Does Google penalize for duplicate content? Or is it just another urban legend?
I've been following the discussion about Google and mirrored information for some time. It is "common knowledge" that Google penalizes page rank when it determines that content is duplicated somewhere else. In fact, I've read many experts stating that there should be no duplicate domain names and no duplicate content anywhere.
On the face of it the arguments appear to be sound. Google obviously has several billion pages in it's database and could, it appears, easily determine if content is duplicated. It also seems, again on the face of it, that it's reasonable to check for duplicate content, as this is the "mark of a spammer" and not necessary on the web with hyperlinking available. At least, this is the common wisdom.
However, sometimes what seems reasonable and possible is not: not by a long shot.
Let's begin with the technical side of things. You've got domain x and domain y with exactly the same content. How on earth would Google be able to figure that out? Let's say Google had 3 billion pages in it's database. To compare every page to every page would be an enormous task - quadrillions of comparisons.
Now, if site x had page "page1" which linked to site y which also had "page1", then it would be possible for Google to determine the duplicate content. Conceivably, it could check this out.
Not only is the task enormous, but the benefit is so tiny as to be insignificant. Duplicate content does not imply in any way shape or form spamming. In actual fact, a duplicate site is generally going to lower page rank of BOTH sites. Instead of having 100 links to one site, there will presumably be 50 links to one and 50 to another. This would tend (all things being equal) to lower the page ranking of both sites. So Google gains nothing by this incredible expenditure of resources.
There are several reasons for duplicate content which have nothing to do with spamming. Sometimes the content is actually duplicated, and sometimes it's just that there are several different domains (at least the www and non-www versions) for the same website
Mirroring a site for load balancing - This is very common. The purpose is to split up the traffic between two copies of the site.
Mirroring for region - Sometimes site mirroring is done simply to make it more efficient on the internet backbone itself. You might put an identical copy of a site in Europe, for example, to reduce traffic across the Atlantic, which should make it faster in European countries.
Viral marketing - It's extremely common to allow other sites to republish articles in return for a link.
Different domain names - Sometimes a site might be referenced on many different domain names. You might want to allow the .com, .net and .org versions of the name to all work the same, you might allow for common misspellings or you might cover different keywords (sewing-tips and sewing-secrets are examples of possible combinations).
Different domain names for different markets - you might also want to reference your site by different names in order to target different markets. You could, for example, have a site about search engine optimization and want to target both SEO and web designers. Thus domain names like seo.com and webdesign.com would make sense.
www - Any good webmaster knows his or her site needs to be referenced with and without the www.
Okay, so what's the smart thing to do? Well, it is possible that search engines do compare a limited number of pages to check for duplication. They could certainly check if someone reported something, and they might check directly linked pages (although this is still a heck of a lot of overhead for very little benefit).
Of course, Google and the other search engines can account for a hefty percentage of the traffic received by a site. In fact, sometimes the number can exceed 70 percent. So it's wise to spend some time ensuring that you are totally clean when it comes to search engine optimization. In other words, a technician from any search engine should be able to examine your site down to it's smallest detail and find no evidence of any kind of search engine spamming (attempting to get higher rankings by unethical means). This is absolutely critical to a site's survival for the long term.
Keeping that in mind, here's what I tend to do.
Multiple domains - Using multiple domains to the same site has a tremendous number of advantages. Thus, I tend to follow the advice given by others: take advantage of permanent redirection. In other words, set up a redirection (a 301 status code) which simply tells the browser "this page has moved, proceed to this page, and the move is permanent. This tells the spider about the redirection with no possibility of misunderstanding, yet allows for the multiple domains.
Republished articles - I allow others to republish many of my articles, and at this time I have records of over 10,000 of them all over the internet on thousands of web sites. This is not a problem, as these articles are sent in text format. The webmaster must then drop this text into his site, which requires some reformatting and shuffling around. Thus, the finished articles may have the same text but the formatting is very, very different. This is a highly respected method of gaining a large number of incoming links: I give you something (an article, i.e., content) and you give me something (a link back to my site).
Mirroring - I haven't needed to do this yet, so I have no advice as to what to do if a site requires actual, physical multiple versions of itself. I would tend to just do it overtly (out in the open) and not worry about it.
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at http://www.internet-tips.net - Visit our website any time to read over 1,000 complete FREE articles about how to improve your internet profits, enjoyment and knowledge