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Essential background: I run a small company that lets members of the public post handwritten letters to their local politician (UK-based). Every week a number of early stage bills (called Early Day Motions) are submitted for debate in the House of Commons, and supporters of the motion will contact their local Members of Parliament, asking them to sign the motion.

The crux: I want to target these EDMs with customised mini-sites, so when people search "EDM xxx", they find my customised mini-site, specifically targeting that EDM (i.e., "Send a handwritten letter to your MP asking them to sign EDM xxx").

At the moment, all these mini-sites (and my homepage) have duplicate content with only the relevant EDM name, number, and background image changed.

(For example, http://mailmymp.com and http://mailmymp.com/edm/teaching-life-saving-skills-at-school-edm-550.php).

The question: Firstly, will this hurt my potential search engine ranking? And, if so, what's the best way to target these political campaigns in an efficient manner without hurting my SEO prospects?

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Are you creating any value for users by making each of these mini-sites? Or are you just creating separate mini-sites for the heck of having a bunch of mini-sites? If you're creating a bunch of sites with near-identical content, that's often an indicator that you don't have enough content to warrant multiple sites. Wouldn't it be more convenient for users if they were consolidated under a single site where users can browse/search for other EDMs? Then if a particular EDM actually garners enough content to build a site around, you can create a mini site for it as needed. –  Lèse majesté Dec 22 '12 at 5:04
    
Also, auto-generated content is almost never very high quality content. It's like form letters; sure, they're convenient for replying to a large number of people automatically, but you're sending the same email to thousands of people with just certain fields "personalized" by software. It's not going to compare to a reply written by someone who actually read the email being responded to. Same goes for web content; except whereas each person usually only sees a single copy of a form letter, the duplication of web content is much more apparent to the individual. –  Lèse majesté Dec 22 '12 at 5:17
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2 Answers 2

Google Webmaster Tools has the following suggestions:

Google does not recommend blocking crawler access to duplicate content on your website, whether with a robots.txt file or other methods. If search engines can't crawl pages with duplicate content, they can't automatically detect that these URLs point to the same content and will therefore effectively have to treat them as separate, unique pages. A better solution is to allow search engines to crawl these URLs, but mark them as duplicates by using the rel="canonical" link element, the URL parameter handling tool, or 301 redirects. In cases where duplicate content leads to us crawling too much of your website, you can also adjust the crawl rate setting in Webmaster Tools.

I personally like the idea of 301 redirects. Choose your main domain and all of your other domains that contain the duplicate content can do 301 redirects so your domain name is taken into account for SEO, but you don't get dinged for duplicate content.

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Yes, I think it will - it's duplicate content. The solution is to differentiate the content so, based on a very cursory glance at your site, I'd suggest dropping the "boilerplate" content (the stuff that explains the concept, ts & cs, etc.) and put that on a dedicated "about" page (or pages), and instead populating with content relevant to each EDM on its respective page.

That'd serve a usability goal, too, in the sense that it'd make the topic of the page (and therefore the letter the user is writing) clearer.

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