Duplicate Content: How to Avoid Penalties

Together 1When someone mentions “duplicate content,” thoughts of content scraping and blatant plagiarism immediately spring to mind. While this certainly can – and does – happen, there are other instances when duplicate content appears on websites accidentally, innocuously, and even completely ethically. What are these situations, and how can you avoid penalisation from search engines?

First, taking content, including images, videos, and other non-text content, from other sites and appropriating it for use on your own without attribution is unethical. Reputable site owners and webmasters understand this and make every effort to produce original content. Now that we have that out of the way, how does duplicate content pop up on good websites?

Ecommerce Product Descriptions

You sell blue-tinted sunglasses. While your service, prices, and winning charm may set you apart from the competition, the bottom line is that your sunglasses are the same sunglasses visitors can purchase on a host of other websites. In this case, retailers tend to use the manufacturer’s description – just like all the other shops selling these glasses. The result: a useful description for visitors – and duplicate content.

The solution is to write your own product descriptions. They don’t have to be long, but they do have to be original. It can help, too, to post a photo that you (or better yet, if it’s in the budget, a professional photographer) have taken of the product. You can even involve visitors, requesting photos, videos, and reviews  (UGC is great!).

But what if you’re selling, say, organic, vegan, gluten-free brownies, and you have to list the ingredients for your patrons. These ingredients will be the same as they are on other sites which sell the product. In this case, list them. It’s essential to your customers. Matt Cutts indicates that this will not get you into the muck with Google. However, you should write your own introduction or text to set your content apart – and entice hungry buyers!

Products in Various Categories

This is a similar situation with a fairly easy fix. Ok, say you have 30 products. Your visitors can search by price, by popularity, by alphabetical order. Now, this creates three pages with the same information/content, albeit in different orders.  To avoid penalisation, simply add a canonical tag to the initial category URL. This lets you stay in the good graces of the search engines, and it preserves your link weight for that page.

To find out more about canonical tags and setting yours up, go straight to the source: Google’s webmaster tools.

Great Content You Want to Share

Sometimes, content on other sites is so great that you have to share with your visitors. You want them to access this relevant information – but you want to keep them on your site. This happens all the time. Good site owners secure permission to use the content and attribute it to the proper source. They’re not trying to pass it off as their own. But it’s still, technically, duplicate content. So, again, pop in a canonical tag like this to let search engines know aren’t trying to game the system or steal content:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.bluesunglasses.com/copied-article.html”/>

These are just a few of the legitimate reasons why duplicate content appears on good sites. When possible, provide original content. When that is just not feasible, make sure to use tags to communicate with Google.




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