For a number of years now, there has been rumor/truism that Google penalizes duplicate content. In other words, if Google sees your content show up in more than one place, both the original and the duplicate will be pushed lower in the rankings, or removed from the search results altogether.

This idea has led many people to conclude that they should always only publish content on their website, and that if they publish something somewhere else they’re risking the wrath of the Google gods.

But is this true? Does Google really care about duplicate content? The answer may surprise you. Let’s dig in a little more.

What Exactly Is Duplicate Content?

First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page regarding duplicate content. Duplicate content is not a paragraph from one article quoted in another article. It’s not two pieces of content speaking to the same subject.

Google defines duplicate content in the following way:

Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.

In other words, duplicate content requires a large portion of content to be a direct match with another piece of content.

Of course, that still raises the question: does Google actually penalize duplicate content? If you publish an article in two places, does that hurt your chances of ranking?

Does Google Penalize Duplicate Content?

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Now to the heart of the matter. How exactly does Google handle duplicate content? Are you in danger if you post the same thing in multiple places? Will Google send drones to your home and destroy both your computer and your home?

Uhh, no. In fact, the Google Duplicate Content penalty is a myth.

Yep. Like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and the moon landings (just kidding about the last one – unless you’re a conspiracy theorist).

All the way back in 2008, Susan Moska posted on the Google Webmaster blog in 2008:

Let’s put this to bed once and for all, folks: There’s no such thing as a “duplicate content penalty.” At least, not in the way most people mean when they say that.

 

You can help your fellow webmasters by not perpetuating the myth of duplicate content penalties!

A few things to note about this statement. First, Google tends to be very clear when about the practices they actively penalize. For example, every SEO guru knows that if Google catches you building links using a Private Blog Network (PBN), they will blow you to smithereens. So when Google specifically says that there is no penalty for duplicate content, that should be taken seriously.

But what does Moska mean when she says, “At least, not in the way most people mean…”?

In order to understand that statement, you need to understand a bit about how the Google algorithm works

How Google Handles Duplicate Content

Google themselves estimates that between 25-30% of the internet consists of duplicate content. Because Google wants to deliver the most relevant results to users, they don’t want to show the same page more than once in search results.

So what does Google do if they come across multiple versions of the same page? Patrick Stox of Search Engine Land puts it this way:

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.

Or as John Mueller of Google said:

…so if we can recognize that these pages have the same content on them or the same primary content on them then we’ll try to fold that into one and make sure that all of the signals we have focus on that one page.

In other words, when Google sees duplicate pages, the algorithm works to determine the best version of the page and then displays that page. They also ensure that all the important ranking factors are given to that page.

How does Google determine the best version of a page?

While they don’t tell us all that goes into the determination, we can make some very educated guesses. The factors that help Google determine the best URL most likely include:

  • Which page was published first, with the first one being given priority
  • The number of backlinks to a page, with more backlinks signaling priority
  • Whether the “canonical” tag is used, which signifies which piece should be given priority
  • The domain authority of the page, with the highest domain authority taking precedence
  • Whether a piece of content says, “Originally published on…”, and links back to the original source with the original source taking precedence

See, here’s the thing…

Google’s algorithm is really, really smart. If they see a piece of duplicate content, they usually can figure out what to do with it.

In the worst case scenario, they may display a duplicated page instead of the original page. But they won’t actively penalize a site.

Carolyn Edgecomb of Impact puts it this way:

Due to higher site authority, there’s a good possibility that your article on LinkedIn, Medium, or other sites could outrank the original piece on your website in search results.

 

As we know, about 92% of search inquiry clicks go to the first page, and 33% goes to the very first result, so every spot matters. Republishing on LinkedIn or Medium could result in a loss of traffic as your article gets pushed down the ranks.

Granted, she’s talking about the worst case scenario here in which Google ranks the duplicate content higher than the original content.

The bottom line is this… If your content is duplicated on another site, it won’t hurt you.

So then why bother republishing at all? There are several key ways it can help your brand.

  • It allows you to get powerful dofollow backlinks from high domain authority sites
  • It can help you get more traffic to the original content when people click on the link to your original content
  • It generates more brand exposure for your company

The One Exception

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There is, however, one exception to all of the above – one instance in which Google will actively penalize a website for having duplicate content.

If you are simply stealing someone else’s content in an attempt to get your site to rank, it’s possible that Google could penalize you in the search rankings.

Google puts it this way:

In the rare cases in which Google perceives that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate our rankings and deceive our users, we’ll also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved.

 

As a result, the ranking of the site may suffer, or the site might be removed entirely from the Google index, in which case it will no longer appear in search results.

To be frank, Google isn’t especially clear on what exactly it means to manipulate rankings and deceive users. But we can make a pretty educated guess.

If your entire website consists of content that originally appeared somewhere else first, it’s possible that Google could lower you in the rankings.

But you can freely publish your content on other websites without fear of getting penalized.

In fact, this happens all the time and is even common practice. There are massively powerful websites, like Medium and the Huffington Post, that feature content written elsewhere and they don’t get penalized by Google. So it seems pretty obvious that publishing content in multiple places isn’t cause for penalty unless you’re actively stealing content.

Here’s an example from Medium:

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And here’s one from Huffington Post:

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If Huffington and Medium aren’t concerned about a duplicate content penalty, you don’t need to be either.

The moral of the story?

Don’t steal other people’s content and claim it as your own. Google doesn’t want people “scraping” content from other websites, slapping it on their own website, and then trying to get organic search traffic.

If they catch you doing that, then they could penalize you.

But this rule only applies to those who are actively trying to manipulate the search rankings by duplicating content. In other words, you’re trying to pass someone else’s content off as your own and steal their ranking. As long as you’re not doing that, you’re safe.

And to be clear…syndicating or republishing content does not qualify as stealing content for the purpose of stealing rankings.
Shaun Anderson helpfully puts it this way:

Stick to original content, found on only one page on your site, for best results – especially if you have a new/young site and are building it page by page over time… and you’ll get better rankings and more traffic to your site (affiliates too!).

 

Yes – you can be creative and reuse and repackage content, but I always make sure if I am asked to rank a page I will require original content on the page.

In other words, don’t be stupid and steal someone else’s content. Use your own content. If it’s duplicated on another site, you don’t need to worry about it.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this puts to rest the “duplicate content penalty” rumor that his circulated for years. Really, the matter is quite simple. Google always wants to show the best results to its users. If you create excellent original content on your site, you can be confident that Google will reward you.

If it gets duplicated on another site, don’t panic or freak out. Google is smart enough to know that your site should take priority over the duplicated content. And you certainly don’t need to worry about Google penalizing you in the rankings.