We make A LOT of websites at Pronto, and that means we also spend A LOT of time working on search engine optimization (SEO) for our clients. Throughout this whole process, there’s one question that keeps coming up:
The short answer is: Yes. The less short answer is: Yes, unless you tell Google to ignore certain parts of your content. But why on Earth would you ever want to do that?
The rule that has everyone scared, but no one understands
Google has often repeated that because duplicate content is a vehicle for cheating search rankings and manipulating sites to place higher on the results page, it can potentially be penalized. But the extent of that rule has been murky, and scores of SEO consultants oversimplify this to, “Google penalizes anything copied and pasted on your site.”
On its Search Console Help page, Google defines duplicate content as "substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar." Not a lot of concrete details there. Furthermore, delving deeper into the Search Console Help post reveals that Google openly admits that the vast majority of duplicated content doesn’t fall into the “bad actor” category.
Whatever the true impact of this rule, Google allows online publishers to self-regulate their content by marking it "invisible" to the search engine. Before we cover our take on what actually gets you on the naughty list, let's take a step back and ask the question…
Just how harsh is the duplicate content rule?
It’s a much harder question to answer than you might expect. Google rarely explains how much weight each ranking policy holds, and the company’s own Matt Cutts has written that duplicate content won't hurt unless it is ”spammy.” He even goes on to admit that as much as 30% of the web is duplicate content!
Although he didn’t elaborate on a hard-and-fast definition of “spammy,” Google’s definition does give us something to work with: "deliberately duplicated [content] across domains in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings or win more traffic.”
Essentially, duplicate content isn’t grounds for penalty unless its intent is to manipulate search rankings.
A real-world example of really bad duplication
Although it wasn’t one of our clients, there is precedent for Google punishing duplicate content gone seriously wrong. A company had just finished redesigning their website, and for no discernible reason the communications team copied and pasted the home page copywriting into a press release that was automatically disseminated across hundreds of sites.
Think about that for a second. One piece of content showed up on Google several hundred times, in a matter of seconds. That happens every day with syndicated content, but this was home page copywriting, which does not look like shareable content to Google.
If it’s shareable, you’re fine
Blog posts are a great example of widely duplicated content that is 100% acceptable in Google’s book. Blog posts are shared within or across multiple domains, but they are certainly not deceptive in nature. They are regularly shared across multiple platforms and are more about valuable information than "gaming the system."
The reality is that quality content provides a positive user experience regardless of whether it is original. Even if content isn’t new, it’s probably new to those reading it. Posting "fresh" content (at least relative to your site) is a proven method of bringing existing and prospective customers back to your website.
Even if a blog is syndicated or widely distributed, it is extremely unlikely Google will penalize the publisher. After all, the search engine’s main goal is “To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
Should I risk it?
In some cases, the benefits of posting duplicate content and allowing Google to index it outweigh the risks. For the Pronto SEO team, and what we tell our clients, it’s all decided on a case-by-case basis. For example, if your business operates in several cities, we may create localized landing pages where much of the content is the same as that of another page with local references added in.
We always test the performance of these pages and decide whether to de-list them or re-write the content, but all indications are that this often works well. However, don’t take that as an endorsement for throwing caution to the wind. If you’re managing your own content, be on the lookout for trouble spots and monitor your site's performance to see whether there are cases where duplicate content negatively impacts your ranking.
The takeaway is this: Although duplicate content isn't nearly as scary as you've been told, professionals experienced in both legacy SEO policies and the most current practices are the only surefire way to do what’s best for your site.
Not sure you’re ready to buy into our contrarian advice? Head over to our Marketing Resources page to evaluate our wealth of expertise for yourself. From lead generation and eCommerce strategies to essential marketing diagrams and metrics, we’ve got it all -- and it’s all FREE.