Not getting hit by Google’s duplicate content penalty

The very question of whether there is a penalty or not is something that continues to be debated. If you are running a website and are not so technically or SEO inclined and have called in a professional, it’s a fair bet that he or she would have mentioned the duplicate content penalty, and in some cases, might have scared you to death about the penalty (getting to a higher position on Google Search is so hard, nobody wants to suffer getting to a lower position or even being removed from the index).
But it you were to do some research, you would find that the duplicate content penalty is something that is more feared than it is real (with the exception being if the Google search algorithm determined that you are doing so wilfully to try to manipulate search engine rankings – at which point the wrath of God will come down on you). So, for example, I will give you 2 cases – one of which is duplicate content, and the other is both duplicate content and copyright infringement; both are from people I know (but will not mention any names).

Case 1: The person thought he will be smart. He had 2 different blogs on subjects that were separate and yet not very different. After a lot of content had been generated, he decided to combine these 2 blogs into a new blog (while retaining the 2 original blogs as well). So, after this manipulation, he had 2 original blogs and one new blog that just had the content of the 2 original blogs (every new content was effectively copied into 2 blogs). This in my opinion was a direct manipulation of the search engine indexing, trying to ensure that more people saw these blogs (whether the original ones or the new combined one). This went on for some time, for some months, and one day he received a notice in his Google Webmasters space which told him that this seemed like an effort to manipulate search engine rankings, and was a deliberate effort. This would impact his search engine rankings (and in fact, it seemed like it already had). In a state of panic, he removed the new combined blog altogether and tried to ensure that he added a lot more new content to the 2 original blogs and kept on monitoring his position in the Google Search Engine rankings. It took a few months, but finally it seemed to him that Google had forgiven him, and his ranking seemed to be back to its original self.

Case 2: Selling items through the Amazon Affiliate program seemed like a good deal. After all, if you are able to see items worth $100, you can get upto 5-7% return back, which is not a bad deal if you are able to get volumes. So, what did the person decide to do ? He would mine Google’s listing of top ranked items in different categories, and write about them with an affiliate link for people to click to, purchase and then make money (that’s the way it works, but it is not so simple as all that and the conversion rates can be pretty low). But, in addition to picking up ideas from Amazon about top selling items, the person decided to take a short cut and actually copy some content from Amazon for those items and splice them within his own content. It seemed to be working well for some time, and some affiliate money even started coming in, and then one day, everything stopped. The blog had been hosted on Blogspot (owned by Google), and one day the blog stopped becoming accessible. In spite of making efforts to contact Google and so on, it was clear that the blog was not coming back and had been locked.

These are extreme cases. But what typically happens is when the same content is noted on multiple locations, Google does not apply a draconian penalty. There is content copied all over the world, newspaper columns are syndicated to other newspapers all over the world, if there was a penalty, the newspaper sites would not be doing something like this. Instead, what happens is that the algorithm used inside the search engine figures out which is the site or link that seems to be the original and will pick that up to show at a higher level in the search engine. Which of course does not mean that you should not be trying to help the search engine. Suppose you are trying to sell on Print on Demand sites where the same design is used on wallets, caps, clothes, postcards, and others, a bit of effort would help. When using the same design, try to ensure that the description of each such product is different, even if the theme is the same and wording changes. This will ensure that search engines see them as individual products and do a better indexing and ranking of them.

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