Should you duplicate content on your website?

Website content is a great way to attract new customers.  However, James West says you mustn’t fall into the ‘cut-and-paste’ trap to bolster your volume of content, otherwise you may find your efforts cause more harm than good. 

Why Google - and your customers - don't want to see duplicate content

Why Google - and your customers - don't want to see duplicate content

Quality content is probably the number one factor defining how well your website ranks on search engines*. Google and other search engines love fresh content.  Whether it be news stories, ‘how’-to guides, or product reviews and updates, content that is read and shared helps your website appear in more search results and get more page visits. 

(*If this sentence sounds like gibberish, take a look at this Search Engine Optimisation guide.  It’s a jargon-free introduction to how search engines rank websites and why this is important to your business.)

However, writing quality content is difficult.  Deciding what to write about, committing to the writing process, sourcing images, uploading the words etc., is a time-consuming business.  

Therefore the temptation to use the same content on more than one website is strong.  After all, you’ve put in all the hard work, why not expose it to a new audience and maximise the value of your efforts?

I’ve had many heated conversations about the subject of repeating content across multiple websites.  

“The more content the better.  We’ll just publish that again."
“It’s better to have some content than none, so we’ll just copy someone else’s news onto the blog.”
“No one will notice if I copy that content.”
“Yes, that content has been used on another website, but it was a while ago.”

I understand why business owners and content providers think like this. I acknowledge what they are saying is based on a logical viewpoint. However, these arguments are pointless. More to the point, my opinion on this matter is as meaningless as yours.  

Your opinion doesn't matter

The only voice that matters in respect to duplicate content is Google. And Google doesn’t like it. This quote pulled directly from Google’s support pages explains why:

“In some cases, content is deliberately duplicated across domains in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings or win more traffic. In the rare cases in which Google perceives that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate our rankings and deceive our users, we'll also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved. As a result, the ranking of the site may suffer, or the site might be removed entirely from the Google index, in which case it will no longer appear in search results.”

In other words, whatever your intention or how sound your argument, Google sees duplicate content in very black and white terms. Deliberately using content that has appeared on another website is an attempt to manipulate search.  

Google scans all content that appears on the internet. It’s how it decides what pages to display when you search for something.  Therefore, you can’t “get away with” using duplicate copy when it’s appeared somewhere else, because Google will know.

Why is Google so hot on this?

Google doesn’t penalise duplicate content because it’s on a moral crusade to stamp out plagiarism. It does this because it’s bad for website users: “Deceptive practices like this can result in a poor user experience, when a visitor sees substantially the same content repeated within a set of search results.”

You should think about your own website in similar terms. From a morale perspective, plagiarism is wrong.  But far more importantly, are you offering value to those people taking time to read your website if you copy someone else’s content? Similarly why are you wasting their time encouraging them to read content they’ve seen on another website?

Sadly, online marketing is driven by numbers.  Website and content ‘experts’ tell you that it’s a case of getting as many people as possible looking at your website and following your social accounts. People copy content because they are pursuing this pointless aim.

Just as in the ‘real world’, online quality always beats quantity. It’s better to have a small number of followers/readers who listen and who you engage with in a genuine way. This is more likely to lead to valuable, long-lasting relationships. Therefore, if you’re tempted to copy content to swell numbers, don’t.  Your website visitors won’t thank you and you are likely to erode any trust you may have established. 

Google takes a dim view of duplicate content because it is trying to establish the kind of behaviour I’ve described. Produce original content and not only will you appease Google, you are doing the right thing for your customers and prospects too.