Is duplicate content really that bad?

One topic that is brought up alot in terms of SEO is duplicate content.

Some of the web's most trusted SEO bloggers and online marketers previously argued that duplicate content is bad and carries some serious penalties.

WHEN IS DUPLICATE CONTENT OK?

In many cases it's difficult to avoid instances of duplicate content. Some examples include e-commerce stores (products with different variants), forums and even websites with a print version of their content. In these cases it can be difficult to avoid a duplicate content issue. In certain instances where you do need a duplicate page or content, you can use a canonical link. The canonical link can be placed in the header of the duplicate page, informing Google as to which page should be the one to rank and list.

More information on canonicalisation can be found here.

The Myth?

Traditionally it is believed that duplicate content will harm your rankings. Google would crawl your website and look for duplicate content not only on your website, but to see if that content matched pages from all over the web. If there was any indication that the website had lifted text from another page on the web you would be penalised and you would begin to lose traction in searches.

There are even a number of tools out there from copyscape to siteliner, designed to help find pages with duplicate content.

The Truth?

The new evidence suggests that the whole duplicate content issue whilst a factor, was mainly a myth or has at least died down, thus causing panic amongst website owners and SEOs alike.

Now that time has passed since this issue was brought to light, many SEOs out there have been able to measure the performance of their sites and their client’s sites to see if this Google update really had any effect. Their own studies revealed that apparently none of their websites saw a negative effect in searches.

If that's not enough, Google's former head of web spam Matt Cutts, elaborates on this topic in this video for Google Webmasters.

In the video Matt indicates "I wouldn't stress about this unless the content that you have duplicated is spammy or keyword stuffing."

The Conclusion

Although it may seem this SEO problem was dramatised, it doesn't mean that it gives website owners the green light to just steal website content out of laziness or to save some money.

I would still recommend that you make sure you aren’t guilty of having duplicate content. Whilst there is evidence to suggest that this Google update was blown out of proportion, it’s just not worth the risk. If you do need to have forms of duplicate content, using canonicalisation can really help you out here.

Still, if not for the search engines you should at least try and write new content for your audience. Keep your viewers engaged with unique articles or even a fresh perspective.

If you can avoid being put into Google's "naughty corner" by fixing up a few pages here and there, then it just makes sense to go ahead and fix them. In the off chance you were to be penalised it would be much harder to try and rebuild your online presence than to fix these issues in the first place.

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