Duplicate Content and its effect on SEO

By | May 12, 2010

By request, I have been asked to talk a little about Duplicate content and why Google doesn’t like websites with duplicate content. Recently, I wrote a post on writing good content for your site and why it is important. I briefly touched on duplicate content in that post, but it is important for any new SEO to understand why duplicate content can and will hurt you in the long run with Google.

What is duplicate content? It’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s content that a webmaster has copied (stolen or plagiarized) from another website. You often see duplicate content on sites selling items. Lazy webmasters either steal a description of an item from a competitor or they simply use the manufacturer’s description. Though a simple copy / paste from another website might get your site some easy, fast content it won’t help you at all with Google.

If you’re asking, “Why can’t I just take the manufacturer’s description?” it is important to remember one of my SEO Golden Rules – Always remember to think like Google! What does Google do? It provides high-quality web page results based on keyword searches. Let’s imagine a scenario that might make it easier for you to understand the issue with duplicate content and Google. Let’s imagine you are the owner of an online store that sells Jelly Belly Candies. Jelly Belly probably makes 500 flavors of jelly beans and you’re not interested in writing 500 unique descriptions of each flavor (understandable if not condoned by G). So, you copy / paste from a competitor and the manufacturer. Let’s also imagine that your top 10 competitors did the exact same thing so now you have 10 websites with 500 descriptions that are all exactly the same. Let’s imagine ALSO that Google has those 10 websites indexed. Now, what is likely to happen when a user searches for “Watermelon Jelly Belly”? If Google didn’t penalize for duplicate content it would have 10 websites with the exact same text listed on the first page. How is that useful to the searcher? It isn’t. Google must decide who is the “authority” on the subject of Watermelon Jelly Belly and must display only a few sites. If you leave it up to Google to decide what site is the authority on Watermelon Jelly Belly then you’re taking a big chance it won’t choose you! However, if you have content with a little bit of variety, a well written paragraph of text, and some great keyword placement you are much more likely to appear on the first page!

Here’s another example. Imagine that I was super lazy and that I decided instead of writing my own SEO tips I would just copy / paste a bunch of tips from other websites and make my own conglomeration of SEO tips. Well, would that really be anything useful to you? Let’s ignore Google and think about how it would help human users. It really wouldn’t because you can go find that exact same information already (and Google already has!). Without my own opinion and unique experiences with SEO the text is useless to human readers. Oddly enough, its useless to Google as well.

There are some that claim duplicate content is not penalized by Google. This is false, but I will entertain the thought briefly. The most common example I read on the internet is the fact that Google doesn’t penalize the HUGE news websites for using an article from an independent writer. Basically, this super-popular article is splattered all over the internet and none of the websites get dinged for duplicate content. Or do they? Initially Google doesn’t penalize anyone for the article, but after a few weeks you will notice a change in Google’s results. Google will phase out the article on many of the sites and start replacing the search results with other related articles so that users see a variety of high-quality results and not just the same article over and over. Test it and you will see!

Trust me. If you want to rank in Google and continue to rank in Google you can’t go around making your site a copy of 500 other sites. Google won’t like you. Write high-quality, unique content and you will win in the end.