“Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink,” laments a sailor adrift in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The poor guy needs water to say alive—and he’s surrounded by it— yet if he drinks it, the salt content will kill him.
As a search marketer, perhaps you can relate.
Much like our sailor friend, you’re surrounded by what you need—namely, content—which, of course, is great for your search presence. Yet too much of the same content can be… well, hazardous.
A little salt can’t hurt, right?
Thumbing through a retail catalog, you can often find the same merchandise represented in multiple categories. For instance, a particular pair of hiking boots might be found in the Men’s Clothing section, and in the Footwear portion, and maybe even in the Outdoors offering as well.
Not surprisingly, the same holds true for a website. After all, users don’t mind where they find the product on a site, as long as they don’t have to look too hard to find it. However, while a multiple-category strategy may work for the glossy paper ilk, the same approach could prove problematic for a search marketer. Specifically, wouldn’t it be considered duplicate content and carry a penalty?
Yes and no.
There’s really nothing wrong with having multiple versions of a page co-exist on your website. Sure, there’s some redundancy, but it won’t break the Internet. However, the problem arises when the same page lives in different sections on your site AND it has different URLs. Then it’s considered duplicate content by the search engines.
The result? It impairs a search engine’s ability to properly determine the relevance of your site to the product. And if an engine can’t serve the best results, their audience will… um, jump ship. In addition, attempts to game the system by duplicating your pages will get your site flagged and your visibility will suffer. Instead, avoid duplicate content issues and any potential penalties by utilizing a robots.txt or no index tag to keep multiple versions of your pages from being indexed.
The problem isn’t penalties&mdash’it’s link dilution
With that said, however, keep in mind that the duplicate content issue is far less about a ranking penalty than it is about link dilution.
Let’s say you have 30 external sites lined up to provide a link to your site; you just need to tell them what page to link to. If all 30 of those links point to the hiking boots page in the Men’s Clothing section, a good deal of link value will be passed to that page.
However, what happens if those 30 links get divvied-up across three different versions of that page, and are split between Men’s Clothing, Footwear, and Outdoors? Potentially, each page would only get 33 percent of that total link value. Clearly, 100 percent would be better.
Determining which page is the authority, and then directing all of your inbound links there, provides more benefit than trying to divide and conquer. Doing so could mean the difference between being found at the top of the search results and receiving a sales windfall, or being sunk to the depths of the results and getting nothing at all.
Who’s the captain of this ship?
But how do you decide which page is the authority? Staying with our example, should it be the one in the Men’s Clothing section? Or the one in Footwear, or the one in Outdoors?
To decide, first assess the competitiveness of the term you’re targeting. If it’s not very competitive and you believe you can get two similar—but not identical—versions of a page to rank for that term, you can try to optimize both pages equally. I’m not advocating that you attempt to get as many versions of a page into the search results as possible, but there are occasions where it might make sense to go after two versions.
For instance, let’s say you have two pages about hiking boots. One is the general product page, and the other is a promotional page for a limited time offer on the boots. Obviously, you want to optimize the promo page so anyone looking for special offers on hiking boots would find the page with the limited time offer. However, the general product page about hiking boots should also be optimized for people looking for hiking boots outside of any promotional periods.
In most cases though, it’s tough enough to get one page ranking for a term. The best course of action is to decide which version provides the greatest opportunity for revenue over the long term. Then optimize that page, direct all inbound links to it, and block any other versions from being indexed. Remember, there’s no reason to head into a storm if you can sail around it.
While at times you may feel stranded amidst a sea of content that you just can’t seem to make work, don’t resort to tactics that could blow your efforts off course. Avoid creating multiple versions of the same page just to score more listings in the search results. Instead, differentiate your content by tailoring messages to speak to a particular deal or offer, and concentrate your linking efforts on sending value to the page with the power to produce revenue for the long run.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.