“Hey, I could just create a huge repository of industry-specific content and sell it over and over to clients in those industries!” said a whole lot of companies at one time. This was years ago when the world of SEO was way more Wild West than in 2019.

A few major algorithm updates, and that approach’s power died fast. (And for good reason; this added web pollution faster than almost anything else.)

The funny thing is, that tactic is still active today despite long being useless. Some agencies say things like, “Well actually, Google says that duplicate content doesn’t really hurt your site.”

Sigh. Two things:

1. That’s a convenient interpretation of Google rep quotes, but misleading.

In the strictest interpretation Google spokespeople like Matt Cutts have made comments in the past saying that Google shifted regarding duplicate content. It may not directly penalize a website with a bunch of duplicate content anymore, which is the bit that these agencies latch onto.

But here’s the second part of that statement that they’ve conveniently left out:

…but Google does ignore duplicate content. That takes us to the second point.

2. Duplicate content may not penalize you per se, but it’s also meaningless.

If Google has already indexed a page on a site elsewhere with that same content, and then sees big chunks of it again on your website, it usually ignores it entirely. It may not ding your site’s rankings unless that’s basically your whole website.

And if your site was built using re-purposed content, it very likely makes up the majority of the site’s content.

Buuuuuut, how you rank in the first place is so largely dependent on your content and links to it that relying on material being ignored will lead you precisely nowhere.

That means that Google will largely ignore your website because you’re not contributing anything new. Even if you could still rank with a site full of the same content as 12 other websites, do you think that would create a good impression on readers?

Half of SEO is gaining rankings, the other half is turning those clicks into something meaningful, after all.

Reused, re-purposed, regurgitated and re-sold content usually wasn’t even good content to begin with since it was made expressly to be quickly produced and copy/pasted a hundred times.

When you’re relying on SEO to drive business for you, “duplicate content doesn’t hurt you” just doesn’t cut it.

One caveat: Reusing a paragraph from one page of your site on another site because it’s perfectly worded (not worth redoing) and contextually relevant both places is fine and won’t create the issue we’re talking about here. Archive pages for blogs and such also technically duplicate material on your site, but Google understands this and this too is not what we’re talking about here.

Why do people say this, then?

Ok, so this is one of those moments where the honest answer sounds a little like throwing shade. But we’re after the truth, right? Even if it stings a little?

Having done a lot of research on this topic over the years, as far as I can tell the most likely cause is this: People saying this invested a lot of time and energy into old systems, old methods, and gigantic repositories of content that they’ve made a lot of money reselling over the years.

It’s laziness.

You can’t sell re-purposed content for much because it’s useless, so some people mark their prices down hard so they can offer bottom dollar SEO that appeals to small businesses who don’t know better.

After all, making even a little bit on stuff you built or paid for years ago is still better than making nothing. And since everybody has heard that content is king, literally adding some kind of content has to be good, right?

There really isn’t any other reason I can see for statements like, “duplicate content doesn’t hurt your site,” to exist other than that in a business context. (Other than a troubling lack of SEO understanding.)

The only reason this duplicated and re-sold content isn’t plagiarism is that the original creator has licensed it to be used with permission a zillion times. But that’s a pretty fine line, and the end result for the user is basically the same as blatantly stealing content from your competitors.

It’s hard to talk about bits of SEO like this and not be a little charged, since in my opinion this is one of the worst pollutants of the internet there is. But I shoot straight and owe my readers the simple truth without politician-y feel good answers.

I hope that’s helpful.