Why does Google Rank Plagiarism Over Original Content?

Another day, another answer that isn’t an answer from Google’s resident genie John Mueller. I’m pretty sure that in a previous life Mueller would have made an excellent soothsayer, fortune teller, or carnival psychic. There’s just enough content for you to think you’re getting answer… but in reality you’re getting anything but.

A frequent question being thrown at Google’s crystal ball polisher in chief at the moment is why Google ranks sites that have plagiarized content above the original site and content. A number of different website owners and webmasters have complained about this and, finally, we have an answer. Well, no, of course we don’t, but we do have a few more clues… So, light your incense and cross my palm with silver because…

The short answer is: Google likes the other guy better

Mueller’s advice on why Google might rank a site that copied your content over your own site is simply that “Google likes the other site better”. Yes, like Avril Lavigne, the other site wants to be your girlfriend and can “do it better.”

Here’s the full transcript:

This might mean the site has a better reputation, is stronger on other SEO metrics (like backlinks), or is perceived as being higher quality for some other reason. This really doesn’t track against Google’s “make the best site you can” and “expertise, authority, and trust” messages, so Mueller was quick to also add that your site (the original) might also be being penalised in some way. In essence, this was another clear as mud response that really amounts to “we don’t know” or, perhaps, “we don’t want to tell you”.

I call this “The Dennis Leary Effect” – if you want to see how presentation and delivery can transform content, listen to Bill Hicks and then listen to Dennis Leary. The material is, often word for word, the same – but Leary is/was a more successful comedian than Hicks.

Mueller’s other recommendation was that the original content creator file a DCMA complaint against the person copying their content, which is pretty strong advice from the spokesperson for a business that have made their billions copying and pasting other people’s content and data into their system and then monetising it.

Why it matters: The little guy is getting the shaft, again.

Plagiarism is a serious problem for content creators on the web. It’s incredibly easy for plagiarists to copy and paste your words and, without even making any significant alteration, put them on their own website and start ranking for the same keywords you do. Obviously there is more to it than that in terms of an site’s overall reputation, backlink profile etc. but, in some respects, this really makes the system more unfair.

For example, this is a relatively new blog/domain and so I’m still working on building up inbound links and a positive reputation. I know Google is indexing the site and its sending me some traffic, but it would be incredibly easy for a bigger site to come and take my content (my entire book is on this site if you can be bothered to read it an article at a time!) and take it to their bigger, more reputable site. Add in some “content spinning” (a manual or automated process that replaces words with synonyms to make content look “fresh”) and those of us toiling away building new sites are suddenly little more than “grist to the mill” for bigger players.

What should you do if your content has been copied?

There’s a chance that the site that has your copied content doesn’t know that it’s been copied. A long time ago, I used to write for various “content mills” and whilst the more reputable ones did scan content for signs of plagiarism… not all of them did. Even those that did couldn’t guarantee that content hadn’t been picked up, put through a quick spin wash, and turned out as something sufficiently new to fool the automated checks.

So, first thing’s first – outreach is our friend. Get in touch with the site that has lifted your content and ask them to take it down. There’s a good chance they bought the copy in good faith and will happily take it down once they realise they’re at risk of picking up a Google penalty themselves.

If that doesn’t work, you could try threatening legal action – although is a potentially very expensive and time-consuming process that could end up being a mess of different legal frameworks, territories, and treaties. Better to not call Saul, in this instance, not when there is an alternative…

The All Mighty Court of Public Opinion

If the site that has lifted your content/copy is seeking any kind of legitimacy, it will have a social media presence. The great and the good of the social media sphere live and die on their content and take a very dim view of those who steal content. You’re more likely to get a result by calling a site out on Twitter for copying your content than you are with a solicitors letter.

A note on Digital “Trap Streets”

A trap street a fake street that a cartographer inserts into a map, or a street wrongly named, to expose anyone copying the work. If you think your content is routinely being copied then inserting something deliberately unique that is unlikely to be removed (or example, a made-up quote) is a good way of tracking your content. The phrase, ideally, needs to be one that, when searched for, will only bring up your page on your site… until someone copies it.

Not all copying is simple “copy and paste” operations by lazy copywriters. A lot of copying is automated and an automated “scraper” (so-called because it “scrapes” the content of your site) is unlikely to remove a well-hidden trap.

(Incidentally there are hundreds of trap streets in the London A-Z)

The Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that this is a problem that Google really need to fix. The content is supposed to be king, then they rewards for creating the best quality content should be given to the sites that create it – not those that promote it.

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