Will Google and the other search engines ban you if you publish duplicate content?
Before I answer, let’s discuss the reason this issue would ever present itself.
I don’t recommend or suggest that you ever publish IDENTICAL duplicate content. But if you have a blog for each of your various practice areas, it is likely that you may find yourself publishing an in-depth article that would be perfect for two or more of your blogs.
For example, I have a blog devoted to anti-SLAPP law and another for employment law. Those seem like pretty disparate practice areas, but a really interesting employment case just came down that involved an anti-SLAPP motion. In the case, plaintiff sued his former employer for defamation resulting from plaintiff’s alleged assault and battery of a co-worker. Plaintiff alleged that defendants falsely accused him of assaulting a female co-worker and wrongfully terminated him on that basis. The employer counter-sued for civil extortion. The employer claimed that after plaintiff presented his claim for defamation, he made an email threat to file a qui tam suit. Plaintiff further alluded to exposing false accounting documents he had created, allegedly at defendant’s specific direction.
The employee responded to the cross-complaint with an anti-SLAPP motion, asserting that his demand letter was protected speech under the litigation privilege, but the court denied the motion on the ground that the letter constituted civil extortion, and therefore was not protected speech because illegal speech is never protected.
That is obviously a great case for my anti-SLAPP blog, but it is also really good stuff for my employment law blog. I can use it as an object lesson to potential clients and other attorneys that they must tone down the rhetoric in demand letters because they are not always protected.
But oh my God, if I use that article on two blogs, I’ll be creating evil duplicate content and be banished forever, right? Some SEO “experts” would have you think so, but here’s how I handle the situation. I use a WordPress plug-in and service called ManageWP that let’s me send the same article to multiple blogs. (It’s free! Go here for my detailed review.) I write the epic article, keeping it specific to what I’ll call the PRIMARY blog for that article. Here, I think it is bigger news for the anti-SLAPP blog, so I write the article with those readers in mind. I buy a cool image for a buck or two to illustrate it, and then use ManageWP to send it off to the two blogs for publication.
I then go to the go to the SECONDARY blog, open up the post I just published, and revise it to better suit the readers of that blog. Here, I would tone down the detailed discussion of the anti-SLAPP ramifications, and emphasize the employment law implications. While there, I would then SEO optimize that article using WordPress SEO by Yoast (go here for my review of that essential plug-in — also free!), and then republish the article (probably with a new title specific to the employment aspect).
I then switch over to the anti-SLAPP blog. The article is already written for that audience, so no editing is necessary, but I check to make sure it looks good and take care of the SEO with Yoast.
As you can see, my “duplicate content” isn’t really duplicate at all. But to answer the original question presented, assuming I posted two identical articles, would I be punished by Google? The answer is no, and that comes straight from the Google horse’s mouth in the video below. As the Google representative explains, duplicate content is a natural thing on the Internet. He estimates that 25% of the content on the Internet is duplicate content.
He does explain, however, that Google is loathe to present two identical articles on page one of its search results, and therefore will move one down in the rankings. Most take this to mean that if you post two identical articles, one will be banished to purgatory, but they are not thinking it through.
Back to my example, both articles are on equal footing. One is not banished to the exclusion of the other. What the nice man from Google is saying is that if someone types “anti-SLAPP motions involving wrongful termination claims” as a search term, and Google pulls up both my articles because they both contain those keywords, Google will likely not present them both as results. I’m fine with that! I don’t need both articles to come up, because either will likely be of interest to the person performing the search.
In any event, the far more likely result is that someone searching for that information from the employment angle will probably search in such a way that the employment article will be presented (because Google will see that the blog is about employment law) and someone searching for the information from the anti-SLAPP angle will be presented with that article for the same reasons.
So, take the words of the Google man to heart, and don’t publish duplicate content in a spammy way, but don’t be afraid to publish duplicate content in a natural and appropriate manner.
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