In late 2011, there was a panicked frenzy on the web. According to many webmasters, SEO as we knew it was going to change completely. There was a new way of looking at content, ranking and especially duplicate content. Not to mention a new means of potential penalties that were not in place before.
This was due to the release of the now infamous Panda. But this was no bamboo loving, huggable looking bear in a zoo. Rather, it is a new algorithm update issues by the massive website Google, which has seen a refresh every month so far in 2012.
What is it?
Simply put, it is a new way of looking at, indexing and ranking content. Probably the most talked about change was how it effected reposted or redundant content. Since it was targeting “thin” content effecting search results, it developed a new system.
In the past, when you have duplicate text, images or other elements on your site, it would only effect that page. A crawler would wander on, see it and black mark it before moving on. It had little relevance if you weren’t a spammer who was willfully attempting to hoodwink the search engine.
Now, duplicate content can effect your actual site ranking. It isn’t a penalty, per se. More a risk of a crawler seeing enough repeated content that they decide not to search any more of the pages and push down your ranking.
There is also a possibility of syndicated or licensed content being overlooked by a website Google has deemed more relevant to search results.
What Qualifies As Duplicate Content
One of the biggest misunderstandings on this subject is what a duplicate content violation actually results from. When Panda was first released, people claimed that anything syndicated would be penalized, which is not the case at all.
When something has been put into syndication online, it is free for use. Having an identical article on different unique URLs is fine. Instead of just looking at the content itself, Google looks at the page it is hosted on to see the differences that make it verifiable.
The problem here is that the other details of the page are going to be what defines the relevance for the crawler. So your site might be given secondary (or further ranked) priority over another. This will reflect on what is featured more highly in search results.
Other content that can prove problematic is in product descriptions on ecommerce sites. For years, many sites saved time and effort by using manufacturer’s descriptions instead of writing their own.
But now, anything duplicated on multiple sites will have the same outcome as syndicated content. You will have more competition for placement, and so you reduce your chances of being seen.
Finally, you have something that happens quite often, without the webmaster usually realizing it. When you rewrite a URL with a more unique name, which is SEO 101, you should still only have one link with the content.
However, sometimes both will remain as separate pages. When a crawler comes across this, it may try to index them both and it will look like you have made the same page twice.
Luckily, the only thing Google will usually do in this case is try to find which one is most relevant, and give it preference. This will almost always be the unique URL you rewrote
You don’t have to freak out on the duplicate content issue. Panda can effect your page ranking, but probably won’t if most of your content is original. As for syndicated media, you don’t have to worry. Not as long as you have spent time enough making the rest of the page SEO enriched to attract the crawlers.