Moving Past Duplicate Content to Provide Unique Value

Article by: Matt Polsky

It’s not breaking news to hear that search engines filter out duplicate or thin results. Yes, almost 12 percent of sites – a number directly from Google – were caught off guard with the first Panda algorithm; however, low-quality content isn’t what caught these sites by surprise.

What surprised webmasters was the fact that a gap started to close between what Google said happens and what actually happens.

This initial shock should have been expected. I mean, think about Google’s purpose – provide relevant content that people will want to read and share. If their search engine is promoting duplicate or thin results, then what are the odds that a user switches to a competitor? Very high.

The Content Algorithm Convergence

Search algorithms are built to provide users with a better search experience – meaning that presenting duplicate pieces of content can’t happen (besides in Google News) and if you’re stealing or rewriting other’s content, you are forcing the algorithm to decide what version provides the most value for a query, who the original source is and who the most trusted source is.

First things first, what is duplicate content? Duplicate content can be placed in two categories and doing either can mean severe problems for a site:

  • Internally duplicated content

Best practice here is to take advantage of rel=canonical and be preemptive of issues that stem from having URL parameters, a different mobile site or printer friendly pages. Usually with internally duplicated content, search engines try to overlook it and canonicalize it the best they can, but this doesn’t always work out in your favor.

A larger issue that stems from internally duplicated content comes from webmasters who want to rank for semantic terms, so produce three or four versions of the same information with different title tags. Just by glancing at the title it seems different, but after digging into the content, it is generally duplicate, providing little to no value to the end user.

In instances like this, it is best to take the information on the pages, consolidate them into a single piece and 301 the duplicate pages to the parent page.

  • Externally duplicated content

Externally duplicated content is derived multiple sources that include works licensed between multiple sites (e.g. news aggregators), authors who post works to multiple locations (duplicating guest posts or submission based sites), or it could also be downright plagiarism.

The Grey Area

But what about rewriting someone else’s work? It could still be a “unique work”, taking and jumbling up someone else’s original words, right?

This is the grey area. If you can rework someone else’s idea and provide value to your users through unique thoughts and opinions, then it is likely to be a good piece; however, if you are just rewriting for the sake of content or a link, there’s not going to be much weight given to that piece or even the  links within.

Definitely take note of that last sentence. If you are taking on a guest posting strategy, a very valuable medium for acquiring high quality links, how will your link activities be viewed by algorithms if the work is low-value or just reworded? Not as heavily as links found in a valuable piece of content.

What many marketers, bloggers and content writers don’t realize is how sophisticated Google’s algorithm actually is. It is more than just “get links and rank.” Yes links help, but the top priority should be to provide value to the end user and give search algorithms a reason to rank your content through offering a benefit that no other source on the web is delivering.

Providing Unique Value

Providing unique value means establishing user intent in search queries, discovering what your users plan on achieving and differentiating the types of content, resources and links so that it will meet the user’s needs.

Recently, this has become much more difficult since Google has limited the amount of keywords and search terms that a webmaster can see, forcing smaller sample sizes or mere trial and error, but you can still use tactics like the ones Ross Hudgens has listed here to find a good keyword ideas.

But, with that point aside, if you truly want to provide content that offers unique value, then go out and make the value. This means that if you are in a space competing against other outlets that produce similar content, don’t go rewrite an already published article, but produce unique value through user usage data.

This can be as easy as interviewing a customer, getting a unique insight and conveying that to the rest of your following. Or, you could build a social following (something I highly recommended if you have the budget) and poll your users. I’ve made infographics and guides, produced heartwarming stories and found great customer spotlights, all by using the unique resources available to my brand.

The Duplicate Content Percentage

This is possibly one of my favorite SEO myths: “You have to stay below a certain percentage of duplicate content in order to rank.” This is completely false.

Like I said above, search algorithms are much more sophisticated and won’t decide if a piece is duplicated just off of a percentage. Think of the vast numbers of aggregated news outlets that will take content from multiple sources, post it and share it.

For example, Yahoo Finance picks up posts from (and many others), and the same with Mashable who picks up posts from the American Express OPEN Forum. Each source has the exact same post – sometimes a different title – but 100 percent duplicate content.

Now don’t be confused into thinking that you can just go to these sources and copy and paste. The kicker here is that more often than not, the posts that get syndicated are socially shared, linked to and commented on equally between sources, to the point of providing Google with enough user usage data that suggest that they provide unique value to each post location - even though they are identical.

SEOs, bloggers and content writers must understand that it is not about how unique your post is, or the types of sematic adjectives you use, but it is about providing unique value to show a sophisticated search algorithm that you are a reliable source of information for your users.

Copyright 2019