As long as I’ve been working in the digital space, there has been a pervasive idea that all content must be absolutely unique, lest you face the wrath of Google and catch a penalty for duplicate content.
I’ve worked as a consultant and an employee for SEO agencies and digital marketing firms. Every so often, I’d have a conversation like this:
- Junior SEO: “OH NO! Look!”
- Me: “What?”
- Junior SEO: “The client has DUPLICATE CONTENT in their website’s footer!”
- Me: “And?”
- Junior SEO: “THEY’RE GONNA GET PENALIZED!”
I’ve met my share of marketers who are more concerned about duplicate content than they are about building poor quality links.
In fact, there’s so much misinformation out there about duplicate content, Google even tried to address it directly in hopes of squashing the misunderstanding and myths.
“Let’s put this to bed once and for all, folks,” wrote Susan Moska on the Google Webmaster Blog. “There’s no such thing as a duplicate content penalty. At least, not in the way most people mean when they say that.”
Understanding Duplicate Content
To many marketers, they see duplicate content as any kind of content that is duplicated.
And any content that is duplicated is bad and will bring a penalty.
The junior SEO in my introduction, for example, spotted a few lines of replicated text in a website’s footer. The fact that it was on the footer meant that it was on all 18,901 pages of the client’s website. Ergo, those lines of text were duplicated 18,901 times.
The duplicate content idea goes even further: Some assume that using multiple categories for a blog post is bad because it can create duplicate pages for each of those blog category listings.
Or another example duplicate content on landing pages to be served to different audiences.
That’s technically duplicate content, but it’s not going to be penalized in any way, and it’s not what Google is talking about when it refers to duplicate content.
“Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin.”
Google is referring more to content that is widely syndicated and replicated. For example, if I published a post that was then duplicated by a large volume of aggregate sites – links and all – I would have a substantial amount of duplicate content spun off from the original.
And because others duplicated that content, it’s not intended to deceive or game the algorithm to improve rank.
Google isn’t going to necessarily penalize for that duplicate content. Instead, their algorithms are designed to limit what gets returned to the user. That way only 1 (or just a small number) of the same pages are being returned rather than filling a single search result with countless copies of the same content.
Pretty much the worst thing that can happen from this automatic filtering by the algorithm is that a less desirable version of the content might be displayed first, rather than your original.
Not ideal, but certainly not a penalty.
Here are some additional truths about duplicate content to put your mind at ease.
1. Syndicated (duplicate) Content Grows Traffic
At this point, you’ve more than likely heard of Buffer. Marketers from all over use the platform for scheduling content to be posted to social channels. Buffer is also well known for the quality of content they share on their blog.
In the early days of the platform, the team relied on guest posts to help build visibility and draw referral traffic. As popularity grew, they switched to a more efficient content model, using syndication to share their original content.
That syndication was essentially duplicated content, shared elsewhere on the web.
In the comments of one post detailing the effectiveness of this strategy, co-founder Leo Widrich shared data from Buffer’s analytics proving that organic traffic continued to grow despite duplicate content and their reliance on syndication.
2. Zero Penalties from Duplicate Offsite Content
It doesn’t really matter if it’s you that is doing the duplication, or someone else (essentially sharing what you produced), you simply can’t get a penalty through the natural syndication and distribution of your content.
There is the exception of course; duplicate content by itself is not grounds for action unless its intent is to manipulate the search results.
So basically, don’t try to spam the same content in an attempt to grab search real estate.
Since Google has designed its algorithms to prevent duplicate content from being shown, and from impacting site owners, you don’t really need to worry about any kind of a penalty from syndicating or duplicating offsite content.
In most cases, Google just tries to show the original source.
Worst case scenario, as I mentioned above, you might end up with one of those syndicated pieces ranking higher than the original content.
3. Only Spammy Duplication is Bad
It’s fairly vague to say that “duplicate content is not grounds for action unless its intent is to manipulate search results.”
Who determines what is manipulative, and how is that factored or identified?
That’s what the algorithm is for.
If any piece of widely duplicated content were flagged as bad, every major news story or popular article would get buried in hours – or less. As soon as a piece of news content is posted, it’s often copied time and again, distributed across the web manually by bloggers or scrapped by aggregators.
It happens every second, of every day. Matt Cutts even admits that as much as 30% of the web is duplicate content.
Those sites that duplicate news or repost share-worthy content aren’t getting slammed or penalized for how they handle content, because they’re not directly trying to manipulate search rank.
If you’re still concerned, there’s a simple approach to avoid ever being flagged as spammy with duplicating content.
Just be selective.
Instead of syndicating everything you produce, only share the best content.
This is the approach Wordstream takes.
You can see from the data above that content duplication and syndication isn’t jamming up the organic traffic for Wordstream at all.
One of the main reasons I suggest being selective…
You still want to have something original to share!
If you’ve got tried and true channels for syndication, you want any referral traffic coming from those sites to have access to something new and fresh on your site.
It doesn’t do you any good if they land on your blog only to find that they’ve read everything already.
The most successful content marketers only syndicate the best content from their supply, keeping plenty in reserve to engage that referral traffic when it arrives.
4. Be the First Out of the Gate
If you’re going to syndicate content, but you’re concerned about duplication and other sites being seen as the original source, then just make sure your original version of the content is first to be indexed.
That’s as simple as waiting a week or two after publishing before you start submitting the content to other websites.
Rather than sitting around waiting for a crawler to find the new content, speed it along in Google Search Console.
Just log in, click the “Crawl” selection in the menu and choose “fetch as Google.” Direct Google to your content and click “Fetch.”
Once your content is indexed, you’re clear to syndicate and post to other channels without worrying about your own content outranking itself on another publication.
5. Sharing Duplicate Content? Use Rel=Canonical
Another method to ensure that Google recognizes the original piece of content is to label that content with a rel=canonical tag.
With this tag, you simply need to add a line of code to the header of an article or post that points back to your site.
Like this: <link rel=”canonical” href=http://www.yourblog.com/content>
Placing this canonical tag in syndicated content will let the crawler know that the original content is on your site, at the link provided in the tag.
When All Else Fails, Repurpose
If you’re not trying to do anything dirty, underhanded or spammy to gain the search results, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Duplicate your content, syndicate to your favorite channels and get it in front of your audience.
With that said, I’ll always take the stance that original content trumps all.
Post the original content on your site, then repurpose that content for distribution to other channels. It’s a little more time consuming, but it gives you clean and original content from all angles.
Another approach is to keep that unique content on your website, then repurpose it for a site like LinkedIn. From there, continue to syndicate the repurposed piece so there’s zero chance of it impacting the original content on your blog.
There’s very little chance of duplicate content impacting your content marketing strategy or search visibility – especially if you’re naturally syndicating your content.
If you want to ensure you never have an issue, stick to the facts and tips above and you’ll stay in the clear when producing, sharing and promoting your content.