There is ongoing confusion around the issue of duplicate content, and how it affects search engine listings. The issue has been around for years.

In fact, I first started writing and talking to businesses about it nearly a decade ago.

While it’s fallen off the radar a little over the past few years, the issue has regained prominence again recently with increasing numbers of businesses pursuing multi-channel publishing to effectively reach their marketplace.

For example, are there duplicate content penalties if you cross-post content between different platforms?

Duplicate content myths – and bad advice based on them – abound.

So this post gives you the lowdown, with answers on important duplicate content questions, including the implications for publishing content across multiple content platforms.

FREE BONUS:
Download this information on duplicate content as a single page cheat sheet with all the main points you need to remember.

What Is Duplicate Content?

Here’s Wikipedia‘s definition:

Duplicate content is a term used in the field of search engine optimization to describe content that appears on more than one web page. The duplicate content can be substantial parts of the content within or across domains and can be either exactly duplicate or closely similar. When multiple pages contain essentially the same content, search engines such as Google can penalize or cease displaying the copying site in any relevant search results.

So it’s where content on Page A and Page B are the same. Or at least substantially similar.

Page A and Page B might be on the same website. Or they might be on different ones.

There might even be Pages C, D, E, F and others, all showing essentially the same content, with often minor variations.

Is this a problem?

As we’ll see, perhaps. But not always. And possibly not in the ways you might think.

Let’s first step out of the guise of website owner and into that of search engine user. (Yes, I know, most of us are both at the same time, but let’s just focus on the latter for now).

If you search on Google for something, would you expect to see something like the following?

(The results may have been doctored just a little!)

This shows what could happen if Google didn't have a duplicate content policy

Yes, obviously this is a fictional example. If you want to see the real results, run the search.

As you can see, all the results are basically returning the same content, with my post on LinkedIn Pulse imagined as duplicated across multiple websites.

But if this was the type of results page you frequently saw when using Google, how long do you think it would be before you went to check out a rival search engine? Bing, Yahoo or even DuckDuckGo would happily lap up the rapid shift in market share.

Instead, you want to see variety. Not the same content, dressed up a little differently.

A duplicate content policy is essential.

Google don’t want to deliver duplicated results to their users. And you don’t want to see them.

So, where duplicated versions of content exist – which are a natural part of the web, in fact, 25-30% of it – Google decides which page has the most authority. This page gets its wings and enjoys the adoration. The other pages disappear into search purgatory.

Makes sense when you think about it.

But what you want is for that page to be on your site.

Your website is your most important digital asset… For most sites the blog is or should be the content hub.
Jeff Bullas (@JeffBullas), #1 Content Marketing Influencer

What’s the “Duplicate Content Penalty”?

Any discussion of duplicate content invariably sees mention of the so-called duplicate content penalty.

And it’s this aspect that’s often most misunderstood.

Here’s an example of one such discussion I saw recently on a post about republishing blog content onto Medium (a platform I covered recently):

A common discussion about duplicate content concerns

A high proportion of website owners have similar concerns.

There Is No Duplicate Content Penalty

The truth is, there is no such penalty or punishment for duplicate content. Well, not really.

Here’s how Google actually handles duplicate content:

Duplicate content is not really treated as spam. It’s just something we need to make sure is ranked appropriately.
Matt Cutts

To summarize:

  • Duplicate content is an accepted, normal part of the web.
  • Most duplicate content is not manipulative or deceptive, nor does Google treat it as such.
  • It’s not something most normal website owners need to worry about.

The penalty really only applies to duplicated, spam content on your own site.

Let’s say you have a website full of boilerplate content where you’re switching in a few different keywords each time and trying to get each page ranked separately. It’s likely to be seen as manipulative practice, and unlikely to be the sort of site Google wants to rank.

Not only will such content – and your site as a whole – be demoted in search. You may also receive a manual spam action that completely removes the site from Google’s listings.

The following video from Google’s Michael Wyszomierski provides a full explanation of the type of content that may be seen as webspam, and end up penalized in their search results:

Dispelling Duplicate Content Myth #1

The main myth regarding duplicate content relates to having the same content on multiple third-party sites. Many believe this somehow translates into a duplicate content penalty for the supplier of the content.

In other words, if you guest post the same article (linking back to your site) across multiple blogs, many believe this would result in some kind of penalty.

The good news is this is completely untrue.

What is true, in terms of SEO, is that you won’t get much if any credit for each individual link. One may have some value. For others, it’s unlikely.

People often confuse the idea of a penalty with link value.

As explained further below, one instance of the content will be given all the authority. Because the other pages are duplicates of the same content, they will largely be discounted.

The only possible danger is where you are mostly or purely obtaining links through link networks, primarily in order to boost Google rankings. This may include some element of duplicating (often poor quality) content across third-party sites, such as in using private blog networks.

