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by Stephen Logan on 18th September 2009
Duplicate content is always a bit of a thorny issue in SEO. Whilst it’s fairly clear cut when a website copies text straight from a secondary source, there has been questions raised over the impact of having numerous domains for one site.
Whilst it has been widely accepted for some time that having individual URLs all leading to the same page may be harmful to your ranking, Google have now broken their silence and suggested quite the opposite. Although in true Google style they stopped short of saying anything too definitive.
Essentially Google have said that if you have more than one domain you won’t be penalised outright. That isn’t to say your rankings won’t suffer, but at least you won’t have the ignominy of Google dropping your site from its SERPs like a bad habit. So what exactly constitutes a unique domain? Well a few examples of possible domain clashes can be seen below:
Previously the widely held understanding was that having a group of URLs such as these all leading to a homepage could result in link juice being leaked (from here on this will referred to as link strength, juice is yet another confusing SEO analogy). A 301 redirect from the superfluous domains to a single core URL – i.e. http://www.koozai.com – was the standard course of action in the past. However, this announcement flies in the face of this assumed knowledge, although it doesn’t discount it entirely.
You see, even if Google aren’t wielding their strength to demote you in their rankings as a result of duplicate content issues, it doesn’t mean that this won’t happen naturally. One of the major fears with any website is losing linking strength. This was the preeminent concern in the PageRank sculpting debate a few months ago, when the use of nofollow links was bought into question, once again by Google. Having numerous domains may mean that the search engines naturally spread the authority of all active sites across all active URLs, thus diluting each of their individual ranking authority.
All very confusing, but in my opinion it doesn’t really change a great deal. Without concrete confirmation that link juice authority won’t be lost due to coexisting domains, there’s no reason to stop implementing 301 redirects on additional URLs. No damage can be done by moving traffic from one domain to another through a redirect, plus you can keep all of the original sites active to ensure that any incoming links no go directly to your target site. So it’s business as usual really, just without the fear of incurring Google’s wrath for duplicate content.
But of course this isn’t the only duplicate content issue out there. What happens, for example, when another site decides to purge some of your copy and implements it on its own? Well, if you notice quick enough you can politely request that they remove it; however, if you don’t, one of you could well fall foul of the search engine crawlers.
Because whilst duplicate domains are no longer a major issue, plagiarising content very much still is. But what if you’re the creator of the content and find yourself at the sharp end of a Google penalty, what can you do? Well, not a lot really. New sites are often far more susceptible to this form of online theft. Because their domain hasn’t got the authority that age brings, older domains could, in theory at least, nip in and take your copy like a diving gannet. Whilst this is reasonably rare, it is certainly something to watch out for, particularly if your rankings start to plummet inexplicably. It’s also an area that needs to be addressed by the search engines, particularly as more and more websites begin appearing all of whom require content to fill their pages.
Proving ownership of content online isn’t always as black and white as we’d hope; just as getting Google to provide a definitive answer on active domains it seems.