicate content does reduce the perceived value of your overall site, and those unoriginal pages may be absent in search results. Google is working at having articles and posts show up just once in search, which means that your site may be the source listed for your article, or may not. One way to influence which site shows up is to insert a rel="canonical" tag on the page and site that should, indeed, be the one and only to show up. For that to work, other sites hosting the same content should use the rel="nofollow" tag, so that Google won't index the content from anywhere else. (If you have duplicate content on your own site, once in the news blog and once as an article, for instance, or once as the readable article and once as a printable version, you should use these tags as well).

There is another element to all this that webmasters must consider: Google's goal is to return the very best, most original and reliable content in its search results. Any site that constantly publishes press releases and content that is found elsewhere is never going to make the mark as a top resource. So, while there may not be a specific “penalty,” such as blacklisting your site, there is no quick and easy way to be a top site either. Sites with regular, high quality, original content are the sites that will make the mark in the long run.
 
If you host a news feed, make sure you're also providing some original resources along with it. If you do focus on press releases, add thought-provoking commentary and a list of resources. Consider editing the wording to make the release more concise, understandable, or enjoyable to read.

Google is hot on the trail of unnaturally and excessively placed links, mass link exchange and paid links, sneaky redirects, doorway pages, scraped or automatically generated content, cloaked and hidden text, links and redirects.
 
None of this is to say that you cannot employ a doorway-like strategy, or that links cannot be used, but it will always boil down to quality, quality, quality. Does the page have true value in and by itself? Does it stand on its own as an informative resource? As long as no one other than you would recognize it as a doorway, then it won't actually be considered one, and you should be OK. Exchanging relevant links with related sites is also kosher, just make sure the links are helpful, relevant, and that they lead to content, not product, business card, or landing pages.

Google's Matt Cutts, who heads the webspam team, has said that anyone playing by the rules should not spend time worrying about duplicate content. If other sites steal your content, they are usually easily recognizable to Google, and they, not you, will most likely be penalized. That said, it never hurts to use www.copyscape.com to see if someone is stealing, and if they are, you can contact Google support to have it removed.

When the world realized that content really is king, and that organic search is gold, there was a mad dash to supply “content.” But there is no value in over supply. While shortcuts and cheating may offer some initial reward, it will be short lived, and will ultimately backfire. The new phrase should be “Quality is king.” Or how about “Think not about what your site can do for you, but what your site can do for others.”

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Peter Wipf is an SEO, web marketing, and online PR specialist, managing both organic and paid search for his clients. He is a published author on a variety of topics, and has worked for About.com and The New York Times online, among others.
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