Duplicate content penalty – A myth or a reality

The SEO industry, for years, has been plagued by lack of consistency when it comes to information; information pertaining to terms and definitions and ‘duplicate content penalty’ is no exception. The mystery surrounding duplicate content penalty has been the ‘bone of contention’ ever since it the term surfaced in the online arena. If it exists, what would actually qualify to be deemed as duplicate content and how the penalty works, are questions that have largely gone unanswered or shrouded with ambiguity.

The concept, “search engine penalty for duplicate content”, is largely unfounded. It does not exist (yes you heard me right), at least not in the way many people perceive it today. Search engine penalty is by and large reserved for acts of sabotage; activities purposely performed to trick search engines in one way or the other. However it is not an indication that search engines like duplicate content and will not take punitive actions to curb it. Plagiarism is taken seriously in the real world and since search engines try to emulate human behavior, there is no reason why it will not dislike plagiarized work. Search engines strive to index and show to their users, as much unique content as possible and duplicate content acts a barrier to this aspiration. Search engine results showing the same basic information page after page, will not only prompt the user to look somewhere else but would also mean that search engines have failed to accomplish its job. Fresh and unique content is what we all want.

According to Google, “Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.” So the duplicate content scenario could arise under two circumstances:

I    Identical content present at more than one place on your website.

II    Identical content which appears on different websites, including yours.

The first occurrence is mostly unintentional and can be easily dealt with by allowing search engine crawlers to only index the page you wish to show to your users. The second scenario is where things can get tricky and should be dealt with caution. You may have submitted the same content to various social media, article submission or promotional websites with the intention of promoting your website. Linking back to the original content would negate any negative impact on the original content. In cases wherein the website content has been scraped with the intention of monetizing on it, search engine algorithms use various signals/indicators to identify the original content from the duplicates. Google claims that the algorithms are very good at doing this but would not divulge the exact parameters used for distinguishing one from another. I have my reservations on it but that is a completely different subject. The debate is about whether duplicate content attracts penalty or not.

Search engines don’t impose ‘duplicate content’ penalty, it is only subjected to a filtering process. The filtering process ensures that the original content is shown to the user and duplicate content are made supplemental. This filtering process cannot be equated to penalty as what search engines are trying to do is show unique and relevant content to users. Duplicate web pages don’t get de-indexed or banned (not for this reason) from search engines, they are only filtered out from the results. People may call it a penalty but technically its not.

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