John Mueller from Google responded to a user’s concern about whether or not Google penalizes sites that are too similar. Mueller provided illustrative instances of varying degrees of resemblance between sites and gave advice on which ones to avoid.

Does Google rank sites that look the same?

Specifically, it was addressed if Google would still rank two sites that are visually similar.

There was no mention of whether the content was similar, but John mentioned that scenario in his response.

The question that was posed was as follows:

The user plans to have their two brands use the same frontend and backend. At the moment, both brands are doing well in Google search.

How great is the potential for getting penalized if the brands use the same HTML structure, components, layout, and look and feel?

The logos, fonts, and colors would be modified.

Alternately, would John propose shifting to a shared frontend while preserving the distinct user experiences of the two brands?

No penalty for visually identical websites

Search engine ranking is unaffected by the sites’ similarity in design, as confirmed by John Mueller.

He remarked as follows:

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

Next, he explained how Google would treat two sites with similar content and URLs.

If the URLs and content of the pages on both sites are similar, Google may choose one of the pages as the canonical page.

Google would then prioritize that canonical page for crawling, indexing, and ranking purposes.

When two pages are similar but not the same, Google indexes both of them.

If the identical file exists on both servers, Google will choose one to prioritize in search results.

In most situations, that is acceptable.

At the end, Mueller advised to make sure the two pages are significantly different, not just with a new logo or color scheme, if you want them to appear in separate search results.

Cross-domain canonical

John’s response is intriguing since it sheds light on how Google handles true cases of duplicate material, where the content is identical.

When he says it will canonicalize one version of the content, he means that it will pick one version of the content to use when determining rankings.

Due to the potential for confusion this can cause, sites that syndicate their content should insist that their content’s publisher implement a cross-domain canonical.

Why is there no penalty?

Matt Cutts, a Google search engineer at the time, claimed in 2013 that as much as 30% of all material on the web is duplicate. This is considered normal.

He used that figure to argue that Google doesn’t punish duplicate material since it would cause legitimate sites to drop in search engine results.

What repercussions might arise from hosting two sites that look essentially identical?

Insofar as the content itself is different, the answer is no repercussions.