Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on April 22nd, 2009

The Duplicate Content Myth: Variety in the Stew of SEO

The myth of duplicate content has been cultivated by the growth of the search engine optimization industry. It is purposed as a proverbial old wives tale scaring each new generation of SEO neophytes. “Don’t steal grandpa’s content” she cackles over the crackling of the hearth and the bubbling of the SEO stew. The fact of the matter is that grandpa likes variety in his stew, and grandma’s wooden spoon is covered with spiders that know what “duplicate content” tastes like.

Variety in the Stew of SEO

Yesterday I discussed the fine line between duplicating, or poaching content and having multiple URLs on the same domain that points to the same content. If you missed it, you can read it here. Most search engines are like grandpa, and strive for a level of variety in their results. They want to show you ten different results when you search, not ten different links to the same content. In order to avoid this, Grandma Google tries to filter out documents that have duplicate content so that users taste more variety in their SEO stew.

When encountering duplicate content, Grandma Google groups the URLs into one cluster. The best URLs are selected to represent the cluster in the search results. Once that has been done, the URLs properties are consolidated, such as link popularity and given to the representative URL.

There are ways for webmasters to tell Grandma Google what the ‘best’ URL is, that will pass the control back from the spiders and to the master. This allows webmasters to take action to mitigate their duplications. On the website’s sitemap, designate which URL is the preferred page for Grandma Google to toss in the stew. One problem that can affect anyone’s rankings is if the spiders have trouble detecting all the duplicates of a particular page. They will be unable to consolidate all of their properties, which will dilute the proverbial stew and weaken their rankings, by splitting the content across multiple URLs.

For the most part, Grandma Google’s stew always tastes delicious, and handles the duplication well. However, if you are considering content that will be duplicated across domains, you should think twice. If you are unable to add additional value for users, you are just competing with your own rankings. In most cases, Google and search users want to read information from the original source. This happens quite regularly with affiliates. They will use duplicate content from Grandpa Content without adding any value whatsoever. They then get upset for not ranking as high, or higher, than the original source of information.

Even in the wide world of search engine optimization, people don’t like copy-cats. There are some misperceptions of what duplicate content is and many neophytes tend to overreact to the old wives tales. Grandpa Content may be hard of hearing, and many people think they can get away with sneaking sips of his stew behind his back. But be careful. No one likes the strong rap on the head Grandma Google dishes out with her spoon, because many don’t make it back for seconds.

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