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We're taught in elementary school that it's against the rules to copy other students' work. Despite this warning, many of us probably cheated once or twice. Maybe you got caught. Maybe you didn't.

Regardless of what may have happened in elementary school, maybe you're considering using text content on your website that was written by someone else. Maybe you're planning to copy and paste words from another website, perhaps because you don't have time to write your own text or because you feel that your competitors have already done a great job with their writing and there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

If this is your plan, I have some bad news for you. School is in session. Google is running the classroom. And if you cheat, Google will catch you.

Search Engines Want New Information

A search engine's job is to index important information and to display this information when a user requests it. Search engines send crawlers throughout the internet to scan and record whatever information is available. This information comes in the form of website or web pages. When Google crawls a website, it develops an idea of what that website is about and decides where and how to add the site to the Google index.

As you can imagine, the text content on your website is one of the most important factors Google analyzes to learn what your website is about and how it should be indexed. It is definitely not the only factor or even necessarily the most important factor, but it's a very significant factor.

For this reason, copying text content from another website—especially a competitor's website—can cause serious problems for you. This is because Google will conclude that your website is essentially the same as the website you copied from. After all, it contains the same text.  And when Google sees that your website is the same as another website they've already added to their index, they will ignore yours. Your site won't be added to the index. It won't appear when someone types in a relevant keyword. In Google's eyes, your site doesn't add any new information to their index, so there's no reason to include it.

The reason why Google does this is simple, actually. Let me give an example.

Suppose I want to learn how to change a tire. I might type “how to change a tire” into Google. Google will then show me a list of websites and web pages that talk about how to change a tire.  Google wants to provide the best and most relevant information to me, the user, so that I will continue using their search engine. I don't want to read the same exact text over and over again as I dig through the search results trying to learn about changing tires. Once I've read the information provided by the first website on the search result page, I don't want the second website on the search result page to say the exact same thing; that doesn't do me any good. Because Google wants to provide me the best possible experience and the most relevant and valuable information, they aren't going to add a website to their index that contains the exact same information as another website.

It's as simple as that. If your website's text is copied directly from another website, you probably aren't going to see your site indexed in Google.

Duplicate Content Penalties

What happens if you only copy a small amount of text from another website? What if your website as a whole provides a great deal of new, interesting, valuable, original content, but you copied just a few pages from another site? Will Google ignore your whole website simply because you've copied a small portion of it?

The answer, of course, is no. But Google will ignore or devalue the copied text, which will hurt the authority of your site overall.

Because Google wants to avoid listing the same information multiple times in their index, their crawlers check automatically to see whether any text on your website is copied from another website.  Any copied text they find won't be used to evaluate or rank your website. It will be considered a mark against your site, a sign that your site is not as authoritative as other sites that don't copy content.

This is the penalty for having what's called “duplicate content” on your site. To avoid this penalty, make sure the text content you use on your site is entirely original, written just for your website and not copied from anywhere else on the web. In addition, avoid using similar content or paraphrases that closely mirror the text on other sites, as this can potentially be harmful as well.

A Few Ways to Avoid Duplicate Content

The following aspects of your website can dramatically affect your search performance—if they're handled properly. Read on for a few important tips on avoiding duplicate content penalties.

Blogging - Blogging is one of the most effective ways to incorporate new, original text content into your website on a regular basis. Yet many business owners prefer to copy and paste blog posts from other websites, including news sites and trade journals, which may seem less harmful. It's not. Copying content of any kind, even news stories, is considered duplicate content. Write original blog posts for your website.

Product Descriptions - Even though product descriptions are typically very short and are often standardized, don't simply copy the manufacturer's descriptions. This may sound like a difficult task, but if you're selling products that are also sold on other sites, it's important that you write original product descriptions for them. This is a good opportunity for you to make your site more interesting and valuable than your competitors' sites.

User Reviews - Google and other search engines highly value opinion pieces and personal reviews, because this content tends to be unique and original by definition. If a customer writes a positive review on your website, this review most likely hasn't been written anywhere else online—customers typically don't write the same review multiple times in multiple places. Encourage your customers to review your products or services, as this can help make your website stand out to search engines.