Why Duplicate Content Is Good For You

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There are only two things that matter in SEO: writing great content for your users, and building links into that content. Everything else is a distraction.

This advice comes from Dan Crow, the Product Manager for Google Crawl Systems, who speaks regularly at SEO conferences. Forget everything else, he says, just focus on two things: great content and great links.

We’ve built our SEO content agency around that philosophy, so we don’t worry about all the details like keyword density, 301 redirects, or even duplicate content. In our experience, Google will overlook all those things, if you just focus on great content and great links.

To illustrate, here’s a case study on why duplicate content is not so bad, and can actually help you achieve top rankings.

Our client has a credit card finder website that he wanted to rank on the keyword “credit card concierge.” First, we focused on the content, coming up with an idea about using a credit card concierge service to perform silly errands for us, then rating them on the speed and efficiency with which they completed our insane tasks.

We wrote the piece, posted it to the client site, then focused on building links into it. It wasn’t long before we had achieved a Google top ten ranking for the keyword “credit card concierge”:

Then we reached out to Tim Ferriss, the New York Times bestselling author of The Four Hour Workweek. Tim specializes in “lifestyle design” services, and we thought credit card concierge services would be up his alley. We asked him for a link back, but Tim liked the piece enough to republish it on his blog … word-for-word, with a small text link at the bottom crediting the client’s site.

The traditional SEO response would be to turn down this offer and/or run screaming in terror, because of the “duplicate content” issue. We’ve all heard that Google will penalize duplicate content, you’ll lose your rankings, and the rivers will turn to blood. But we asked the two fundamental questions. Was it good content? (Yes.) Was it a good link? (Oh yes.)

The results were incredible. As soon as Tim published the piece on his blog, it went megaviral (which is bigger than “viral” but smaller than “gigaviral”), receiving hundreds of retweets, Diggs, and reposts. The blog post ultimately landed on the homepage of StumbleUpon.com, where it received over 300,000 Stumbles!

For the client, that one link from Tim’s blog resulted in hundreds of new customers to his site — all those people who read about the credit card concierge service wanted to sign up for it. And best of all, our client kept his ranking on the Google Top 10 — now sharing it with a newcomer: Tim’s repost of the article.

So here we clearly see that the “duplicate content” helped everyone involved. Tim got increased search rankings, and a load of viral traffic. The client got increased search rankings, and a load of new customers. Users got great content, and a load of chuckles.

Create great content for your users. Then build links back into that content.

When we relentlessly focus on these two fundamentals, everybody wins — our clients, our users, and ourselves. That “circle of goodness” is what Google is looking for, more than site map optimization or META tags.

But the circle extended even further. A few weeks later, I called Chase Visa, the credit card we used for the concierge experiment. It seemed the piece had caused quite a stir at the company, with a flood of new applications for the service. “It’s actually been a fantastic marketing piece for us,” the concierge confided. “And quite frankly, I thought it was hilarious.”

Great content and great links. Everybody wins.

John Hargrave
John Hargrave is the Editor-in-Chief of comedy site ZUG.com, and author of the bestselling humor books Prank the Monkey and Mischief Maker's Manual.
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  • Mike Wilton

    I think the whole “duplicate content” bit is greatly misunderstood by clients and SEO's alike. One, there is no duplicate content penalty. That being said, it can definitely be problematic when looking at which site is going to rank better for the content. In many instances a more authoritative site will outrank the original content, however in your example this is ok because there is a link back to the original source. I think the key here is quality, in both the content and the link. Quality content is going to fair a lot better as duplicate content than just dumping a general garbage article on your site and across the web. Furthermore a link back to the source is vital not only for conversion rates, but also in case the duplicated piece gains more leverage than the original and by chance outranks it.

    • John Hargrave

      Mike: Agreed — quality is job #1. Thanks for the feedback.

    • Bogdan Oltean

      The facts described in the article are not even close to “duplicate content” as an SEO should consider, because the texts were published across different domains at different time stamps.
      There is a “duplicate content FILTER”, however, which is to be taken into account. But only when we're talking about the same domain.

