Duplicate Content: Could Allowing Another Site to Copy Your Content Strip Your Website of Its Stripes?

When another blogger asks permission to share your content, it’s flattering. What a satisfying feeling to know others believe your insight is worth sharing with their audience. Most often, people will simply share your post’s link via their social channels or give your post mention in one of their posts. But occasionally, you may discover that someone who has asked permission to share your post has duplicated your post’s content entirely – the only difference between their content and yours being a note of attribution with a link to your original post.

Duplicate Content – Could an earnest, honest effort to raise awareness of your content get your website slapped by Google?

It happened to me just about a month ago. A very nice, professional, courteous connection asked if he could share my post via his channels provided he gave attribution. I was of course thrilled to give my approval. But when I discovered my post, including the title, was directly duplicated (aside from the attribution) on his blog, I felt my heart leap into my throat for a moment as visions of being penalized in search or ranking by Google played on my mind. Assuming the duplicate content could negatively affect both my site and his, I reached out to him and asked if he could alter his title, write an introductory blurb with an excerpt from my post, and then link to my blog rather than copying and pasting the entire article. He cooperated immediately; he hadn’t realized copying the content could potentially create problems for our sites.

We dodged that bullet, right? That’s what I thought, but then I noticed duplicate content shown by some other sites and began wondering if there was any bullet to dodge at all. For example, I ran across this blog that essentially copied and pasted this other blog’s post verbatim – title and all! And neither the syndicator nor the syndicated are novices or newbies!

What Google says about duplicate content.

According to its guidelines in the Webmaster’s Tools Help section of Google’s Support site, Google doesn’t automatically penalize sites for duplicate content; only if it perceives the duplication has been shown with intent to manipulate rankings and deceive Google search users.  The penalty if Google deems duplicate content was done in an attempt to game the system: “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.”

So, it sounds like we might have been in the clear after all. Surely, Google would be able to tell we weren’t trying to pull a fast one on them, right?

Maybe so, but after talking with a local online marketing and SEO expert, I feel like I made the right decision.

Real world observations about how duplicate content is treated by Google.

Owner of 1 Sky Media, John Oppenheimer, shares his insight and experience regarding the duplicate content issue…

Duplicate content has always been a concern for webmasters. Google has always suggested that duplicated content would not rank well. Their stance had been that the original copy would be indexed and potentially rank well, while subsequent copies would be ignored. In real world practice, however, this has not always been the case. We’ve had original test sites that have garnered the wrath of a Google penalty while later launched copies have lived on without issue. We’ve also had virtually duplicated sites that lived harmoniously.

In the winter of 2011, with the emergence of Google’s Panda algorithm update, the search world changed. Google’s policy regarding duplicate content grew some teeth. We witnessed duplicated sites/pages drop instantly from near the top of Google’s ranking to the basement floor. The handwriting had been on the wall for this for years, so it was really no surprise when the change came. Today, we suggest that if your website writings are to be copied that you request a delay in the copy such that your copy can be indexed first and hopefully gain recognition as the original source. We also suggest that an excerpt is better than a pure copy and that in either case a credit and link must be given on the copied text directly to the source page of the original.

Duplicate content: You decide.

With all that John shared, I’m confident the smart thing to do was play it safe, but you need to decide for yourself when someone asks to share your content. Have a policy in place about how you’ll want your content shared from someone else’s blog and follow up after it’s posted there to make sure your wishes have been carried through.

All in all, keeping in the clear just takes a minute or two of your time and some clear communication. And keep in mind that although we fuss and fret over the changes Google has made, ultimately they have vastly improved the user’s search experience.

In the words of John at 1 Sky Media:

Seems somewhat odd when you think about it, Google is nothing more than copies of all websites indexed, yet we must be concerned about copying! The enforcement of duplicate copy rules has in fact improved the search experience because we no longer need to go through page after page of virtually identical copy, supplied from different websites, whenever searching competitive topics.

Your turn: Have you let others copy and paste your content onto their blogs? Have you experienced any repercussions by Google as a result?

By Dawn Mentzer

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6 comments on “Duplicate Content: Could Allowing Another Site to Copy Your Content Strip Your Website of Its Stripes?
  1. Priya says:

    Hi Dawn,

    Thank you so much for writing this informative post! I have been thinking about ‘content duplication issue’ is on my mind since last Tuesday. It’s been haunting me and I’m so worried. What happened was I wrote a book review recently for an author I know via a website we contribute to. He asked for a copy and I forwarded it, without thinking much about it.

    Later he informed me that he’s published the content on his website along with another one. Turned out he published my blog post as it is without any change and without providing a link to my blog. I mean I get it that the review would help his novel and I’m happy to help. But the whole blog post? I can tell he’s happy that someone one liked his book and left a positive review. That realization makes the idea of taking any action even more difficult.

    After reading your article, I’m thinking if I should go ahead and ask him to take down those review copies or simply delete the one on my blog. Both options look grim from where I’m looking, one has the potential to destroy professional relationships I have built over a year and other maybe has potential to destroy something I’m trying to build, if I don’t take an action.

    Thank you again for writing about this issue.

    • Dawn says:

      Hi Priya! I’m glad the post came at a good time for you. Your situation with the book review is certainly a tricky one. Sorry to hear you’re faced with that scenario! Do you think it’s possible he doesn’t realize it’s common courtesy to link back to the original source of the content nor does he understand that posting the entire review verbatim could hurt both your site and his? If that’s the case (assuming he’s a logical, reasonable person!), what I would do in that situation is call him or send him an email thanking him for the exposure on his site, then go on to explain that I learned both our websites could possibly get penalized by having the exact same content. Then, I’d craft and give him some alternative content (in the way of an intro blurb to the review…a short excerpt quoted from it…and then a link to the full review on my site) for his website so he has something to replace the full copy of the post and doesn’t have to expend the time or energy to write something on his own. Again, I believe that’s the approach I’d take making some assumptions about the professionalism and reasonableness of the author! Of course, you’ll need to make the call on what you think is the best way to handle things, but I thought I’d share what my instincts would be if I were in a similar spot! Keep me posted! I hope it all works out just fine for you – and it’s great to see all the attention your writing is getting! You do good work!

  2. The act of plagiarism can be a very brutal battle and the fact that people intentionally copy and paste is totally not acceptable. I had a site called Bestimbusiness.com and posted a article about it and it can truly hurt the original owner of the content and you not even know it. It’s ok to link to a site but I wouldn’t allow a total copy and paste.

    • Dawn says:

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic. From all that I’m reading and what others are sharing, I believe your advice is most definitely the right advice. Outright copying and pasting entire articles is never a good idea – even with attribution. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

  3. Priya says:

    Hi Dawn,

    Thank you for taking time to respond to my predicament. I went ahead with the email and explained my concerns and requested him to make the changes required. His answer “he’s been doing it for a while and it hasn’t caused anyone involved any problems so far.’ Though, I don’t think any of these people are bloggers. Seems like I’m in for a long battle all because of my one stupid mistake.

    Anyways, thank you for your support and help :-)!

    • Dawn says:

      You’re welcome…I wish he’d be willing to cooperate. Just because duplicate content didn’t create any problems in the past doesn’t mean it won’t now. Google has changed a lot over the past year! I’m glad to see some really smart folks on Google+ had advice to share that might help you. With this particular situation being one single isolated incident, I’m optimistic it won’t create too much of an issue for you.

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