What is Duplicate Content and Why Does It Matter to Google?
In short, duplicate content is when the same content appears on multiple pages of your website or on multiple websites across the internet. This becomes a problem when you bring Google into the picture.
For duplicate content on your own site, Google has to decide which page of that content is going to rank. If you have 4 pages of content about wedding services at your hotel, Google isn’t going to rank all 4 of those pages in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Google will most likely pick the best version of that page (typically the one with the most links) and the other 3 pages will never see the light of day in the SERPs.
For duplicate content on other sites, Google’s job gets even harder. This is commonly seen with:
- E-commerce websites that sell products,
- News sites that publish syndicated stories,
- Real estate websites that publish a syndicated feed of property listings,
- and with hotels due to the OTA’s, directories, resellers and travel syndication networks like Pegasus.
In situations like this, where every major outlet online has the exact same information, how does Google determine which page of what site is going to rank?
There’s no simple answer to this question. Some people will tell you that the first place the content was crawled will get the SERP spot. In my experience, this is never the case, but I won’t completely rule that out. I see new things out of Google every day. Others will tell you it’s the site with the best Domain Authority or Page Rank, but I can provide a handful of examples of where this also isn’t true.
So What’s the Answer?
It’s complicated, just like the algorithms used by Google to generate the SERP results. Having original content that brings an added benefit to the user is the best answer, because it makes it easy for Google to choose.
Why Should I Care about Duplicate Content? Because Google Panda Cares
Why should you care about duplicate content on your site or on another website? Because Google’s Panda algorithm cares.
While most people are familiar with Google’s Penguin algorithm for its link evaluation, Google’s Panda algorithm is often misunderstood. You’ll hear that Panda targets thin content and Dr. Pete from Moz has a great post on this very topic. You’ll hear that Panda targets bad content. You’ll hear that Panda targets spammy content.
All of these statements are true and duplicate content:
- is thin content,
- is bad content
- and is spammy content – to Google’s crawlers.
While it might seem efficient to write one good piece of content about your hotel and use it on every site on the internet because it converts well, this is actually a really dumb thing to do. It also isn’t going to save you any money in the long term because you’re costing yourself SERP spots, rankings & revenue from Google… Not only on your site, but on every site that uses the content – Affiliate marketing sites, OTA’s, Resellers, Aggregators… You’re hurting the performance of every page that re-uses that content.
- Content is scraped by another website
- Content is scraped from another website
- Content is syndicated across multiple websites
- www and non-www versions of a page
- http & https versions of a page
- Duplicate home pages: / & /index.html or / & /home
- Different urls for the same page of content (dynamically generated urls)
- Blog Tag pages – Just don’t…
Are There Types of Duplicate Content that are OK?
YES! Don’t freak out if every site on the internet has identical content for your Name, Address & Phone Number – that’s really the point of consistent NAP. Odds are the directions from the local airport to your hotel are going to be essentially identical on nearly every site that provides directions from the local airport to your hotel (eg: turn right here, turn left there, arrive at hotel on right, etc.). Privacy policies are typically standard boiler plate content and may be identical on multiple sites across the internet (you should noindex those). These are just a few examples of duplicate content that you really shouldn’t worry about – they are okay to ignore or are easily dealt with.
You should be concerned about duplicate content if the duplicated content from/on your site happens to be the first 2-3 paragraphs of your home page content, including your H1 & H2 sections.
For E-commerce sites that sell products, Matt Cutts has an excellent explanation of what type of duplicate content can get you and ways to make sure you’re adding the most value to the content and get recognized in the SERPs for the added value. For hotels, the same basic principles apply to “universal knowledge” items like address, NAP & directions in your content as do to the product specifications mentioned in this video:
How Does One Deal with Duplicate Content?
I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing dealing with duplicate content. The best answer to this question is to not create it, use it or syndicate duplicated content.
If you have on-site internal pages with duplicate content, get with your webmaster or digital marketing agency and have them help you consolidate the information on those pages onto the best performing page and implement some redirects.
If you have off-site duplicate content issues, you’re going to need someone who can help you deal with getting that duplicate content removed by that site, rewritten on your site (or theirs) or as a last resort, someone who can help you submit a DMCA request for removal of the content due to copyright violations.
The first 2 solutions are going to be the quickest ways to see a resolution to your Google Panda issue, DMCA requests often take time to be honored and waiting for that time to pass will cost you money as Panda munches on your rankings and site traffic. DMCA request form for Google can be found here and the DMCA request form for Bing can be found here.
In short, the best advice I can give to dealing with duplicate content and Google’s Panda algorithm is to avoid it at all costs. If you’re already past the point of avoiding it, hire a professional to help you handle the cleanup. It can be a very time-consuming process that most hotel managers don’t have time to deal with in addition to the day to day management and marketing of their property. This is why it would be best to hire a professional who has your best interests in mind.