When it comes to issues of duplicate content, one of the most frequent offenders is the "printer friendly" page. Just about any kind of site can benefit from creating printer friendly versions of their pages, but improper implementation of these pages can wreak duplicate content havoc on your site.
While the internet provides us a great way to save the trees, there are many people out there that still feel more comfortable reading from the printed page. But there are other reasons for printing out information, such as sharing it with the higher-ups or providing an easy way to compare products and services between various websites. So no matter how hard we try to create the "paperless office," there will always be a need to print.
Printer-friendly pages that create duplicate content
One way to create a printer-friendly page is simply place the page's content onto another page that is more print-ready. This new, second page would be a duplicate of the main page minus all the on-page graphics, menus, etc.
The New York Times provides a good example of this at work. This is an article I pulled from their website:
This page contains the full site navigation and a number of ads along with the story you want to read. It's no surprise that if you print this page using the print button in your browser, all of what you see here will also be printed. This often uses more paper and more printer ink.
But if you notice just to the right of the article, a link that reads "print," which I bordered in red. Click that link and you get this:
This is the printer-friendly version of the same article. No navigation, no ads, just the site name at the top, one small ad, and the article that you want to read.
The problem with creating printer friendly pages this way is if you don't have a CMS (content management system), then you have to keep and update two completely separate pages. If you find a typo or spelling error, or need to make other corrections then you'll have to fix it twice, once on each page.
If you use a CMS, then you only input the content in one place and the system gives you the main page and the printer-friendly page. But you still have to go through measures to prevent duplicate content.
This can be accomplished a couple of different ways.
1) Put a robots meta tag in the
< head> elements of the page telling the engines not to index or archive this page, like this:
< meta name="ROBOTS" content="NOINDEX">
Once the search engines grab the page, they'll read that and know that you don't want them to include this page in their index so they should drop it and move on.
2) Use the nofollow tag on the link to the printer friendly page, like this:
< a rel="nofollow" href="site.com/printer-friendly-page.htm">Print
The problem here is if someone links to the printer friendly page from their own site, it won't prevent this page from being spidered and indexed.
3) Use the robots.txt file to exclude all printer friendly pages. There are a lot of ways this can be done, but a very simple way is to have all printer friendly pages added to a directory called "print" or something similar. Then in your robots.txt file you disallow spidering of that entire folder.
Sometimes a combination of two or all of these methods can be used, just for maximum protection. Personally, I don't think relying on the nofollow tag is sufficient, but either of the other two options should do the trick by themselves.
The downsides to using this option, aside from having to create multiple templates or the upkeep of two different pages, is that it relies on the visitor finding and using the "print" link. Many don't, instead just hitting the print button in their browser.
Print style sheet
I mentioned another way to create printer friendly pages, and that is by creating a style sheet just for printing. This method requires no additional pages to be maintained, or any "print" links, as the users will be able to print in a clean, printer-friendly format using the browser's print button.
I'll provide some overall basics on how to create your printer-friendly style sheet, but you'll want to consult with a programmer to make sure implementation is done properly. The easiest way to get started is to take your existing style sheet and rename it. This will be your print style sheet. In your
< head> tags you'll want to reference this style sheet like this:
< link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="print.css" media="print" />
It's the media part that's really important here, that tells the browsers that this is the stylesheet that should be used when someone hits the browser's print button.
Now that you have your second style sheet and it's referenced in your site, you can begin editing it so it allows pages to be printed in the way you want. This will require hiding things like navigation and ad blocks as well as setting proper margins, fonts sizes, etc.
The downside to creating your printer-friendly pages this way is that you need someone skilled to create the style-sheet for you. This can be relatively easy or can get pretty complicated, depending on how well your site is already coded. But the great thing is that you don't have to worry about any duplicate content, or maintaining separate pages on your site. There is no second page here whatsoever, everything is handled through the style sheet.
This article is part of a series on duplicate content. Follow the links below to read more:
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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