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I built a site for a specific service (let's say, a cab service) that catered to a specific location. The URL was:

https://www.getacabcity1.com

(It was targeted towards City 1).

Now the client wants to launch similar sites for several other cities, reusing as much of the original site as possible:

https://www.getacabcity2.com
https://www.getacabcity3.com

We don't really have the budget to create dramatically different sites for each of those domains; in fact, we'll have to reuse the same HTML template and photos. Of course, the text can be rewritten, but there are only so many ways one can talk about a cab service.

Do I risk being considered as "duplicate content" by search engines?

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    Quite possible yes. Any chance of just expanding the original brand/website to cover more locations? Or do you feel you are locked into your getacab<location>.com domain. – Analog May 18 at 17:39
  • @Analog I think we are pretty much locked. City 1, 2, 3... are pretty close to each other, and that's the zone that my client works on. They are targeted specifically towards people in those regions. One question: does Google take into account images when it comes to duplicate content? Or just text? – PaulJ May 18 at 18:27
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Yes, there's a high risk of the new sites being flagged as duplicate content. Even if you change up the text, if you reuse images and/or have a very similar HTML structure, Googlebot is quite good at spotting similarities.

For example, if you upload an image to images.google.com, it's very good at displaying "visually similar" images - in some cases exact copies, and in other cases cropped or resized versions of basically the same thing. I don't know whether they openly state that images hosted on multiple sites can be flagged as duplicates, but they definitely have the technology to do so.

As another example, if the HTML structure is very similar, bots can recognize that too. HTML-heavy templates with little content are quite often flagged as duplicate since most of the characters of the files from two separate sites are identical or very similar. Even if you use lots of CSS to make dramatic visual changes, a bot can spot the similar HTML.

It would likely be a wiser strategy to publish new content on the existing domain. So for example you would post City 2's content at getacabcity1.com/city2 and City 3's content at getacabcity1.com/city3. That way you can have shared content (FAQs, etc., anything that applies to all locations) in one spot, but you also have dedicated pages for each city that can be optimized for each location. If you want to be able to advertise getacabcity2.com and getacabcity3.com it would likely be good to just 301 redirect the whole domain to the landing page - so if someone types in getacabcity2.com the browser automatically takes them straight to getacabcity1.com/city2. That might strike a good balance between being short and memorable for customers, but keeping content all on a single site.

To optimize each location, including information like the address, phone, map, and local business Schema will go a long way toward helping Google realize these are separate physical locations.

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  • Thanks a lot for your answer. I only have one fear, which is that the customers will find it odd or confusing to find an URL that seems to mention 2 different cities, like getacabacity1.com/city2 (will Google find it confusing too, when it comes to ranking for either city?) Thus, I was also thinking about creating a new brand, say, 'getacab.com', and putting subdomains: city1.getacab.com, etc. Would that strategy be equally effective? – PaulJ May 23 at 12:20
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    As a customer, if all the cities were in some sort of discernable pattern - like if you're talking about one metro area and then you've added suburbs as the "city2" etc. - I wouldn't be put off by the two cities being in a URL. If they're vastly different cities, like across the U.S., that might be off-putting. A new brand would probably be ideal from the user experience standpoint there - but you would then be facing setting up a brand-new site and SEO will take quite awhile to build up, even if you 301 the old content. – WebElaine May 26 at 14:44

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