A Step-by-Step Guide on Using Duplicate Content


In this post, I outline SEO basics related to duplicate content, put-to-rest the three most common duplicate content myths, and give you another three ways you can use duplicate content to win more traffic and increase engagement on your website.

At the crux of effective content marketing is delivering high-quality content that your audience loves. But to be honest, most content marketers don’t think this way. Instead of putting in the hard work to define their target audience, they write for Google.

News flash—Google is not your target audience.

They don’t even do a great job at helping you find your target audience unless you know them first. I’ll prove it. In their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, Google states, “Focusing too hard on specific tweaks to gain ranking in the organic results of search engines may not deliver the desired results. Search engine optimization is about putting your site's best foot forward when it comes to visibility in search engines, but your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.”

To be most effective as a content marketer, you’ll need to start thinking about the real humans who visit your site. Who are they? What problems do they have? How can you help them solve those problems through relevant content? Stop worrying about SEO, and start thinking about your customer. Give them the information they're looking for.

If your customer is the at the heart of your content marketing efforts, you’ll be successful, and probably even develop outstanding SEO in your industry. As I learned from Jeremy Sanchez, CEO of Global Strategies, “SEO isn’t something you do, it’s what happens when you’re doing everything else right.” From my research and experience, he’s spot on.

But, everyday, I run into content marketers who say, “won't Google penalize me duplicate content, tank my SEO, and flag my site as SPAM?!?”

A few years ago, the answer would be yes, mainly due to Google’s dislike of duplicate content. Today, the SEO landscape is completely different. Republishing and duplicating content can be a smart and profitable tactic if executed properly.

What is duplicate content, and why does it matter?

As best stated by Moz, “Duplicate content is content that appears on the Internet in more than one place (URL).” In other words, duplicate content exists when any two (or more) web pages share the same content, whether that be a blog post, website homepage, landing page, etc.

When there are multiple pieces of identical content on the Internet, it can be difficult for search engines like Google to decide which version is more relevant to a given search query.

In a KissMetrics article on duplicate content, Andy Crestodina resonated with my experience when he wrote, “The words “duplicate content penalty” strike fear in the hearts of marketers. People with no SEO experience use this phrase all the time. Most have never read Google’s guidelines on duplicate content. They just somehow assume that if something appears twice online, asteroids and locusts must be close behind.” The cold hard truth is that most content marketers who put their foot down on duplicate content have never read Google’s Duplicate Content Guidelines or their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

There are two kinds of duplicate content

According to Google’s duplicate content guidelines, duplicate content is split into two categories:

  1. Legally licensed, user compliant duplicate content

  2. Deceptive, malicious, illegal duplicate content

The former is strategic, legal, and is even encouraged, while the latter is discouraged, and definitely more of legal issue than an SEO issue.

An excellent example of legally licensed, user compliant duplicate content is Capgemini, one of the world’s foremost providers of consulting, technology and outsourcing services. Instead of creating their own content, they utilize a licensed content model, featuring articles from top publications like Forbes, Fast Company, Financial Times, The Next Web, CIO, and more.

How does it work?

According to this article by Rich Kreisman, principal partner of Kreisman Information Consulting, “content licensing is a publisher's distribution of its intellectual property to any third party. The distribution is usually exchanged for some type of value—it can be cash (an annual license fee) or traffic/referrals that a publisher converts to a print subscription or page views containing advertising that it monetizes on its own website.”

When a company licenses content from another company, they’ll agree to a contract where certain requirements need to be met.

On the other hand, non-malicious duplicate content could include these examples found in Google's duplicate content guidelines:

  • Discussion forums that can generate both regular and stripped-down pages targeted at mobile devices

  • Store items shown or linked via multiple distinct URLs

  • Printer-only versions of web pages

Why does it matter?

Duplicate content on any site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.

According to Barry Schwartz, author at Search Engine Land, duplicate content issues are rarely a penalty. It is more about Google knowing which page they should rank and which page they should not. Google doesn’t want to show the same content to searchers for the same query; they do like to diversify the results to their searchers.

