So I've looked around on this site, and read up on Google's duplicate content policy, etc., but haven't found an answer specific to my problem. This is going to be a bit long, but I think it's an interesting question (hopefully), so bear with me.
I run a community website for people interested in digital scrapbooking (http://www.pixelscrapper.com). The site includes a forum, a community gallery, and a large and growing collection of downloadable images for people to use in their digital scrapbooking projects (digital papers, embellishments, illustrations, etc.).
Over the course of the last year it has become clear that the site presents value to people outside of the digital scrapbooking community. Specifically, we've gotten a wide range of people creating accounts on the site in order to download images from our high-quality collection: these people include web designers, mixed-media artists, illustrators, teachers, etc.
As we've seen this wider interest emerge, we've become interested in the possibility of creating a new website that would be based entirely around image downloading, and targeted not at digital scrapbookers, but at anyone interested in commercial use images.
The new site would be substantially different from our current digital scrapbooking website, but the actual catalog of downloadable images would initially be identical, or almost identical. This creates concern, obviously, from the standpoint of content duplication.
The intent here is not to dupe Google, or anyone else, but to reach a substantially different market with an existing catalog of downloadable images. So the question is: how best to achieve this goal?
Here are some possibilities that I've thought of:
1. Simply change the existing site to cater more to non-scrapbookers
We've thought about simply changing our existing site to make it more friendly to non-scrapbooking users, but haven't found a good way of being able to do that while also keeping the current emphasis on digital scrapbooking for the users who are currently there for that purpose. It seems impossible to have a site that is at once a niche site for digital scrapbookers, and also a broad mass-market site for anyone interested in commercial-use images. The whole way we want to present everything to the two different groups is very different.
When someone finds a new use for a prescription medication (and they get it passed through the FDA), they don't take an old bottle that says “for allergies” and add on a footnote that says “p.s. this works well as a sleep aid too!”--rather, they create a new bottle for the new target group that says, “for better sleep.”
2. Create a new site with the duplicate downloads, while being careful not to duplicate text
So one idea is simply to go ahead with a new site at a new domain, which would feature all new organization, structure, design, etc. It wouldn't be about scrapbooking, it wouldn't have the forums, or gallery, etc. etc. The images would be identical, but we could take care to name them slightly differently; a large number of the tags would probably still have to be identical, though (see here for a typical image presentation).
Seems like a recipe for duplicate content disaster if/when Google sees this as a simple dupe. Not sure how Google feels about duplicate images, as opposed to other types of content, but the duplicate tags seem like they would be enough to set things off.
3. Create the dedicated image-downloading site, and have the scrapbooking site “link in” to that site somehow.
We could do something where we remove the downloading section of the digital scrapbooking site and have that section simply link to the dedicated downloading site, with some kind of cross-domain user validation or something, but that defeats the purpose, once again, of reaching two separate audiences: on the scrapbooking website we want the download pages to fit the theme and feel of the scrapbooking site, and we want to present the downloads differently. We don't want people to feel like they're being shoved over to a different site to complete downloads.
4. Create the dedicated image-downloading site, and use canonical tags on the scrapbooking site to indicate the downloading site as canonical.
As far as I can tell this is the best solution that I've thought of, though I'm not sure what all the implications would/will be.
In most cases canonical content is obviously the content that comes first, but in this case we would probably want the dedicated downloading site to be listed as canonical, because the image downloads are going to be the only thing on that site, and if those pages aren't being indexed by Google, we've got no traffic there. I'm assuming the digital scrapbooking site would suffer from lost hits, but at least that site has other content being generated for it (forum posts, gallery images, etc.)
What happens, though, when content that has been around for a long time suddenly links to another (new) site as being canonical? Does Google get thrown off by this? Do they see it as malicious in some way? I'm scared of what might happen (i.e. how will search traffic carry over?)
5. Something I haven't thought of yet?
So maybe I've missed a better solution, or missed something about any of the solutions I've proposed. I'd love to hear feedback from anyone who has good SEO experience/knowledge.
It seems reasonable to want to reach two distinct markets with a similar/identical product, targeted for each, but the question is, how to go about it?
For any of the solutions I've proposed, I'm scared of what the unintended consequences might be.