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:

New York Times article.

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:

New York Times article.

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.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /print/

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

printerI 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:

  1. Theories in Duplicate Content Penalties
  2. How Poor Product Categorization Creates Duplicate Content and Frustrates Your Shoppers
  3. Redirecting Alternate Domains to Prevent Duplicate Content
  4. Preventing Secure & Non-Secure Site Duplication
  5. Why Session ID's And Search Engines Don't Get Along (Hint: It's a Duplicate Content Thing)
  6. What Does a Title Tag, Title Tag and Title Tag Have In Common?
  7. How to Create Printer Friendly Pages Without Creating Duplicate Content
  8. How to Use Your WWW. to Prevent Duplicate Content

May 15, 2008





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.





Comments(15)

You need to be very careful suggesting a combination to avoid dangling/hanging pages.

nofollow or javascript the link + meta robots noindex follow works fairly well

nofollow or javascript the link + robots.txt works but you might miss out on a little link equity

meta robots noindex follow + robots.txt is an abomination that is effectively the same as just robots.txt on its own, and causes dangling pages

meta robots noindex follow on its own is likely to cause a page that has lots of external links, without normal internal navigation, thus a major juice leak - it is effectively a sacrificial SEO page unless you have lots of related deep links on the page.

Very helpful, thanks Stoney, and timely for us.

We're in the midst of a redesign of our site at http://www.widerfunnel.com and were just discussing yesterday how to implement the print page option now that we're moving away from WordPress. WordPress does this easily with a plugin, but we've found it too slow and inflexible (ie. can't insert php forms within page content - not good!) to drive our whole site.

Chris
http://www.widerfunnel.com
You don't need more traffic. You need more Actions!

Thanks for your comment Andy. Can you explain what you mean by dangling/hanging pages? Do you mean orphans?

Without doubt, print stylesheets are the better choice. Print versions of pages are so 1999.

Easiest way to accomplish a print version of a page for the CSS-challenged is to create a new class for non-printing items:

.nonprinting {
display: none;
}

Then, just apply this to all the HTML elements in your layout that should be omitted when printing:

<div id="mysidemenu" class="nonprinting">...

This is a good start. There's lots of other things you should probably do to optimize for printing—most notably, making sure the page content from the screen (usually horizontal) fits within a printed page (usually vertical) We often go to the trouble of even replacing certain images with print-optimized ones, which are higher-resolution and don't have jaggedy edges when printed. But that's only for the super-anal.

Use Print Preview in your favorite browser to preview your changes so you don't waste a forest of paper testing!

FYI, you don't need a separate stylesheet; you can use this syntax around all your print styles within your existing stylesheet:

@media print {
.nonprinting {
display: none;
}
}

Thanks Cameron. I edited your post to include the code that got stripped out.

Dangling page is a term used by both Google and Yahoo in various patents to designate pages which are linked to, receive juice, but have no outgoing links for the wandering surfer to follow, thus they teleport to a random page on the internet, which results in all pages having some intrinsic juice.

The biggest problem is that whilst we know that the search engines identify dangling pages, so far I haven't seen any reference as to whether they allocate a full amount of juice through links to dangling pages

I went into it in a lot more depth here
http://andybeard.eu/2007/11/seo-linking-gotchas-even-the-pros-make.html

Orphan pages I regard as pages that don't have a parent page linking to them, thus they can't be reached by normal navigation.

If you search for dangling pages in Google, you will find tons of patent references.

Sometimes it's actually easier to make your original page printer friendly to begin with :)

I'm surprised nobody has written a FF plugin called 'printerfriendly', that does this for the user, and which while printing could display an ad for oh, I don't know, HP inkjet cartridges? That or add a line at the end of all docs printed via the plugin that said This printer friendly version was provided by Inkjet yadda, your source for all your printing needs.

Am I crazy? Is this doable?

Oops, it looks like firefox does this already without needing a plugin.

Where is the printer-friendly version of your article?

The dog ate it. ;-)

And, no fault of Stoney's, our webmaster hasn't put the print template back in. Somebody needs to fire that guy. The webmaster, not Stoney. :-P

Thanks Stoney.

I wanted to mention, that I am a big page printer, but I use the Print as PDF on Apple Mac.

This saves me paper, and in the current versions, allows me to search the content of those files from Spotlight.

I have a lot of UGLY PDFs, and stories that start on page 3... bad formatting, ads I'd rather not see again, etc. But in 20 years, they may be "funny".

Great tips. I normally use the noindex command which is usually good enough. Using nofollow on the links to the printer-friendly pages works too, and using them both together is probably the fool-proof way if one can automatically add that into each of the product page dynamically. On our site http://www.tonerall.com we've decided to get rid of the whole printer-friendly version a while back and never bothered with it. Perhaps it's time to bring it back with the suggested methods if our customers/prospects find it useful?

printer friendly pages are good to have, since it's very "green"! i never knew that it would cause duplicate content problems for sites...appreciate the good tips. Audry

Instead of implementing printerfriendly pages on your site, let the users choose what to print themself with the printwhatyoulike service. This page for instance would look like this http://www.printwhatyoulike.com/print?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.searchengineguide.com%2Fstoney-degeyter%2Fhow-to-create-priter-friendly-pages-with.php

Tip: If you are into printing green and want to save printer consumables look at the tips on this page http://www.inkguides.com/save-money-by-printing-smart.asp

Seems easier just to highlight what you want printed and print selection only. :)

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