Google’s Matt Cutts, former Head of Webspam, said it for himself in the video below, “I wouldn’t stress about this unless the content that you have duplicated is spammy or keyword stuffing.”

Now, since I’ve laid out a foundation for what duplicate content is and why it matters, let’s dive into three common myths about duplicate content that I hear everyday.

3 Common myths about duplicate content

It’s no questions that there’s a lot of confusion and negativity around duplicate content practices. I’d encourage you and your business to take an open approach and read into these three common myths.

1. Re-publishing guest posts on your own site will be penalized

If you do a fair amount of guest blogging, this is for you. Your typical guest posting strategy probably looks like this: write high-quality content for a blog much bigger than your own to gain traction, backlinks, and authority for your site.

It’s tempting to republish that some content on your own blog, but oftentimes the editor of the original blog won’t let you. Why? Because they simply don’t understand some of the tactical details regarding content marketing and SEO.

This happened to me on the very first guest post I ever wrote. The author, still a great friend of mine, didn’t want me to republish any content with the fear of taking away authority from his site. At the time, I knew nothing about content marketing and SEO, but I was still able to convince him that I could at least publish a teaser. Did either of us get penalized? Nope.

Other times, you’ll guest blog and the editor will encourage you to republish the post on your own site after a few weeks go by. They know that Google isn’t confused. In both cases, it never hurts to add a simple HTML tag in the post or page header called the Canonical URL Tag. It looks like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="example.com />

In 2009, the search engines banded together to create this tag, according to Dr. Peter J. Meyers, so that, “when search engines arrive on a page with a canonical tag, they attribute the page to the canonical URL, regardless of the URL they used to reach the page.”

For example, if instead of first publishing this article on my blog, I published it Moz.com and then republished to my blog a few weeks later, I could simply add the rel=”canonical” tag to the article header and it would remind Google’s scrapers which was the original version.

2. Non-original content on your site will hurt your domain

Since 1997, Google has been separating and sorting through duplicate content. And since, hundreds, thousands, millions of content had been duplicated and republished online. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that a huge percentage of the internet itself is duplicate content.

Is that a problem? As we’ve already discussed, in most cases, no.

But there are exceptions. Let me share a story with you from Andy Crestodina, Strategic Director of Orbit Media. In this story, one of his projects went south.

“The day a new website went live, a very lazy PR firm copied the home page text and pasted it into a press release. They put it out on the wire services, immediately creating hundreds of versions of the home page content all over the web. Alarms went off at Google and the domain was manually blacklisted by a cranky Googler. It was ugly. Since we were the web development company, we got blamed. We filed a reconsideration request and eventually the domain was re-indexed.”

That would suck! Most likely, that’s probably never happened to you, and don’t worry because it probably won’t. But let’s look a little deeper—what really happened here?

First, the homepage was copied. The home page is the most crucial for SEO rankings on your domain.

Second, hundreds of copies were made. No human can literally publish hundreds of copies of the same content on domains across the internet, so Google assumes it’s a hack. There were also no rel=”canonical” tags put in place to clearly tell Google that each domain was simply copying the original content.

Third, it all happened at the same time. Since I’ve never experienced this myself, I’m not exactly sure how it worked, but hundreds of duplicate actions across the internet could’ve been easily marked as spam by Google’s Webspam team.

3. Duplicate content is illegal

To be clear, deceptive and malicious duplicate content is illegal. On the other hand, it is not illegal to duplicate content, or properly use legally licensed, user compliant duplicate content.

The concept itself is pretty simple. If you’re ripping off other people’s articles and website copy, they have a good reason to be pissed. If you think you might be stepping on toes, just ask. Be willing to pay for it, and set up a clear contract for when, where, and how you’ll use their content.

Now, let’s look are three different ways you can legally use duplicate content to win more traffic and increase engagement for your blog or business.

3 strategic ways to utilize duplicate content on your website

Once you can see that duplicate content is not only common, but one of the best ways to produce engaging content, it’s time to start utilizing duplicate content in your content marketing strategy.

