How does Google handle duplicate content?

Duplicate content has been an issue for webmasters for a number of years now. We all know the saying that ‘content is king’ in the digital marketing industry and unique content is especially important when it comes to legitimate rankings in the major search engines.

Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts has come out this week to discuss the topic of duplicate content and how Google deals with the issue. As a business owner who relies on the quality of their digital content to sell their products and/or services it can be extremely concerning that other websites may steal or, in layman’s terms, copy and paste your content onto their own site.

In Cutts’ latest webmaster help video, he addresses how Google now handles the issue of duplicate content and when it can negatively impact on your search engine rankings.

He began by revealing that around 25-30 per cent of all content live on the web today is duplicated. But Cutts also insisted that people will simply “quote a paragraph of a blog” for a news article for example, so it’s not the case that “every single time there’s duplicate content it’s spam”.

Subsequently this has posed a new challenge for Google. For many years, its stance has been to try and find the originating source of any content and give that result the highest ranking possible. But it now has a new way of ‘grouping’ duplicate content.

Google [now] looks for duplicate content and where we can find it, we often try to group it all together and treat it as if it’s just one piece of content.

So most of the time, suppose we’re starting to return a set of search results and we’ve got two pages that are actually identical. Typically we would say, “OK, rather than show both of those pages since they’re duplices, let’s just show one of those pages and we’ll crowd the other result out,” and then if you get to the bottom of the search results and you really want to do an exhaustive search, you can change the filtering so that you can say, “OK, I want to see every single page” and then you’d see the other page.

But for the most part, duplicate content isn’t really treated as spam. It’s just treated as something we need to cluster appropriately and we need to make sure that it ranks correctly, but duplicate content does happen.”

Cutts does warn against local directory websites that list hundreds upon thousands of cities yet serve up empty listings with no unique content about what the user may be searching for; as well as sites that create particular pages for every region they service, even though the content is exactly the same as what’s on the main home page.

Put simply, as long as any duplicate content on your website is there for legitimate reasons there is no reason to be concerned. However, Google will take action against sites that do continue to use it in a malicious manner as they just aren’t adding any value to the user.

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