21 Aug Does Google Penalize for Duplicate Content?
Any website owner should be aware of Google’s prevalence as a search engine and how it shapes the way users interact with websites online. Just how much of a big deal is Google? As of July 2019, Google takes up 92.21% of the search engine market share worldwide. Because of its dominance, there is no way to ignore Google’s guidelines for best practices if you want your website to succeed online and rank high in search engine results pages (SERPs).
There are many ways to comply with Google’s guidelines for best website practices, but methods of enacting these strategies are not always clear. For example, many webmasters still have some confusion about duplicate content and how it affects search rankings.
As far back as 2008, Google has been working to demystify the topic of duplicate web content. Webmaster Trends Analyst Susan Moska stated in the Google Webmaster blog,
“Let’s put this to bed once and for all, folks: There’s no such thing as a ‘duplicate content penalty.’ At least, not in the way most people mean when they say that. You can help your fellow webmasters by not perpetuating the myth of duplicate content penalties!”
Let’s walk through some myths about the duplicate content penalty, as well as how to avoid complications from duplicate content.
What is Duplicate Content, and Why Does It Matter?
According to Google, duplicate content is any significant block of content across a website that either completely matches content elsewhere on the domain or is almost the same. This duplication generally occurs unintentionally, however, some websites do attempt to duplicate content in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings or win more traffic. Deceptive practices like this can result in a poor user experience, when a visitor sees substantially the same content repeated within a set of search results.
In order to prevent multiples of the same or similar content from websites overtaking search engine results pages, Google’s algorithm filters between the similar pages of content to only display one in the search results. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Google is penalizing your web content. Rather, it is trying to provide the most relevant yet still diverse search results to users. Websites caught intentionally duplicating content in order to appear on search results pages are engaging in black hat SEO tactics, and those websites will actively be penalized by not appearing at all.
Search engine algorithms can face three main problems due to duplicate content:
- Difficulty deciphering which page to display and which page to ignore
- Confusion on where to direct link metrics
- Uncertainty of which content version(s) to rank in search results
Exactly how much duplicate content exists online? According to a study by Raven Tools, 29% of pages have duplicate content. This means over a quarter of the internet is taken up by pages with the same or very similar content that exist on the same websites. Duplicate content is, therefore, a very big concern for search engines like Google.
How Does Google Perceive Duplicate Content?
As previously mentioned, Google’s primary goal is to provide users with the most relevant content to a user’s search query, while also providing diversity of results. It is unfair to both the user and other websites if the same or nearly the same content from a single website takes up more than one result space.
Google’s algorithm places the different versions of duplicate content into a group, and the best URL in the group is displayed. The algorithms consolidate various signals, such as links from pages within the group, to the one being displayed to the users. Essentially, if webmasters cannot properly sort out and minimize/eliminate their duplicate content, then Google will have to solve it on their end.
Duplicate content can lead to adverse action from search engines like Google only if it is used to manipulate search results. The worst that can happen after filtering is that your best page will not be displayed in search results. Google attempts to determine the source of the content and display that source for users in search results.
It is advisable to not block duplicate content from web crawlers because search engines won’t be able to filter your content appropriately. If another website deliberately duplicates your content without your permission, you can report the website and request that Google exclude the other website from its search results.
Causes of Duplicate Content
Some causes of duplicate content can include:
- Inconsistency between “WWW.website.com” and “website.com”
- Inconsistency between “HTTP://” and “HTTPS://”
- Multiple session IDs for the same webpage
- Duplicate URL parameters used for sorting and tracking
- Disordered parameters
- Printer-friendly pages with different indexing
- Scrapers (content republished on other websites)
How to Solve the Duplicate Content Issue
Here are some solutions to solve the issue of duplicate content:
Use canonical tags — A canonical tag or “rel=canonical” element or canonical link is used to consolidate signals, which helps search engines to pick up your most preferred version of a web page. Canonical tags help prevent problems that are caused due to duplicate content that appears on multiple URLs.
Use a 301 redirect — A 301 redirect is a type of permanent redirect which helps pass on most of the link equity or ranking power to the redirected page. This prevents alternate versions of pages from appearing in search results.
Set Preferred URL parameters — You can set the URL parameters of your web pages so that Google’s algorithm can crawl them and understand which pages are preferred. In this case, Google will not have to figure out what needs to be done. You make it easy for the search engine to automatically find the original content.
The TL; DR of Duplicate Content
While duplicate content does not lead to any official penalty that will harm your website, it can still impact your search engine rankings. If there are several pieces of appreciably similar content in more than one location, it can become very difficult for search engines to display the correct version for a specific search query. Intentionally and repeatedly duplicating web content can potentially lead to penalties, however, in the form of Google no longer listing your website in search results.
If you want your website to rank high on Google for your intended audience, you need to have a smart search engine optimization strategy in place. Our SEO experts with Virtual Stacks Systems UK know how to utilize the best and leading methods to target your audience and increase your web traffic. Contact us to discuss your individualized SEO plan!