The first step of any of these methods is to establish goals that match your business model. For example, if you're trying to build traffic on your blog to capture leads, syndicating full article content out to partners might not be the best approach, whereas original content creation might be.

With that in mind, here are three strategic ways you can utilize duplicate content to win more traffic and increase engagement the right way:

1. Content licensing

Licensing quality content is a cost effective, smart, and effective way to increase engagement on your marketing channels.

Utilizing licensed content in your content marketing strategy will allow you to publish third-party full-text articles, complete with the required attribution text, in your brand’s owned channels.

As I mentioned above, an excellent example of legally licensed, user compliant duplicate content comes from Capgemini, one of the world’s foremost providers of consulting, technology and outsourcing services. Instead of creating their own content on their content website, they utilize a licensed content model, featuring articles from top publications across the web.

If you’re interested in licensing content for your business, you can always reach out to publishers independently, or you can invest in a world-class platform like NewsCred, which offers the world’s largest content marketplace. They license content from over 5,000 publishers, including 40M full-text articles covering 160K topics, 19 verticals, and five languages. By using their platform you’ll have access to high-quality content from publishers like Neilson, Food 52, The Guardian, New York Times, Forbes, BBC, Men’s Fitness, and many more.

2. Content syndication

You work hard to create high-quality content for your niche, and should get the most value out of it that you can. When you syndicate your content, you’re hoping to maximize the leverage of each piece of content you create to achieve the widest distribution possible. In other words, content syndication is the process of pushing your blog, site, or video content out into third-party sites, either as a full article, snippet, link, or thumbnail.

Many marketers put content licensing and content syndication in the same bucket. While they’re very similar, I believe that it’s easiest to think of it this way:

  • Content syndication as the act you do as a blogger to get more use (exposure, traffic, SEO) out of your content

  • Content licensing is a method content marketers use to find and publish existing, quality content on their blog or content site.

Think of content syndication like content distribution—something every successful content strategy needs, but many don’t have.

3. Digital sharecropping

Digital sharecropping is where you post your content first and foremost on a platform you don’t own or control. Right now at the start of 2016, this method is a rave.

The most common methods of digital sharecropping are Medium and LinkedIn. Famously, Basecamp puts their content marketing efforts into Medium, and they’ve grown quite a following there. Possibly an even bigger following than they could’ve on their own platform.

But the looming question I have is, what happens if Medium closes their doors? Unless you have all your content backed up and saved, you might lose it. I’ll tell you one thing for sure, using someone else’s platform to build anything that can’t be rebuilt easily makes me nervous. Like this famous cartoon says in reference to Facebook, “If you’re not paying, you’re not the customer; you’re the product.”

A content marketing veteran and thought leader I’ve come to respect, Brian Clark, turned me on to this idea. Feel free to listen to his wise thoughts and opinions on Unemployable Episode 29: Is Content Syndication Smart? While publishing your content first and foremost on Medium might not make sense, syndicating your content on that platform does. I could go into more details and strategies on how to make digital sharecropping work for your business, but I’ll leave that for another article.

How to report digital content abuse

There’s a big difference between duplicate content and copyright infringement. In the case that your business website has been ripped off (it happens), or you run into deceptive, malicious, illegal duplicate content, it’s serious business.

And let me tell you, you’ll be thinking about lawyers, not search engines. Check out this example from Orbit Media of a complete website ripoff, where they provide the correct steps to get things back to normal.

Additionally, if someday you’re syndicating or licensing content and Google gets confused, causing the duplicate version to outrank your original content, let Google know using their Scraper Report Tool.

Focus on providing value

In the end, the key to duplicate content, and any content in that matter, is to add value. Content is important—value is essential. As one of my online mentors says, “content isn’t king, value is.” I hope that these strategies help you win more traffic and increase engagement, and don’t forget to focus on using content to add value to your audience.

What do you think?

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Was this helpful to you and your work? How could I have made it better? What additional questions do you have? Let me know in the comments below.