Is Google okay with multiple variations of the same content?

In the latest Google Search Central SEO office hours hangout, Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller addresses a question about self-plagiarism.

Mueller is asked if it’s okay for publishers to reuse portions of their own content, technically copying themselves to create a similar but different piece.

In short, copying yourself is okay to the point where it’s no longer okay.

Here’s a more comprehensive explanation of what that means.

Self-plagiarism?

The person asking the question took it as a publisher “plagiarising” itself.

However, that is a misuse of the word plagiarism because the definition of plagiarism is taking content from someone else and then misrepresenting it as your own.

Obviously, one cannot plagiarize oneself, just as one cannot steal from oneself.

What the person asking the question really means is copying their own content.

This is the question being asked:

“Does Google allow publishers to plagiarize their own content?

For example, I wrote an affiliate article in which I suggested something for Mom. May I copy the contents of that article to write more articles for maybe a sister or a wife or an aunt or a grandmother?”

Reuse content

Mueller noticed and talked about the misuse of the word plagiarism.

Muller replied:

“So…I don’t know what the full definition of plagiarism is. But it seems that if you reuse your own content, that’s not really plagiarism, at least as I understand it.

From Google’s point of view, if you take content off your own website and republish it with some elements of the page changed, that’s essentially up to you.”

Content should be value-oriented

Often when we think of content, we can think of how Google might respond. But Google’s response is generally based on how much value that page provides to site visitors.

Mueller continued his response:

“And it’s something where my assumption is that in many cases you don’t add much value just by copying the existing article and changing some words on it.

So my feeling, from a strategic point of view, is probably better suited to writing something unique and engaging for those topics or to create one article that sort of covers these different variations.

So that’s kind of like from a strategic point of view I’d recommend.

But purely from a policy standpoint, I don’t think there’s anything specific standing in the way of taking individual articles and then…making a handful of copies of them.

So that’s something where from…purely a practical standpoint, that’s a bit up to you.

But my recommendation is actually to make fewer articles that are actually very good.”

Doorway pages

The person asking the question is speaking to a variety of doorway pages.

An old-fashioned approach for sites has been to create pages of content targeting all 50 states in the United States, and create webpages for each state that correspond to the top 20 cities by population.

The pages would be essentially the same, only the names of the states and cities were different.

Google calls those doorway pages and that can lead to a manual fine.

this is what Google’s official documentation on doorway pages warns:

Doorways are sites or pages created to rank for specific, similar searches. They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in users’ search results, with each result ultimately taking the user to essentially the same destination.

They can also direct users to intermediate pages that aren’t as useful as the final destination.”

Mueller warned against inadvertently creating doorway pages:

“The only extreme case that can arise here if you copy your own content very intensively is that you end up creating doorway pages.

And that’s essentially taking one piece of content and making a lot of variations with just different words in it and that’s something that goes against our webmaster guidelines.

So that’s something I’d look for and that’s also something where you create a lot of lower quality… I’d almost say unwanted pages for your website, which is essentially just fluff that generally doesn’t provide any unique value.

And instead of thinning your website content that way, I’d recommend focusing on making your website’s primary content that much stronger.

So that’s kind of my recommendation there.

So if you’re wondering if Google likes it, it’s like you can do whatever you want on your website, but that doesn’t mean Google will like it.”

Focus on content, not shortcuts

The big takeaway here is that content is the most important asset of a website. The content can contribute to the success or failure of a business.

Considering how important content is, it makes sense that content is the one thing you shouldn’t skimp on or take shortcuts with.

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Watch John Mueller answer the question in the 7:34 minute:


Featured image: screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, May 2022.

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