This is understandably viewed as deceptive and manipulative practice by Google, and dealt with through their Penguin update.

For most people though, this is unlikely to be an issue.

Before we take a look at the implications of duplicate content for multi-channel publishing, download a cheat sheet containing all the main points on duplicate content from this post so you have it to refer back to in future.

Duplicate Content… and Multi-Channel Publishing

Multi-channel publishing refers to publishing content across multiple content platforms to reach your audience on a greater scale than would otherwise be possible, and thereby build your online visibility and authority, often significantly.

So, rather than just publishing content on your blog as you may have done a few years or even months ago, the same content is reworked and repurposed across other platforms. These include Medium, LinkedIn Pulse, YouTube, social media channels, and so on.

Such multi-channel publishing is rapidly becoming a vital part of effectively building and attracting audiences to brands and businesses.

In terms of the benefits, I can’t say it better than top online influencer and online entrepreneur, Neil Patel:

It takes your content further faster than you could ever do on your own. It helps you build up a fan base that you may have never known existed. And it does this without a lot of effort on your part.
Neil Patel (@NeilPatel)

But it can go wrong if you simply duplicate content published on your own site directly onto other websites.

This reduces the authority of your own content.

Even where you publish the content on your own site first, and Google indexes it, by republishing the content on another site, you risk Google giving them the credit – not you.

Your own original content can end up as the duplicate, rather than the site you duplicated it to. They get the traffic from search, you don’t.

Do this regularly, and the traffic to your site as a whole starts to dip.

rel=”canonical”

One potential way to resolve this is to use the rel=”canonical” tag pointing back to the original content.

This tag is recognized by Google, along with other search engines like Yahoo and Bing, as indicating the page you would prefer to be listed in the rankings.

However, it’s not definitive, nor a directive. Google sees it only as a strong indication of your preference:

It’s a hint that we honor strongly. We’ll take your preference into account, in conjunction with other signals, when calculating the most relevant page to display in search results.
Google

In other words, there are no guarantees. If another page with the same content is judged superior for whatever reason, it may well usurp your own.

Content Repurposing

The most effective way to ensure you retain (and in fact, build) the authority of the content on your own site, is through content repurposing.

This involves reworking the content to suit the platform you are publishing on.

Sometimes it involves different media completely. So a post on your blog can become the basis of a podcast episode, a YouTube video, or a SlideShare presentation.

For written content, it means rewriting and reformulating it as necessary.

For example, a blog post can become the basis of one or more answers to questions on Quora. You can then also link back to the post in question (when approached in the right way!) to help support your business. Note: a full guide on how to use Quora for business is available here.

A longer-form blog post can also become a shorter article for say Medium or a Quora blog, written to suit the characteristics of the audience in question.

While, for the reasons outlined above, you shouldn’t post the exact same content on your own blog elsewhere, you can cross-post between different third-party sites.

So you might for example have the same content on Medium, LinkedIn Pulse, a Quora blog, and say a Tumblr blog. What’s more, it’s a task easily passed to someone else to take care of for minimum cost.

This allows you to advantage of a large potential audience for your content on these platforms, while minimizing the time investment required.

However…

There are advantages (to be aware of at least) in going the extra mile, and crafting the content for each platform.

Higher Engagement

Rather than posting the exact same content verbatim between platforms, small (and relatively quick) changes can individualize and nativize it for the platform in question. It lets the audience know you are speaking directly to them.

It can be as simple as referencing the platform you are on.

So, for a post on Medium, you might reference other Medium writers or previous posts you’ve written on the same platform.

Similarly, for a Quora blog post, you might refer to a relevant question or topic, or mention one or more Quora users.

Try making the content more native by mentioning say a user, topic or question on Quora

Different platforms also have different styles of content that do well and a certain subculture, which you come to recognize and appreciate the more you use them. The more your content taps into and takes advantage of this, the better reach it will enjoy.

By nativizing the content in this way, you build engagement. This can help the content reach significantly more people on the platform.

Higher Search Engine Visibility

One of the main advantages from cross-channel publishing comes from the significant audiences already on the platforms in question.

However, there’s also the opportunity for the content on these platforms to build traffic through search.

If you have the same content across different platforms, their search visibility will be limited.

But if the content is rewritten and reformulated for each platform, you multiply your potential search visibility. In fact, it’s often easier to rank content on an authority platform than it is to rank similar content on your own site.

It’s also far easier and quicker to rewrite content that’s already been created, than to start from scratch. This makes it relatively straightforward to hire a writer to take care of it for you on a regular basis, or use someone suitable in-house.

Conclusion

To Conclude

As I’ve shown, duplicate content issues are easy to avoid when you know how.

Is there anything that still seems unclear with duplicate content? Let me know.

Finally, make sure you download the duplicate content cheat sheet. It’s a free single page, printable PDF with all the main points from above for you to refer back to in future.