Google’s Duplicate Content Penalty: Fact or Fiction?
Many thanks to Chris Cabaniss of Falcon Digital Marketing for contributing this guest blog post.
Duplicate content is not as big of an issue as many people think it is regarding SEO. Allow me to elaborate. For major duplicate content issues, Google is looking for scraper websites or websites that intentionally duplicate pages to attempt to cheat the system. Most webmasters do not intentionally create duplicate content. For example, having your slogan on the footer of every page on your website is fine — Google won’t blacklist you forever!
Google has taken a lot of steps to sort out accidental duplicate content themselves. This way non-technical website owners are not hurt. Making some technical changes to your website to make it easier on Google is encouraged, but not mandatory.
While it is a good idea to implement best technical practices like Canonical Tags, Meta Robots NoIndex tags, 301 Redirects, and other fancy technical things, missing a few won’t ruin your website’s SEO.
The main issue search engines have with duplicate content is not knowing which page to index in the search results. Google does not categorize duplicate content as a “penalty,” but it does not favor it in any way.
The most common unintentional duplicate content created by website owners is URL parameters for the same page. For example, sorting a list of products in order of price, largest to smallest. It is identical content on the page, but now in different order. While this is a great user experience, how does the search engine know which URL/page is the original?
The same is true with blog categories. One blog post may be accessible through this address: www.website.com/category1/post1 and this same article can be accessed by www.website.com/category2/post1. Google will see this as two different pages with duplicate content, but that isn’t devastating. Should you remove all categories and sorting from your website? No. Should you keep it well organized to make it easy for search engines to sort? Yes.
The easiest solution for this URL-parameters issue is known as Canonical tags. These can be added manually to the website code, or most WordPress themes or plugins will have this built in already. These Canonical tags help search engines sort out which page is the original and which is just a variation, or the same page in a different category.
You can also use a 301 redirect to point the old URL to the new one, in case there were revisions, but there are now two different URLs/pages with the same content.
If a page is not supposed to be indexed by search engines at all, you can add Meta Robots Noindex tags. This can be added manually to the code, and many WordPress plugins like Yoast have it built in as a simple checkbox option per page.
It is helpful to take the extra time to help Google organize your website better, but don’t lose sleep over whether your Canonical tags are in perfect order at all times.
Things to avoid:
- Duplicating pages and only changing the title on the page to rank for more keywords. This won’t fool the search engines.
Things that are fine:
- Tagging a blog post with multiple categories
- Having your slogan appear on every page
- Legal disclaimer that has to be on every page
It is also safe to take content from your blog and post it to LinkedIn or Medium, as Google will recognize this as social media shares.
If you are guest-posting on someone else’s website, the content should be unique. Otherwise, Google will see two identical pages of content on two different websites and not know which is the original. The guest post can be on the same topic — just don’t copy and paste one of your blog posts to put on someone else’s website.
If you really want to dig into more technical fixes for duplicate content, Google provides a simple checklist for avoiding duplicate content and actions to take to help avoid duplicate content issues on your website.
Moz.com also has a detailed walkthrough of implementing technical fixes to your website to help with duplicate content.
In summary, duplicate content for SEO isn’t the penalty that many people believe it is, but at the same time, try to avoid it while creating your content. The easier you can make it for the search engines to index and sort your website content, the better.
About the Author
After a long history of working in the internet marketing industry, Chris Cabaniss founded Falcon Digital Marketing, LLC in Houston, TX. He first found his passion for internet marketing in 2008 when developing his own website, SEO strategy, and PPC ad campaign for a previous business. This inspired him to switch to full-time marketing consulting to help other businesses create and grow their business online, as he did. Chris is also a native Houstonian, an active member of the American Marketing Association Houston chapter, and a Texas Tech Alumni.
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