John Mueller explained why Google may rank plagiarized content over the original content in a Google SEO Office-hours hangout. He explained that this can happen when the publisher of the original content is low quality overall.
John Mueller’s answer was in the context of a question about why an article thief will outrank the publisher of the original content.
Another Site Outranking With Copied Content
The person asking the question was concerned about being outranked by another site using content copied from their site.
He asked John Mueller if Google was able to tell which site is the original content publisher and which site published the copy.
The person asked:
“Can you tell me if someone who is copying my content consistently and ranking better than us, …what could be the factors which we should look into or what measures we should take…?”
DMCA is a Legal Action
Mueller first discussed filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint. That’s a legal process that applies to publishers in the United States.
The person followed up the question by asking if the Google is able to tell the difference between original content and the plagiarized content.
John Mueller began his answer by affirming that Google can tell which site is the original publisher of the content.
Then he explained why in some cases Google would rank a plagiarizer over the publisher of the original content.
“From my point of view it’s something that we can determine to a large extent.
But even if we know which one is the original and which one is the copy, sometimes it makes sense to show a copy in the search results.
So that’s something where it’s like it can happen.
And one of the situations where I have seen this happen consistently is if a website is of lower quality overall, where when our systems look at it they’re like, well we can’t really trust this website.
But if a higher quality website were to take some of this content and publish it, we would say, well we know more about this website and actually maybe we should show this content in the search results.
That’s also one of the situations that you might be running into where maybe it’s worthwhile to also invest in improving the quality of your website overall.
So not just that one article that apparently people like. But also the rest of your website overall.”
Why Would Google Not Trust a Website?
There are many reasons why Google might not trust a website.
If Google is ranking another site with the plagiarized content, then maybe the quality issue is not the content, so it’s fairly safe to set aside content as a quality issue and review other factors.
What’s left to consider among the important quality issues are low quality inbound and outbound links.
Along with the content itself, inbound and outbound links are arguably the most important quality issues.
Another factor that could cause Google to not trust a site is a poisoned domain.
There have been rare cases where a domain is poisoned after it had previously been used for spam purposes.
That’s a legacy penalty that does not show up in Google Search Console that can cause a site to not rank for their keyword phrases.
Typically the site may pop out and rank for its own domain name once a month but after a few days drop off of the search results.
In the above article John Mueller asked the person asking the question to submit the domain to him so he could bring it to attention of others.
I watched the domain for about a month and a half and after about six weeks the problem was quietly corrected. I and others have seen that issue before over the past 18 years years.
If another site is outranking your site with your own content then it may mean evaluating signals of quality. If nothing looks out of place then you may need a second opinion from someone not associated with the site.
Google Sometimes Shows Stolen Content if Original Site is Low Quality
Watch John Mueller answer the question at the 11 minute mark