In Feb. of 2012, Google released a ranking algorithm named Panda that was designed to filter thin or duplicate content from its search results. Since that time, there have been multiple iterations or “refreshes” of the algorithm, each designed to improve the way Google identifies and evaluates websites that meet this criteria.
A common question I get asked from business and website owners is why and how duplicate content can be harmful to a site’s visibility in Google Search. Whenever discussing duplicate content, it’s important to understand not only the potential impact of getting caught up in the search filter, but also why Google has identified this as a quality issue that can negatively impact the searcher experience.
The following are two reasons why Google has made filtering its results for duplicate content a priority:
- Google sees the content as being deliberately duplicated in an attempt to manipulate search engines
- In order to provide the best search experience possible, Google tries to return results for a search that contain, unique, distinct information.
What’s Constitutes Duplicate Content?
Google’s definition of duplicate content is “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.”
Many e-commerce stores get into trouble as they allow affiliates to use their product descriptions or they themselves have used generic descriptions which Google views as duplicate/thin content.
What Is Spun Content?
This can equate to extremely thin content, or pages that have very little unique content, low-quality content which typically takes the form of “spun” articles published across article directories, to pages that have content that’s duplicated across the web. The was a tactic employed by some SEOs to manipulate Google’s ranking algorithm by using rich anchor text to increase relevance for high value keywords.
How Do I Know If My Content Is Being Duplicated?
There are a few free tools you can use to see if your pages content is being duplicated and if so, if you’re website is getting created as the original source. The below screenshot shows a Copyscape result for an e-commerce business that’s allowed affiliates to use their product descriptions.
Another free option to find duplicate content is to simply pull a snippet of your content and search for it in quotes in Google Search.
How Will I Know If My Website Is Being Impacted By A Panda Update?
In February of 2011, Google released a ranking algorithm named Panda that penalized pages or entire websites with thin or duplicate content. Websites that suffer from algorithmic penalties like Panda may often see a significant decrease in search engine visibility which often translates to a significant decrease in Google organic search traffic.
Careful analysis of your Google organic search traffic in Google Analytics can help to tell the story of how significantly your website was impacted by a Panda iteration.
Moz has published a comprehensive resource that keep detailed record of Google’s Algorithm Change History. If you feel your website may have been impacted, this guide can serve as a resource. Another free tool is the Panguin tool which aligns your site’s traffic with all know Google algorithm updates making a traffic diagnosis straightforward.
How To Solve Duplicate Content Issues
Depending on how your content is being duplicated, the issues can usually be resolved using the following methods:
- Use a canonical tag to specify the preferred or canonical version of a page to search engines. This includes content that’s syndicated across other sites, dynamic URLs and multiple versions of pages that can include www and non-www, http and https and file extension version of pages e.g. .html, .aspx, etc.
- Write unique content for pages which includes product descriptions that aren’t used by affiliates or that have been scraped and published across the web
- Removing (best option) or disavowing any low-quality or spun content with links pointing back to your website
Is All Duplicate Content Bad?
Actually no. In a video published by Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s Webspam team, he provides clarity on the issue by telling viewers that “Google looks for duplicate content, tries to group it all together and tires to treat it as if it’s one piece of content.”
What do I do if I Think My Website Has Lost Visibility For Thin Or Duplicate Content?
- Start with Google Analytics and identify what pages seemed to be impacted
- Use a resource like Moz’s algorithm change history resource or use the Panguin Tool to hep you align organic traffic with updates
- Work with a reputable digital marketing consultant to advise on steps for a full recovery
Will Duplicate Content Result In A Penalty?
At the 2015 SMX West search marketing conference, Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google Switzerland, Gary Illyes clarified that duplicate content is not technically a penalty, and won’t impact pages that aren’t being duplicated. He goes on to say it’s common for digital marketers to mistake Google not ranking duplicate search results as a penalty.
What If My Content Has Been Scraped?
Do you have questions? If so, feel free to drop me a line at Big Marketing here or leave them in the comments below!