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Should you be worried about Duplicate Content?

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Use the Canonical tag to correct duplicate content

What is duplicate content?

In a nutshell, duplicate content is content which exists at more than one URL at the same time, notice I said URL and not domain.  This generally happens in one of the following ways.

  1. Someone “borrows” text from another web site and posts it to their own with out significant modification.  Regardless of which site has the original content, when this is discovered by the search engines they will both be penalized.  Potentially by being dropped from the listings.  Obviously, this would be bad.
  2. You sell products online, and those products can be sorted into different categories, colors, groups – whatever.  These variations on the URL can create problems for your rankings since the search engines think each variation in the URL, regardless how minor, is a new page.
  3. Using session or other tracking codes in your URLS.  Believe it or not, this is still considered duplicate content.
  4. You run a blog and your posts are available from the home, archive, tag  and categories areas of your site.  By default, each of these areas will generate a unique URL for each post and even though they are all on the same domain, it’s still considered duplicate content.  While still bad, this is not as severe as having content on more than one domain and it is unlikely you would be penalized.  However, your rankings are probably being affected.  Because Google and the other engines will have to try to figure out which URL is the best to display, it requires them to look at other criteria as well, incoming links and internal links for example.  Sometimes they get it right, sometimes not.
  5. You run more than one site with very similar content hoping to get more links, visits and rankings.  Yes, the engines know you do this, and yes it is duplicate content.

Protect and Correct your content

There is nothing you can do to stop someone from stealing your content.  However, it helps to know that most of the time people (or robots) that do this are idiots and don’t bother updating the links.  If  you use full URL links, which include your domain it’s unlikely that the thief will notice.  By using full URLs, when someone follows a link on the duplicate site, it will go to yours.  Also, in the event you get banned from an engine, having those links will help you make a case for re-inclusion.

For e-commerce sites, or those using other dynamic URL parameters, help has recently arrived from the major search engines in the form the “canonical tag”.  This tag is a bit of code you insert within the non-viewable ares of your pages that tells the search engines which URL to consider the correct one.  It works likes this:

You may have the same content available for a blue colored “widget” at three different pages:
https://www.widgets.org/blue-widgets?color=blue
https://www.widgets.org/blue-widgets?style=printonly
https://www.widgets.org/blue-widgets?sessionid=127896

By adding the canonical tag code to the pages, Google knows what URL is the best one to use and to include in it’s index.  The code tell the search engines what page is the right one might look like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.widgets.org/blue-widgets" />

If you are running a blog, particularly a WordPress powered blog, you are in luck.  There is a great plugin available called the “All in one SEO pack”.  Aside from its other useful SEO features, this tag allows you to define whether or not the various sections of your site are to be indexable by the engines.  The SEO pack even creates and inserts a properly formatted canonical tag into your posts for you.  It’s not rocket science, but do be careful and properly configure the all in one SEO plugin, or you could end up causing your rankings to go down instead of up.

If you run multiple, similar sites – just stop.  Seriously, stop, you are only hurting yourself.  In years past, it was thought that running multiple sites like this would create more rankings, all at the same strength – giving you greater visibility.  In fact, what this does is split your rank strength into multiple smaller pieces – reducing your viability.  To fix this you need to determine which site currently has the best ranking and consolidate all content to that one domain.  Then use 301 redirects on the old ones to send all traffic and rankings to just one place.

Should you be worried about duplicate content?

Yes. Yes, you should be worried, you should check your site and try and minimize your risks.  Thankfully, you now have the tool you need to conquer duplicate content.

