Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Duplicate Content Issues With Search Engines

Duplicate content has long been a problem for many websites, one that ultimately has prevented these sites from ranking well in different search engines' results pages. For this post, I want to focus primarily on Google, and how that search engine views sites that have duplicate content. One reason I want to narrow the focus to Google is the fact that their Panda algorithm update, which has been rolling out all year, was implemented to reward sites that had valuable, unique content, while pushing sites back in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for those that do not.

Knowing that Google's Panda update is driven to reward valuable content, we shouldn't assume that the traditional duplicate content issues no longer exist. They do. Rather, Google's definition of duplicate content, and what actually constitutes duplicate content, has changed over time. As their algorithm becomes more evolved, it reflects those changes on a greater level. So what is duplicate content and how has Google's perception towards duplicate content changed?

Internal Duplicate Content 

Nothing new here: everyone in the SEO community should be very familiar with the notion of internal duplicate content. But for those that are not, let me explain. Internal duplicate content exists when any two pages on one website are identical. From Google's perspective, this is a lazy approach to creating new content, and one that does not provide the highest level of value to a user once he or she has arrived at the site. Every page should represent something unique, so that a visitor has a different experience no matter where they land as they navigate a site.

What's new: in the past, if there were pages on the same site that were replicated, those specific pages would tend to suffer. Specifically, each page's ability to rank high for the keywords that were being targeted would be quite low. Now, Google is taking the stance that, "if you have internal duplicate content on your site, it won't just affect those pages negatively in the SERPs, but other pages, if not the whole site, as well." And while it is impossible to qualify the impact if a site should fall under this category, the risk of losing domain strength over time is not worth it.

External Duplicate Content

Nothing new here: the notion of external duplicate content makes complete sense. Google is not going to reward a web page if that page was a copy and paste job from another site. For obvious reasons, copying content shows again that you are offering nothing in terms of unique value, not to mention the ethical concerns behind such an action (which if course are harder to work in to a ranking algorithm ;)).

What's new: with the Panda update, we are seeing more and more E-Commerce sites losing rankings because their product descriptions are not unique. In many industries, it was necessary to use the product description from the manufacturer's site. And while technically this could be perceived as a classic copy and paste job, it really isn't if a product description simply provides the structural details of the product in question (for example - size, shape, color etc.). This one is tricky. In my opinion, Google needs to clean this up a bit as a lot of well respected, user friendly sites that sell great products are taking an unnecessary hit. In the meantime, whoever is developing content should be sure to add a paragraph or two that describes the product (its benefits, why it's great etc.) in detail to avoid such a situation.

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