Google Confirms “Edge Cases” When Content Theft Can Cause Negative Effects

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Roger Montti
Roger Montti SEJ STAFF
Google Confirms “Edge Cases” When Content Theft Can Cause Negative Effects

A web publisher submitted a question centering on whether duplicate articles, presumably stolen content, can have a negative effect on a website. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that stolen content can negatively affect a sites rankings. Google’s John Mueller confirmed in a webmaster hangout that there are “edge” cases that do in fact affect a sites rankings.

Can Stolen Content Affect Site Ranking?

There are numerous discussions in Google’s Webmaster Help forums complaining about content thieves that are outranking the original publisher. Sometimes the content thieves may be outranking the original site for small snippets of content, but not necessarily for actual keywords that people use.

Google’s John Mueller confirmed that there are “edge cases” in which stolen content may negatively affect a site.

While that may give the impression that the stolen content is outranking the original publisher, these “snippet searches” can be considered extremely long tail and quite likely aren’t properly ranked because Google search tends to falter on extreme long tail type searches. Which is why Rank Brain was invented.

The best way to diagnose whether stolen content is negatively affecting rankings is if the affected site has lost rankings and or the content thief is ranking with keyword phrases that searchers actually use.

Stolen Content and Negative Effect on Ranking

This phenomenom has been happening for a long time. Despite Google’s best efforts, web publishers are still reporting a ngative effect from content theft. Here is a partial list of publishers complaining about content thieves outranking the original publisher:

Stolen content from my site ranked on 1st position, my original – not visible. Why?

Content Stolen by Someone and lost Traffic and Keyword Ranking – Help me Out

HELP! Spam copy site ranking better than my site with the original content

Site With Stolen Content Ranks Higher

These SOB’s are Copying and Rewriting My Content and Out Ranking Me. Get ’em Google

Confirmation that Stolen Content Can Negatively Affect a Site

“Do duplicate articles with the same links get ignored by Google or does (it have) a negative effect on Google? Do you suggest disavowing dupliate article links as they’re copied without our authorization? “

The question is somewhat vague. But Google’s John Mueller discusses it from the point of view of stolen content. Here is how John Mueller responded:

“Is this like other people are copying your content and you’re wondering if that’s having a negative effect on your site?

So assuming that other people are copying your content, for the most part that’s something we deal with fairly well. Sometimes there are edge cases that make it a little harder for us to deal with…

Takeaway – The Impact on Web Publishers

John Mueller goes on to advise the web publisher that they may have legal options such as the DMCA process. What is important in his answer is that John Mueller confirms that there are “edge cases” that can affect how Google handles stolen content. However, as I pointed out above, just because Google ranks a content thief higher for snippets of content does not necessarily mean the content thief is outranking the original site.

It’s a different story if the content thief is outranking the original site with actual keyword phrases, and these kinds of cases do seem to be rare, meaning that Google is doing a good job keeping content thieves from benefiting from stolen content. Should Google ban content thieves altogether from the index? How do you feel about content theft?

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Roger Montti

Roger Montti

Roger Montti is an SEO Consultant with nearly 20 years of experience. He is also an independent web publisher of ... [Read full bio]