    • Astrit Kita

      You are right about that, there is no “penalty” for duplicate content, BUT there is a “duplicate content FILTER” which should filter the duplicate content and credit the original one. However that doesn't have to mean that it always happens, especially when the duplicate content is published in an authoritative site.

  • Raza


    Your past two posts to SEJ have been great. I forgot what it was, but I remember it was GOOD. I think it something to do with humor.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the story. Good, actionable advice. Leslie Rohde also says not to sweat the details. Just get busy hustling for links and building content. The rest will sort itself out.


    • Raza

      So here's my next question. Since we know how much Tim…er… loves email, how did you contact him?

      Was it via a blog comment, Twitter, or his favorite mode of communication: email?


      • Jhargrave

        Raza, thanks for the nice comments. By email.

  • Mark Atkinson

    Great post. I love your “philosophy” approach to SEO, as this is exactly how I approach my own SEO.

    If you create great content, you will get great links and consequently, great traffic. In my opinion, too much time and money is spent on trivial SEO practices. Thanks for reminding us all of this, and hopefully allowing SEO-enthusiasts to “see the light” 🙂

  • grahunt

    I have had a similar experience this week. I made on of those Hitler videos about the 30Day Challenge (Just Google Hitler 30DC) and it got Dugg, Retweeted etc… In fact Ed Dale then put the video with a nice link back to my site in his blog. Am I bothered. Not at all. Just thinking how useful that link will be in the future.

  • Paribal

    Your questions:
    Was it good content? (Yes.) Was it a good link? (Oh yes.)
    My question is:
    Was it original content? (No, it was not.)
    Another aspect: you do not talk about conversion (how many click throughs it resulted in to the original copy) and also ignore the fact that where the article was republished is a trusted site not an article sharing site.
    To put it another way: would you like anybody to copy your article (and put it on dozens of sites) in the same way and thus make duplication of this article on SEJ (with a backlink of course) – in order to justify what you are saying? In other words – one example of republishing an original article done in the right way (as seo-s suggest) does not justify that google does not frown upon on duplicate content. The social part and overall marketing targets is a different story – I am talking from the point of view of a good website – like SEJ.

  • shweth

    Google never “penalized” duplicate content. So, how does the copier also rank? Isn't this a google algoritmic flaw? Just because it happened to be a trusted site (can u really trust it now?) in the eyes of google, they didn't dump it, despite the fact that the author chose the easy route of copying the content word by word.This will send wrong signal to other content mashups that will go on more content copying spree.

  • Steve john

    Excellent Post! I am very glad to find yous great posts. Your web content makes or breaks the profitability of your site.Content is what gets you in search engines, speaks to visitors, and ultimately decides the success or failure of your site. When Is Duplicate Content Acceptable?
    Example: The same product listings on two different sites. If you want to include a product listing on two sites that you both own, the search engines may be able to tolerate the case.

  • Grow Clicks

    This is a scenario where this works to a clients' advantage, however, ALWAYS use a canonical in your links when having duplicate content

  • Manjunath D S

    Thanks for sharing. It is a general opinion that search engines like original content. In contrast, as your post points that links and goodness factor that matter most in page ranking, mostly. This article helped me to clear my doubts on duplicate content.

  • jr1955

    The real beauty of this approach is that everyone wins: A) Users get to read interesting and useful content B) Google gets to meet the need of what the searcher is looking for by providing the interesting and useful content in its results and C) The website gets increased traffic both from Google and from referral traffic from its loyal users

  • JeromeC

    A Win-Win situation :)) When I was reading your post, I didn't expect that Tim was duplicating your content but it went miraculously! Well done 😀

  • Queen007

    Great post Jon!!

    I'm trying to make my way through Google 1st page for Mobile Monopoly Web Marketing strategies and I found you in the first page of my searching.
    I will be applying the tips asap.
    Can you post a list of possible people willing to the same you mention here?

  • בניית אתרים

    great post that was engraved in my memory and now coming back to it because i have the same dillema with my own site (it’s in hebrew).
    someone just offered to publish one of my posts on her site that has a lot of audience, much more then mine.
    so i believe i sould go for it, right?
    BTW, today more then a year after your case study, Tim Ferris Blog is ranking #1 at “credit card concierge” and the chaser is #4.