The stolen content debate: Google ranks duplicate content – is this problematic?

At the beginning of this week, John Mueller (@johnmu) the Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, spoke about the topic that continues to plague the SEO industry – Duplicate Content – on the Webmaster Central office-hours hangout.

The topic soon turned to stolen content when someone asked if their authority in Google had been redirected to Ebay because their product descriptions had been pinched and put on there.

John Mueller replied that Google usually tries to make a decision on which content is the canonical version, to determine which one gets indexed.

 

Google admits that it ranks stolen content – but only if it’s “serving a unique purpose”

John also states that Google can look at two pages (the original and the dupe copy), and, if they appear to be unique and serving different purposes, can return both pages depending on the user intent when searching.

He says: “So from that point of view, it’s not that they’re hijacking your search results, or that there’s anything kind of problematic happening there. It’s just a matter of our search algorithms trying to figure out which one of these pages is the more relevant one in which situation when someone is searching.”

 

Pi research shows that even content on irrelevant sites can replace original content in Google

While John Mueller may have put your minds at ease, we at Pi are afraid that it isn’t as simple as that. Why? Because we’ve conducted our own stolen content tests and research disproving this exact point.

We found that neither domain age, nor authority, nor even relevancy played a part in determining and cementing the ranking of original content.

Using our sister site in an approved test, we toppled digital publication giant Econsultancy for both short and medium tail search terms, dragging their content out of the top 100 – content which, incidentally, had little relevance to our site. We even managed to partially replace them for long tail searches, if only for a few days before they returned to their original ranking.

Our clients have also faced issues with reseller sites such as Ebay and Amazon appropriating their content from product pages, and usurping them in Google – even for a seemingly insignificant amount of copy.

 

Industry opinion and general consensus

People have commented on the SEO roundtable article with similar concerns, stating that Google needs to do more to protect original content. The general consensus is DMCA complaints are too lengthy and are ultimately ineffective as an option for reporting stolen or duplicate content.