How Badly Will Google Punish You for Publishing Duplicate Content?

Have you heard of publishing duplicate content? This is how the industry refers to publishing identical content in more than one place. The most risky form of publishing duplicate content is sharing identical information on the same website. For example, someone might publish the same blog post on different pages of the same website thinking this is beneficial and will result in the post receiving a lot of hits and attention. This is a big no-no.

Now, most website owners know this and work hard to avoid doing it, so the real question is…

How badly will Google punish you for publishing duplicate content to different websites?

The answer is, they won’t (sort of).

According to Google themselves, they will NOT actually penalize you for sharing the same content across multiple websites. However, while they won’t make your sites unavailable to searchers, they may choose to ignore them – simply because they can’t figure out where the value lies.

In other words, when Google algorithms find duplicate content, they may not know which to prioritize in the search results. This can wind up splitting your audience because the content Google chooses to offer their searcher will likely be somewhat arbitrary. This causes confusion and can lead Google to ranking your content, and your websites, a lower ranking than they’d get if there wasn’t duplicate content.

Confusing, right?

We don’t like being confused. And neither does Google.

What Does Google Do With Duplicate Content?

In a nutshell, Google doesn’t want to show you a search results page where several of the results (say, search result items two, three, four and five) are exactly the same and link to the exact same content with the exact same photos, etc.

When Google finds duplicate content, they fear that they are being spammed. When they see the content hitting multiple sites all at once, it raises a big red flag! (One way to avoid this is by spacing out when you publish to multiple sites rather than publishing the same content to multiple sites at pretty much the same time.)

The good news is that this can be resolved by setting up a 301 redirect that links back to the original content source. For example, consider a realtor who presents descriptive content of offered properties that is similar to a product description in an online store. Google is used to seeing this type of duplicate information and should not ignore it, but the arbitrary placement of search results may remain an issue.

According to Search Engine Land, here is what Google “thinks” about duplicate content:

  • Duplicate content doesn’t cause your site to be penalized.
  • Googlers know that users want diversity in the search results and not the same article over and over, so they choose to consolidate and show only one version.
  • Google actually designed algorithms to prevent duplicate content from affecting webmasters. These algorithms group the various versions into a cluster, the “best” URL in the cluster is displayed, and they actually consolidate various signals (such as links) from pages within that cluster to the one being shown. They even went as far as saying, “If you don’t want to worry about sorting through duplication on your site, you can let us worry about it instead.”
  • Duplicate content is not grounds for action unless its intent is to manipulate search results.
  • About the worst thing that can happen from this filtering is that a less desirable version of the page will be shown in search results.
  • Google tries to determine the original source of the content and display that one.
  • If someone is duplicating your content without permission, you can request to have it removed by filing a request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  • Do not block access to duplicate content. If they can’t crawl all the versions, they can’t consolidate the signals.

Offer Unique Value with All of Your Content and Avoid the Problem

However, according to Moz.com, there is no percentage of content you can alter to avoid the duplicate designation.

What this means is, you can’t simply change half the words in an attempt to make it “unique.” (Though some might disagree and say 30% duplication is acceptable – this was a generally accepted practice even just a few years ago.)

So, what is Google actually searching for? They are looking for unique value in the content you publish.

In other words, “what the search engines would like you to do and are building algorithms around is providing value that no other sources, no other sites on the web, are specifically providing.”

As always, higher value content receives higher ranking from Google in the SERPs.

This means that publishing duplicate content to different websites will have minimal value to you at best. At worst, it will confuse Google (there goes that red flag), and when they are confused, they may not list any version of your content in the search results.

Changing the message, and offering value, are the keys to better ranking.

If you’re looking for help with your content marketing strategy, or have other questions about website development and online marketing, please leave a comment and let me know!

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