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Will Google Penalize Sites That Look The Same?

Google's John Mueller explains how Google handles two sites that are essentially identical in their HTML

Image of twins, a metaphor for identical websites

Google’s John Mueller answered the question if Google penalizes sites that are nearly identical. Mueller used examples of different levels of similarity between sites and suggested which one to avoid.

Will Google Rank Sites that Look the Same?

The question asked was about whether two sites that look similar could still rank in Google search.

There was no mention as to whether the content was similar but John also included that scenario into his answer.

This is the question that was asked:

“We’re planning to share the same backend and frontend for our two brands.

We’re ranking quiet well with both of them in Google.

How big is the risk of penalization if we use the same HTML structure, same components, layout and same look and feel between the different brand?

What would be different are the logos, fonts and colors.

Or would you suggest migrating to the same front end but keeping the different experience between the two brands?”

No Penalty for Looking Similar to Another Site

John Mueller confirmed that if the sites look nearly the same that this wouldn’t cause a negative action for ranking in the search results.

He said:

“First off, there’s no penalty or web spam manual action for having two almost identical websites.”

Next he said how Google would handle two websites that shared the same URL structure and content.

He continued his answer:

“That said, if the URLs and the page content is the same across these two websites, then what can happen for identical pages is that our systems may pick one of the pages as a canonical page.

This means we would focus our crawling, indexing and ranking on that canonical page.

For pages that aren’t identical, we generally index both of them.

For example, if you have the same document on both websites, we’d pick one and only show that one in search.

In practice, that’s often fine.

If you need both pages to be shown in search, just make sure they’re significantly different, not just with a modified logo or color scheme.”

Google Handles Duplication with Canonicalization

John’s answer is interesting because it provides an insight into how Google deals with actual duplicate content where the entire content is identical.

In this case he says that it will canonicalize one version of the content, which means that it will choose one version of the content for ranking purposes.

This can pose a problem for sites that syndicate their website content, which is why it’s important for websites to require the publisher of the syndicated content to use a cross-domain canonical.

A Reason Why There is No Penalty

Back in 2013, Google search engineer (at the time) Matt Cutts said that up to 30% of all the web’s content is duplicate because that’s just the normal state of the Internet.

He cited that statistic as part of an explanation of why Google doesn’t penalize content that is duplicate, which is because innocent sites would lose their rankings.

Is there a penalty for having two nearly identical looking websites?

The answer is no, as long as it’s not the content itself that is identical.


Watch the Google After Hours hangout at the 11 minute spot where John Mueller answer the question about nearly identical websites

Featured image by Shutterstock/The Faces

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Will Google Penalize Sites That Look The Same?

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