Understanding the Google Duplicate Contente PenaltyDid you you know that Google’s duplicate content penalty isn’t really a penalty for duplicate content? Don’t feel bad if you did, you’re hardly alone.

Thanks to its seemingly straightforward name,  the duplicate content penalty is rapidly taking a place as one of the most misunderstood concepts ever to come out of the search engine giant’s hive brain.

To help our readers sort through this confusing issue, here are the basics every webmaster should understand about this highly misleading topic.

Defining Duplicate Content

When most of us first heard the term, “duplicate content penalty,” we took it as, literally, a penalty that would be imposed on websites that duplicate content. But in Google Speak, duplicate content has a very different, less literal, meaning.

In a recent posting on Google’s widely read Webmasters forum, company bloggers described it as follows, “Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin.”

Malicious Intent

The key here intent. Google is looking for malicious uses of duplicate content that will gum up search results. So, unless you’re actively scraping content or engaging in other black hat methods, you probably won’t feel any negative effects of duplicating content. In fact, Google helpfully lists some very legitimate instances when you can freely duplicate content including:

* Discussion forums – Those large quote blocks used in most forums shouldn’t cause any problems.
* Print Friendly versions of your content.

Google’s webmaster blog further clarifies malicious intent as follows, “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.”

Avoiding the Penalty That Doesn’t Really Exist

At its core, all SEO is about making life as easy as possible for Google’s ubiquitous web crawling spiders. To that end, there are a few steps that every webmaster should be taking to insure that the spiders can distinguish try duplicates from the nasty stuff.

Google provides an exhaustive list of methods for pointing spiders to the correct version of content on their blog that should be required reading for every webmaster, but here are the two most important tips.

  •  Use canonical tags to identify the primary version of each piece of content.
  • Make use of 301 redirects to keep the spiders on track with the right versions.


Understanding what the duplicate content penalty is all about can go a long ways towards keeping your sites clean, and spider friendly. If you’re following good, white hat SEO practices in the first place, most of Google’s penalties will have no serious impact on you, no matter what they’re called.

Have you been worried about the duplicate content penalty? Share your thoughts on our SEO Forum.

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