Google provided a lot of guidance about duplicate web content in Q3 2013. Is a change is in the pipeline?

Google has made it known that duplicate web content will not be tolerated in search results and it set the Panda algorithm loose to punish domains publishing scraped, copied or otherwise replicated information. Now, it seems the search engine is softening the hard line it once drew against duplicate content.

A recent Webmaster Help Channel video is just the latest in a series of clips that offers examples of duplicate content that are not considered punishable, but perfectly acceptable – and in some cases, viewed as improving user experience.

What kind of content might naturally be “duplicated” across the web?
1. Product ingredients lists

In the latest video, Search Engineer Matt Cutts explained that ecommerce sites will not be penalized for posting ingredients lists for products that are also sold on other domains.

“If you’re listing something that’s vital, so you’ve got ingredients in food or something like that … [with] short specifications, that probably wouldn’t get you into too much of an issue,” he reported.

However, it’s a different story if you’re an ecommerce company that offers the same products as other retail sites and you publish the same descriptions as competitors. In Google’s eyes, you’re not providing visitors with much added value and your content might not rank as highly.

Cutts pointed out that ecommerce sites featuring product or ingredients lists can further avoid duplicate content issues by publishing short descriptions containing only vital information as well as creating original site designs that differentiate product pages from competitors’.

2. Content on international domains and better IP addresses
Matt Cutts has been building a case about when duplicate web content is OK.

Google previously explained that domains will probably not be punished if they are hosting custom content on multiple domains to improve UX. Cutts explained in a video that hosting the same information on both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses is not seen as a duplicate content violation because it delivers the same information based on users’ connectivity capabilities.

Similarly, companies with global audiences that host the same digital content on more than one country-level domain are not seen as spammers. Rather, they are offering resources in the formats that provide internet users with better experiences, a practice that Google upholds and rewards.

3. Technical and legal jargon

Legal boilerplates, disclaimers, terms and conditions and other types of required text are also seen as outside the bounds of Google’s duplicate content violations. Brafton covered Cutts’ video about why some legal and technical information is OK, in which he explained that failing to include this information verbatim might even compromise a domains’ value. Tweaking the text for the sake of originality could introduce inaccuracies.

The SEO industry pays close attention to Google’s guidance because repetitive messages are sometimes indicative of a coming change. Perhaps the recurring messages clarifying what’s considered duplicate content are related to the latest Panda algorithm update, which softened its impact on previously punished sites. Or, it could indicate that Google is taking a closer look at the actual words on the page to verify marketers aren’t turning custom content into spam: Producing original language for SEO gains at the expense of informational value for end-users goes against good content marketing.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.