Jack Leblond is a SEO/SEM professional working for a large corporation full time in Austin, TX. He is not a Realtor, he is our in-house SEO expert. Jack is the Director of Internet Strategy and Operations for TG (www.tgslc.org). In addition to managing the team that develops and maintains the company's multiple Web sites, he focuses on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), e-marketing and Social Media. Jack's background ranges from Submarine Sonar Technician/Instructor for the United States Navy, technical writer, pioneer in internet/intranet creation for McGraw-Hill and Times Mirror Higher Education, former Adjunct Professor for two Universities teaching web-related courses, has served as a city council member and co-founded Net-Smart, a web design and hosting company, where he managed networks and oversaw the development of hundreds of Web sites. As a free-lance SEO consultant, Jack performs SEO Site Audits for small/medium businesses that want their web sites to perform better in the search engine listings.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Joe Loomer

    May 16, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Thanks Jack, I’m making a few of these mistakes right now – soon to be corrected….

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  2. Ken Brand

    May 16, 2009 at 10:49 am

    I didn’t know Jack about Google ranking and stuff like this. Now I do. This is extremely helpful and appreciated. THANK YOU.

  3. Greg Staker

    May 16, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Here is a great resource from Google on duplicate content.

    https://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66359

    A couple of key statements from the Google page:

    “If you find that another site is duplicating your content by scraping (misappropriating and republishing) it, it’s unlikely that this will negatively impact your site’s ranking in Google search results pages.”

    “Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”

    The key word from a Google standpoint appears to be “deceptive”. Are you dupicating content in order to manipulate the results.

  4. Jeremy

    May 16, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    “Regardless of which site has the original content, when this is discovered by the search engines they will both be penalized.”

    I have found this statement NOT to be true every time, more often than not, the site with the higher authority will outrank the lesser authority site.

    *****
    AG, nice to see you guys get your permalinks straight.

  5. Jack Leblond

    May 16, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Worried about duplicate content? https://bit.ly/18VB2e You should be.

  6. Sue Adler

    May 17, 2009 at 11:09 am

    So if we should be worried about duplicate content, isnt idx indexing duplicate content?

    Are you saying that the listing agent who writes original content on his/her site would be penalized for duplicate content if all of the random agents anywhere in that MLS have indexed idx on their sites?

  7. Jack Leblond

    May 18, 2009 at 9:55 am

    @Joe – Once a sailor, always a sailor. What “mistakes” are you making?

    @Ken – Thanks! Glad you found this useful.

    @Greg – I find the key phrase to be “if you find”. If you find it, report it. If Google finds it, depends on who finds and what mood they are in. If they take the time to determine who originated it, no worries. But having proper links embedded will certainly help.

    @Jeremy – Not many of the “rules” for Google are true EVERY time ;-D. Let’s hope the right site has the higher authority then.

    @Sue – Because of the way they are coded, IDX listings are frequently not included in Google’s index. As such, not a concern when it comes to duplication. Those that are indexed probably are treated just like product listings from retail stores. This is one of the reasons you NEED to have your listings in other areas of your site besides the IDX. If you have questions, feel free to email me.

  8. Louise Scoggins

    May 18, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Jack, great post! I have had problems with duplicate content in the past on one of my websites with 2 different agents / websites in my area. Literally they “copied and paste” verbiage I had personally written on some of my “city” pages…no kidding it was word for word. Luckily my webmaster (also my husband) frequently checks our sites for duplicate content and we were able to get the issues resolved by sending a few terse emails to the offending site. Thanks for bringing this issue to other agent’s attention!

  9. Jack Leblond

    May 18, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Worried about duplicate content? https://kl.am/iJ8

  10. Fred Romano

    May 21, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Regarding this topic from Google…

    https://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/06/duplicate-content-due-to-scrapers.html

    “I’d like to point out that in the majority of cases, having duplicate content does not have negative effects on your site’s presence in the Google index. It simply gets filtered out.

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Business Finance

Will cash still be king after COVID-19?

(EDITORIAL) Physical cash has been a preferred mode of payment for many, but will COVID-19 push us to a cashless future at an even faster rate?

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No more Cash

Say goodbye to the almighty dollar, at least the paper version. Cashless is where it’s at, and COVID-19 is at least partially to thank–or blame, depending on your perspective.

Let’s face it, we were already headed that direction. Apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Apple Pay making cashless transactions painless enough that even stubborn luddites were beginning to migrate to these convenient payment methods. Then COVID-19 hit the world and suddenly, handling cash is a potential danger.

