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I have some clients who are requesting that I put pages on their websites that amount to duplicate content. One wants the exact same page on two of their websites. Another wants to put content from a brochure they have some right to reprint or distribute on their website. But the same brochure content is already online at the original author's website.

I explain to my clients the possible consequences of publishing duplicate content to the web, such as the page will not be indexed by search engines or their web site may be penalized. But I really want to offer them alternative solutions. The obvious one is to link to the content on the original author's website if that is possible.

Does anyone have any other strategies for dealing with client requests to put duplicate content on their websites?

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3 Answers 3

One solution might be to use the rel="canonical" tag on the duplicate content pages, thus avoiding penalties by Google.

Another solution might be to rewrite the content to become unique, but this is obviously devious work and needs to be done right.

Yet another approach is to have the duplicate content on the site (to complete information for users) but not let the search engines index the content. This can be done through the meta-tag "noindex, follow".

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Duplicate content is not always bad for your site. If users expect to see the information on your site, or your site would be better for users with the duplicate information, then by all means, put it on the site. The legitimate use of duplicate content with permission from the original author is called "content syndication". Google is generally fine with content syndication when it is implemented correctly.

When you use syndicated content, mitigate any possible penalties by using one or more of these methods:

  • Provide a deep link to the original source
  • Provide additional commentary, reviews, or information such that a user would be better off seeing your expanded version of the content than the original
  • Use robots noindex or robots.txt to keep Google from indexing the content
  • Write the content into the page using AJAX or an IFrame such that Googlebot can't crawl that part of the page (use robots.txt for the url that actualy has the content which is fetched by AJAX.)

Some pitfalls:

  • Don't republish content without permission.
  • Don't power a significant portion of a site using duplicate content. Duplicate content shouldn't be any more than 30% of your site. No more than 10% of your content should come from any single source.
  • Don't show content that your users don't find useful. Pay attention to bounce rate and remove content that users don't actually read. If searchers land on duplicate content on your site and immediately bounce back to Google, Google will quickly label your site a "scraper site".
  • Don't let users post content with no review. Some users will try to post content that is duplicate and spammy. Make sure you can detect when this happens and take it down.

In the case of the brochure: Publish it on your website. One page of duplicate content won't hurt much as long as there are other original pages on the site. Use one of the methods of mitigating any penalties. I'd say the robots.txt or link to the original would be my preferred options in that case.

In the case of the same page on two websites: One page shouldn't make much difference. If a significant number of the pages are the same between the two sites, Google will generally choose to index just one of the sites. It may not be the one which you would prefer. Google might choose not to index any of the original content that is on the site that it excludes from the index.

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There are actually advantages and disadvantages for having duplicate contents on a certain website. For me, one of the best way is to use the rel="canonical" tag on the duplicate content pages. This will actually avoid penalties.

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We have a good question and answer about what duplicate content is and how to avoid it. Do you have any ways of explaining this to clients that might answer the question? –  Stephen Ostermiller May 19 at 17:16
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