The Hidden Dangers of Duplicate Content – Is Your Site A Victim?

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Google defines duplicate content as “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.” Although you may have kept this in mind and actively avoided duplicating content across your site, it is possible to have fallen victim to it without even realizing. If this is the case, your site will still be penalized for offering up the same chunk of content numerous times.

In some cases, this could simply result in the search engine choosing which of the duplicates to list and then ignoring other pages. In the worst-case scenario, however, your domain could be banned from the search results entirely.

Duplicate content is often not a result of deliberately using identical or very similar text across different pages of your site or external to your site. However vigilant you are about crafting unique pages, duplicate content can creep in as a natural result of search engine optimization and online marketing activity. It’s this under-the-radar activity that it pays to be wise to.

If you have been using doorway pages or have two or more sites (for example, if you operate in the USA and the UK and have a site for each region which contain a lot of the same information), then being penalized for duplicate content may not come as a surprise. It may be a shock, however, to find you have unwittingly duplicated content across your domains as a result of the following:

1. Product Pages

Many large sites suffer from duplicate content at the product page level. This can usually be attributed to using a template for each page with just a few changes to the visible content. For example, if you sell men’s suits via your website and stock brown, gray, and black versions of the same suit, you may well have three pages that are essentially the same, except for the note advising that this particular product is also available in two other colors.

2. Printer Pages/HTML Pages

In your eagerness to adhere to the principles of providing a wonderful user experience, have you offered up a ‘print page’ version of each screen? If so, the ‘print page’ version will be an identical content match to the HTML version of the information.

3. Article Syndication

It’s almost impossible to achieve your link building goals without using some form of article syndication via article marketing sites or press distribution channels. Unfortunately, using this same content on multiple sites for link building will see your site fall foul of the duplicate content rule. With too many domains displaying the same page of content, the search engines will use their right to choose just one page and ignore the others. If you’re unlucky, the page they choose to ignore may just be your own.

4. Affiliate Programs

If you run an affiliate program, some of your affiliates may use much of the same content you have displayed on your own site, in order to correctly market your goods and services. If you’ve provided a welcome pack to affiliates with content and images of products and company logos, the chances are the information will be used at least once on each affiliate’s website. This creates duplicate content issues not just for your own site, but for your affiliates sites.

Even if you recognize one or all of the above scenarios, there are several strategies to fix problems with duplicate content and prevent your site being a victim of a search engine’s screening process.

1. Individualize Your Product Descriptions

Each product description should be unique. Consider extending each product description page with features inherent to that particular version of the item or service. Including testimonials from satisfied customers or case studies of successful applications are great ways to set each page apart. If you’ve used generic descriptions from manufacturers, shaping product pages into unique content will be a daunting task, but one that should be acted on as soon as possible. This gives you the opportunity not only to curry favor with the search engines, but also to put your own unique spin on a product that you may be competing with thousands of other retailers to sell.

In the case of there not being enough time to change product descriptions or not enough revenue generated by the product to justify the expense, employ a Robots no-follow tag to advise the bots not to consider the page for ranking. You can use this same tag if you have different colors or sizes of the same product, as in the above example.

2. Encourage Affiliates to Develop Their Own Content

As a good affiliate manager, it’s your duty to support the affiliates helping you to sell your products and services. While you may have thought you were carrying out this role by providing content and images initially, this will have contributed to the duplicate content issue. You can remedy this by encouraging affiliates to develop their own unique content and provide them with the tools to do so. Can you invite affiliates in for a seminar session or send them a sample of the product to use and review so they understand it better and can write from their own experiences?

If cost prohibits providing samples and first-hand experience to your affiliates, consider assigning one of your own team of copywriters to craft unique content, personalized to each affiliate site. Even explaining the dangers of duplicating content may be enough to encourage your partners to put pen to paper themselves.

3. Use The Robots No-Follow Attribute

For small issues with duplicate content within your own domain, use the Robots No-Follow attribute. This will prevent web bots accessing multiple versions of the same content on different pages within the domain. This technique can be used on the ‘print page’ version of HTML pages.

4. Be Creative With Syndication

While article marketing is an essential link building strategy, it must be kept within acceptable levels to avoid being penalized for duplicate content. Keep the number of sites you upload each piece on to a minimum and work on a rotation, so that different sites are used each time for new content. This will also have the added bonus of giving you a wider pool of inbound links. You can also tweak the content if time permits, with new titles, intros, descriptions, sub-headers and final paragraphs.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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  1. Should I stop publish my articles on article directories? I used to publish my articles, but now I wander should I stop doing this, because the risk of duplicate content penalty.