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What is duplicate content and how can I avoid being penalized for it on my site?

My question is really an extension of a previous question that was ported from stackoverflow and closed so I cannot edit it. The basic gist is a regional franchise company has decided to force all independent stores into one website look; they currently all have their own domains and completely different websites. After reading the helpful answers and looking over some links provided, I think my solution is to put a 301 on each franchise store site (acme-store1.com, acme-store2.com, etc) back to the main corporate site (acme.com). All of the company history, product info, etc (about 90% of the entire site) applies to all stores. However, each store should have some exclusive content such as staff, location pictures, exclusive events and promotions, etc. I originally thought that I would simply do something like acme.com/store1/staff, acme.com/store2/staff, etc for the store exclusive content and then acme.com/our-company, for example, would cover all stores. However, I now see two issues that I don't know how to solve.

  1. They want to see site stats based on what store site they came from. If a user comes from acme-store1.com, is redirected to acme.com and hits several pages, don't I need to somehow keep that original site in the new url to track each page in that user's session and show they originally came from acme-store1.com?
  2. Each store is still independently owned and is essentially still in competition with the other stores, albeit, in less competition than they are with other brands. This is important because each store would like THEIR contact info, links to their social media pages, their mailing list sign-up and customer requests on EVERY page. So if a user originally goes to acme-store1.com and is redirected to acme.com, it still should look to the user that it's all about store 1, even though 90% of the content will be exactly the same as it is in the store 2, store 3 and corporate site. For example, acme.com/our-company would have the same company history, same header/footer/navigation, BUT depending on the original site the user came from, it would display contact and links to THAT store. If someone came directly to the corporate site, it would display their contact and links (they have their own as well).

I was considering that all redirects would be to store1.acme.com, store2.acme.com, etc (or acme.com/store1) and then I can dynamically add the contact info and appropriate links based on the subdomain or subfolder. But, then I have to worry about duplicate content penalties because, again, about 90% of the text in these "subdomains" are all the same. For reference, this is a PHP5 site. I've already written a compact framework utilizing templates and mod-rewrite that I've used for other sites. Is this an easy fix that I'm just not grasping? Any suggestions?

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marked as duplicate by danlefree Oct 14 '12 at 22:10

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

I would suggest a solution similar to Amazon's affiliate tracking. Amazon uses a cookie to denote which affiliate referred the client to their site using a special token in the GET arguments. For example, you might have a redirect like:

store1.com => acme.com/?ref=store1

This would create a cookie on the client's machine which would allow you to include store1's information in each page. You would also be able to feed this into your analytic software for tracking.

There are still issues with this method, however.

  • Some people do not store cookies, which completely breaks this model.
  • What happens if a customer comes directly to acme.com instead of bouncing off of an affiliate page?
    • If the cookie has expired (or they visit the website from a different computer) will your stores accept that no contact information is displayed? How will the website handle this consumer?
      • Store locater?
    • Google (or Bing, or whatever) will refer new customers to acme.com (because that is all Google can see), but they will have no cookie, so who gets them?
  • If acme.com sells direct to consumer, the question of ownership is highly exaggerated.

These are all factors that should go into the business decision of consolidating the websites to acme.com. It is certainly not an easy problem, and will likely end up with a good deal of custom software to make it happen.

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That, at least initially, seems to be a pretty attractive solution. acme.com itself represents the company as a whole and gives all relevant information on the company, products, events, etc. It does not offer products (it is a service company) but will simply point the user to the store locator on the site. At that point, it can set that cookie and then make the user appear to be on the franchise store site where they can browse the staff members, social media links, etc, but more importantly, the contact information of that particular store. – heath Dec 3 '10 at 21:54
I think it solves all issues EXCEPT if the user blocks cookies. If that's the case, I need some kind of backup plan. The only other worry I have is how does google see the pages with each store's address. If someone does a geo location specific search on CityC, in which there is a store in CityC, but google only sees acme.com which is in CityA, they'd lose out on a higher ranking for that specific store in that specific city, right? – heath Dec 3 '10 at 21:55
If the consumer doesn't have cookies, don't show them the store-specific content. They have to go through the store locater to get there. As for the google location-specific search, you're doomed. Your best bet would then be to geo-locate the customer when they arrive, and prompt them. Not elegant, but it would work. – Jack M. Dec 10 '10 at 14:55
As for search engines, you can filter track them as hits and have a prompt on the site with a drop-down menu that has a list of stores. (or do a "Locate Store" implementation – Zack Feb 1 '11 at 21:54
@Zack, That's true, but as a consumer, should I really have to select which store I am working with? I don't care which store it is if I'm on the website. I care when I go to pick it up. – Jack M. Mar 30 '11 at 20:49

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