Duplicate content and SEO share in a relationship that is often misunderstood, and sometimes unknown. Does it matter. Well…in a nutshell, YES!
Here’s the deal. Search engines don’t want to produce numerous results all leading to the same content, even if it is on different web pages. Choices need to be made, and if webmasters aren’t making them, search engines will. For example, Google sees ten pages from the same domain all containing relevant but duplicate content. It serves up only one.
Or worse. It excludes the entire site from Google’s index. That may sound extreme, but it is possible.
Duplicate Content and SEO can Coexist
If Google, in its all-knowingness, perceives that the purpose of a site’s duplicate content is to intentionally manipulate search engines…uh oh. Note the key here is intention. How exactly that gets determined is hard to say, but here are some ways to avoid unwanted penalties.
1. Use rel=”canonical” or 301 redirects.
Essentially, this is done in the site’s coding. Both options indicate to search engines that you know duplicate content exists, and rather than trying to deceive you really just want to help. By identifying the top dog (vs. copies), site crawlers will know which page to focus on and give credit to.
2. Change the content.
If two pages are similar enough to be duplicates, consider combining them. Otherwise, do a little more work and flesh out each page to stand on its own.
3. Be careful about syndicating.
If your site is pressing content that originated elsewhere, be sure to link back to the original article. It may not be necessary, because Google is likely to know the source anyway, but it is considered a best practice.
Syndicating, or reposting of distributed content, may offer an SEO boost if done correctly. The key is to add something unique. For instance, if many sites post the same article but one sparks a particularly informative or heated comment thread, it may gain rank based on this new user generated content. Another approach might be to contribute useful editorial comments, or rewrite a catchy headline.
Whatever makes the most sense to you, try it. The potential for punishment over duplicate content is not meant to be your biggest worry. Just don’t ignore it.