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Whenever you encounter twins in a movie or novel, you know there’s trouble brewing. From the Biblical account of Esau and Jacob to the Shakepearean mishaps in "A Comedy of Errors" (where there are two sets of twins with identical names, Antipholis and Dromio, which is why so many people get stoned before watching the Bard), to the wily conniving of Hallie and Annie in The Parent Trap (or Sharon and Susan, if you’re into the 1961 Hayley Mills original), duplication has always brought in its wake confusion and opportunities for mischief.
(Now don’t get offended if you’re a twin – I’m talking about the other one, not you ;)
Duplicate Content Penalty
Google doesn’t like twins much either. Or triplets. Or octuplets.
That is to say, Google penalizes web pages that it deems to be near-exact copies of existing web pages. It won’t let them appear in search results.
You can understand why. If I have a page that ranks highly for "game show buzzer" (don’t ask ;), Google doesn’t want me making 9 more copies of the page and dominating the entire first page of search results.
So Google rewards the first page it finds with all the search engine mojo it deserves, and slaps all subsequent copies with Duplicate Content Penalty.
And that, boys and girls, is about all I know about Search Engine Optimization. And all I thought I needed to know.
The AdWords Quality Score Duplicate Content Penalty
Google decided to apply the very same rule to AdWords landing pages. This means, if you’re split testing landing pages to find the very best one, you may end up with Poor quality scores for all the keywords pointing to that landing page.
And the landing page will look perfect. The right title tag, the right content, the right format, everything perfect.
Except that it’s a copy of a page already indexed by Google.
How to Avoid the Twin Sin
If you haven’t yet made this mistake, here’s how to avoid it:
1. If you have a landing page that’s already indexed by Google (that is, it shows up on the left "organic side" of search results), test it as a destination URL in AdWords to make sure you’re getting a good quality score for your important keywords. If not, fix the title tag, header tags, content, inbound and outbound links, etc. All the basic SEO stuff we AdWords people have been forced to learn. (See Grade Grubbing with Google for details.)
2. Add the following meta tag between the <head> and </head> tags at the top of every new page you create to test against the original:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex,nofollow">
How to Atone for the Twin Sin
What if you’ve already made the mistake? And your quality score is miserable, and you can’t afford clicks, and you don’t know what to do to improve that landing page any more?
Google, in their infinite benevolence, has given us mortals a chance to receive absolution for the Twin Sin. We can petition the Mountain View Olympians to remove pages from its index. Here’s how:
Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools and sign in with your Google account. Add your site and get it verified by adding tags or a tiny HTML file to the site (so Google knows you have FTP access to it and therefore can be assumed to be the owner).
Then, from the Dashboard, select "Tools" and click the "Remove URLs" link.
Then select + New Removal Request and enter the URL of the page you want removed from the index (make sure you don’t choose a page that’s got good search engine rank right now).
The best practice is to index your best-performing landing page, since that’s the best place to send organic traffic (remember, that kind of traffic is free!).
Then add the "no index" tag to all the new landing pages you’re testing against the original. When you find a winner, change the original page to reflect the improvements. That original page is still indexed, recently updated (which Google loves), and a more effective sales tool. And then you repeat the process with your next round of split tests, always keeping the new pages off the Google radar with the "no index" tag.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, my evil twin wants to go eat some cake for breakfast.
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When I was born the doctor took one look at my face, turned me over and said, "Look, twins!"
When I have a kid, I want to put him in one of those strollers for twins, then run around the mall looking frantic.