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A couple of months ago, I posted on the search engines' so-called "duplicate content penalty," where pages that contain similar words are often hidden from the search results because the search engines (rightly) conclude that searchers would rather see different pages. Recently, I was e-mailed a follow-up question about a particularly difficult aspect of the duplicate content penalty--when you have two keyword phrases whose landing pages really could be twins. What do you do then?
Here's an excerpt from the question I got from Andy:
One of our programs is in leadership development, so we'd like to optimize a set of pages around this (and related) keywords. However, people often use the term "management training" interchangeably with "leadership development." Therefore we were thinking of optimizing different pages for each of these different terms. The problem is that apart from differences in these two terms, the content on these pages would be identical, so the concern is that search engines would see the pages as duplicates and index only one of them. Would you suggest that we discard our idea of creating separate (and potentially duplicate) pages and instead just create one page?
I'm sorry, Andy, but your approach would probably prove problematic. In my opinion, you have at least two options (others might suggest more), either of which can work:
So, in Andy's case, consider the possibility that those searching for "management training" might be looking for something somewhat different than "leadership development" searchers, even though Andy thinks of them as interchangeable. Perhaps those looking for management training are new to line management while those looking for leadership development are team leaders who are not yet managers. Or perhaps the leadership folks are long-time managers that just became executives.
Regardless, you give up a lot of marketing segmentation information when you assume that people using different keywords are the same just because you have a single product that helps them both. It is likely that subtle differences in copy that emphasize different benefits might indeed be called for. By lumping all these searchers into one category, you miss the chance to test what will optimize your conversions for each segment.
Often people feel trapped into duplicate content because their landing page contains the description for their product when it could spend more time on the problem. Focusing landing pages on the somewhat different ideas of management training and leadership development allows you to have each of those pages link to a common page that discusses your offering for both of those problems. You can still have one place that describes your product but with different landing pages for different keywords.
So, if you feel as though duplicate content makes sense in your situation, ask yourself whether you might be spending more time trying to do things cheaply rather than well, when that approach is itself wasting your time. Also, consider whether the added conversions might easily pay for the additional content costs. Focus your pages on the way that you attract people to the problem. That way you can link to a common page that describes the solution. That will reduce your impulse for duplicate content.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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