In 2020, the era of COVID-19, the thought of all the possible contaminants, traveling around on an old dollar bill makes most of us cringe. Keep your nasty sock money, boob money, and even your pocket money to yourself, sir or madam, because I’ll have none of it! Nobody knows or wants to know where your money has been. We like the idea of taking your money, sure, but not the idea of actually touching it…ewww, David. Just ewww.

There is no hard evidence that cash can transmit COVID-19 from one person to the other, but perception is a powerful agent for changing our behavior. It seems plausible, considering the alarming rate this awful disease is moving through the world. Nobody has proven it can’t move with money.

There was a time when cash was King. Everyone took cash; everyone preferred it. Of course, credit cards have been around forever, but they’ve always been just as problematic as they are convenient. Like GrubHub and similar third party food delivery apps, banks end up charging both the business and the consumer with credit cards. It’s a trap. Cash cut out the (greedy) middle man.

Plus, paying with a credit card could be a pain. Try paying a taxi driver with a credit card prior to, oh, about 2014 when Uber hit the scene big time. Most drivers refused to take cash, because credit cards take a percentage off the top. Enter rideshare companies like Uber. Then in walks Square. Next PayPal, Venmo, and Apple Pay enter the scene. Suddenly, cabbies would like you to know they now take alternate forms of payment, and with a smile.

It’s good in a way, but it may end up hurting small businesses even more in the long run. The harsh reality of this current moment is that you shouldn’t be handling cash. No less an authority than the CDC recommends contactless forms of payment whenever possible. However, those cabbies weren’t wrong.

The banking industry has been pushing for a reduced reliance on cash since the 1950s, when they came up with the idea of credit cards. It was a stroke of evil genius to come up with more ways to expedite our lifelong journey into crushing debt.

The financial titans are very, very good at what they do, at the expense of all the rest of us. The New York Times reported on the trend, noting:

“In Britain alone, retailers paid 1.3 billion pounds (about $1.7 billion) in third-party fees in 2018, up £70 million from the year before, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Payment and processing companies such as PayPal (whose stock is up about 55 percent this year) and Adyen, based in the Netherlands (up 72 percent), also stand to gain.”

All kinds of related banking-related industries stand to benefit as well. Maybe we’ll go back to spending physical cash one day, but I don’t think there’s any hurry. Fewer old grandpas are hiding their cash in their proverbial mattresses, and the younger, most tech-savvy generation seems perfectly content to use their smart phones for everything.

We get it. Convenience plus cleanliness is a sweet combo. I only wish it weren’t such a racket.

If this trend towards a cashless future continues, there may be a possibility that travelers in the future may not experience what it’s like to fumble with foreign currency, to smile and shrug and hand over a handful of bills because they have no idea how many baht, pesos, or rand those snacks are. They may not experience the realization that other countries’ bills come in different shapes and sizes, and they may not come home with the most affordable souvenirs (coins and bills).

We shall see what the future holds. Odds are, it may not be cash money, at least in the U.S. I hope the cashless movement makes room for everyone to participate without being penalized. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, people. We need to find more ways to ease the path for people, not callously profit off of them.

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Tech News

Google Maps will soon display traffic lights

(TECH NEWS) The addition of traffic light positions to Google Maps promises to boost navigation accuracy. Now you won’t run a light while looking at navigation.

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google maps traffic lights

At over 150 million monthly users, Google Maps’ value is not to be understated. With a new feature that shows traffic light positions rolling out to select devices and locations soon, one can expect that trend to continue.

A common issue with navigation via an app–especially when navigating solo–is a lack of precision that can lead to confusion, missed exits, potentially dangerous driving, and, worst of all, spilled coffee. By adding the location of traffic lights, Google Maps will improve both landmark recognition and automated navigation by providing drivers with more accessible information.

