There’s so much ‘noise’ in the world of Internet marketing, and especially about SEO, that I sometimes feel the edges are blurring. If I feel that, as a professional, then it’s a sure thing that individual website owners hoping to strike it lucky with the search engines are having a tough time sorting out information they need, from that which is purely misleading.
Algorithms, traffic potential, even ‘latent semantic indexing’ and a whole load of other technical jargon, in general tends to put people off learning about SEO, even if they know they need to optimize their website in order to be successful online. Ethical SEOs try to alleviate their fears and put them at ease. But sadly, there are a lot of less-than-ethical SEOs who compound the fear because they hope to capitalize on it.
The alternative to search engine optimization is paying for your traffic, usually through PPC. This is not a bad idea, but of course the more free traffic you get, the more profit you’re making.
Google, being the biggest search engine by far, dictates to us that there are certain things we can do to get ranked, and a heck of a lot of things we cannot do, because if we do them, and Google discovers that, then we will lose our ranking and may even get banned.
SEO—What You Must Know!
There are basics that you need to know if you’re to have any kind of a successful website. Google and all the other search engines basically measure two aspects of your site: content and validation, which is links. Links into your website are regarded as votes of authority. Those are the two main things you have to think about when you create a website.
Original, informative content will take you far, because most websites online do not provide the information that people are looking for. Duplicate content is one thing that will get you penalized for sure though. In fact, a duplicate content penalty could cause your site to drop out of the search results like a stone.
Some ‘experts’ will tell you that you don’t need to worry about duplicate content if you have enough incoming links. True. But you need a mighty big pile of links in order to successfully counteract the effects of duplicate content. It’s sort of like eating loads of sugar and taking insulin to counteract it—sooner or later you’ll pay for your indiscretion. I’ve also seen experts saying that if your duplicate content is on your site, it’s OK, and that it’s only duplicate content from another site that’s a problem. This is absolutely the opposite of the truth—just to give you an example of how some ‘experts’ tilt the playing field on purpose.
Let’s look at the causes of duplicate content and what to do about it. Of course if you went out and stole someone else’s web content you seriously need to rethink your strategy. More to the point, visitors to your site will get irritated if you serve up the same old stuff on every page—it’s no way to run a business. You need, more than anything else, to offer well-written, original and informative content. Every word on your page counts when Google or the human visitor is judging originality.
Accidental Duplicate Content
But you may have duplicate content, not because you stole it, or even because someone else stole yours, but because you have the same words on many of your own website pages. It can happen for a number of reasons.
So what kind of content could constitute duplicate content? Any text that occurs on every, or at least multiple pages of your site.
- Any type of disclosure or disclaimer
- Words that occur in your web template
- Your name and address,
- Contact form (if it appears on every page).
Think about it. That can add up to a lot of words, and if you only have about 200 words of ‘content’ on every page, you might well find that you’re getting into deep trouble with Google—and Yahoo too for that matter. In my experience Yahoo hates duplicate content even more than Google. There should always be a balance: more content than template words.
Even if you resolve these issues you’re probably still not done if you run a blog.
- If you show a snippet of your posts on the main page, this will constitute duplicate content with a lot of blog themes.
- If you habitually put your blog posts into multiple categories, that would be duplicate content too. I only submit my blog posts to one category, ever, to avoid this problem.
- Archives on your blog can also constitute duplicate content.
You can solve duplicate content issues of this type by adding no-index to the duplicate pages. You can find reliable information on doing just that here.
Anyway, to return to the main solution to the problem, if you want to avoid duplicate content issues, you need to make absolutely sure that there is more unique, original content on each page than there is duplicate text that ocurrs naturally on every page. If you make a rough count of the words that are always there, make a rule to always add content that exceeds that count by a comfortable margin just to make sure.
Content for Human Eyes Only
What can you do to get rid of duplicate content that has to be there? If there’s a lot of it, try putting it in a form that humans can read but the search engines can’t read: this would be one great use for a flash file, or even an image file – but don’t forget to do that in a way that keeps the file size as small as possible so that you can keep the page load time down (here are some tools for on-page image analysis). That’s an issue that can hold you back in a search that we’ll keep for another time.
Patricia Skinner is an SEO consultant, social media coach & reputation management expert. She is also community leader at the nascent SEO Self Regulation Community. She can be reached any time through her SEO website. Why not follow her on Twitter & her LinkedIn profile.