It’s worth noting a couple of arguing points, the first of which is the assertion that Google is starting from scratch on this feature. They aren’t. In fact, Japan-based Google Maps users have had access to traffic light positioning for years; Google is simply expanding the feature to include a larger number of cities and population density.

In a similar vein, Google also isn’t the first company to implement an ease-of-access feature such as this. Apple Maps has incorporated traffic light recognition since the release of iOS 13, and while its use is hit-or-miss (my iPhone 11 fails to pick up most traffic lights in my admittedly rural town of residence), the option to have Siri direct users to the nearest traffic light rather than saying “in 213.7 feet, turn left” is helpful.

That said, Apple Maps is a service which sees a little over 20 million monthly users–a far cry from Google Maps’ monthly base. For Google, accuracy and speed of updates will be paramount for a successful, routinely helpful launch.

At the time of this writing, Google plans to release the traffic light feature in New York, San Francisco, and a few other United States cities. The feature will be available on Android devices–sorry for now, Apple users–and will ideally expand to encompass most of the country if the initial release is successful.

It will be interesting to see how comprehensive Google’s coverage is and how quick the company is to adjust positioning of lights as cities do what cities do best. For now, if you have an Android device, keep an eye on your Maps app–good things are coming your way.

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Business News

Plastic bags are making a comeback, thanks to COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Plastic bags are back, whether you like it or not – at least for now.

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Plastic bags

Single use plastic bags are rising like a phoenix from the ashes of illegality all over the country, from California to New York. Reusable bags are falling out of favor in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It’s a logical step: the less something is handled, generally, the safer it is going to be. And porous paper bags are thought to have a higher potential to spread the virus through contact.

It’s worth mentioning that single use plastic bags are considerably more
environmentally efficient to manufacture compared to paper, cloth, and reusable plastic bags. Per unit, they require very little material to make and are easily mass produced. It also goes without saying that they have a very short lifespan, after which they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, or drifting through oceans.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to deny that single use plastics have the potential to be as dangerous to humans as COVID-19. Coronavirus is a very immediate existential threat to us in the United States, but the scale of the global crises that stem from the irresponsible consumption of cheap disposable goods, also cannot be overstated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t going anywhere. (And did you know that it’s just one of many huge garbage patches around the world?)

So… what exactly are we going to do about the comeback of plastic bags? Because to be honest, I used to work in grocery retail, and it is difficult and often unrewarding. So, I wouldn’t exactly love handling potentially contaminated tote bags all day in the midst of a pandemic if I were still a supermarket employee. You couldn’t pay me enough to feel comfortable with that – forget minimum wage!

I used to have a plastic bag stuffed full of other plastic bags sitting in my kitchen, like American nesting dolls, before disposable plastics fell from grace. (I’m sure some of y’all know exactly what I’m talking about.) This bag of bags was never a point of pride. It got really annoying because it just kept growing. There are only so many practical home uses for the standard throw-away plastic shopping bag. Very small trash can liners; holding snarls of unused cables, another thing I accumulate for no reason; extremely low-budget packing material; one could get crafty and somehow weave them into a horrible sweater, I guess.

I don’t miss my bag of bags. I don’t want to have to deal with another. Hey, Silicon Valley? Got any disruptive ideas for this one?

Even if we concede that disposable plastics are a necessary evil in the fight against COVID-19, the fact remains that they stick around long after you’re done with them. That’s true whether you throw them out or not.

I’m not trying to direct blame anywhere. Of course businesses should do their best to keep their customers and staff safe, and if that means using plastic bags, so be it. Without clear guidance from our federal government, every part of society has been fumbling and figuring out how to keep one another healthy with the tools they’ve got at hand. (…Well, almost every part.)

The changes to the state bag bans have been cautious and temporary so far, which is a small relief. But nobody really knows how much longer the pandemic will rage on and necessitate the relaxations.

I won’t pretend that I have a sure solution. All I can really ask is that we all be extra mindful of our usage of these disposable plastic products. Let’s think creatively about what we might otherwise throw away. We must not trade one apocalypse for another.

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