Duplicate Content Can Kill Your Search Rank, But You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel

By The Black Fin Team

Posted:

Category: Content Marketing


“There is nothing new under the sun.”

It’s an ancient pearl of wisdom, dating back to the book of Ecclesiastes and repeated by millions in the generations since. But if you’re a marketing manager at a law firm, you might wonder whether the maxim ever made its way to the guys at Google.

The search engine giant prizes originality. Google rewards the creators of new and unique content — especially written content — if it can assist or inform their users.

“New and unique” doesn’t exactly describe the average Boise Car Crash Lawyer webpage, though, does it?

But it’s your job to get webpages like that to move up the Google rank for your law firm. So how do you do it?

Today, we explore the murky issue of reusing, replicating, or rewriting old blogs (and other web content) for the purposes of search rank and SEO.

  • Can you do it?
  • Should you do it?
  • If so, how can you avoid a devastating Google penalty?
  • Is it unethical?

We’ll look at all that and more, but at the outset, a warning: this article won’t give you the easy answer you might be hoping for.

It is a general rule in life that the only shortcuts that actually work are the ones paved in asphalt. But “life hacks” can help you make the most of what you have, including the resources you’ve already created in the past.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do just about everything. Our goal here is to illuminate the right one.

But first, let’s look at the wrong way.

You Can’t Duplicate the Content on Your Own Law Firm Website

Oh, the temptation. To do again what one has done before… it’s an appealing prospect because it means reducing your efforts and your costs at the same time, and it offers that gratifying feeling of reaping one’s harvest.

There’s just that pesky Google rule. Duplicate content is a no-no, plain and simple. Thou shalt not copy and paste.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, though. In several of the sections to follow, we’ll highlight ways to drink from the same well more than once without angering the search engine gods.

But before we get there, some ground rules:

  • You should not repost old articles in their entirety.
  • You should not copy and paste large swaths of written content from one webpage into another. (We’ll explore some exceptions below).
  • You shouldn’t even “kinda tweak” the wording of an old article and hand it in as something new. Didn’t work in high school; won’t work online.

You Can’t Duplicate the Content on Anyone Else’s Website Either

It probably goes without saying, but then again, this happens so often on law firm websites that it bears repeating. Plagiarism is bad.

But plagiarism isn’t always obvious, either — not even to the plagiarizer.

It’s all too easy to accidentally incorporate someone else’s language during your research, or to forget that your notes from last week were actually copied and pasted from someone else’s website.

Actually, Google might be better at identifying plagiarism than humans are.

For law firm marketing managers, there’s an added layer of concern here. Putting plagiarized or duplicated content on a law firm website can get the attorneys in trouble — not only with the owner of the infringed-upon content but also with the state bar’s ethics board. It’s also ruinous to a professional reputation. And if the content is copied from a local competitor, it’s an egregious embarrassment for the firm. You don’t want to be the marketer who made that mistake… or the one who green-lit someone else’s infringing work.

To that point, a word of caution: be careful who you trust with your copywriting. Pennies-per-word typists may be easier on your budget, but they might also lack the expertise required to write competently about legal issues. That’s problematic in numerous ways, not the least of which is the concern that writers who are in over their heads might be more inclined to dip into someone else’s content and put their own “polish” on it… and polish is rarely enough to avoid plagiarizing.

But Here’s What You Can Do: Re-Mining Your Old Work

You’ve heard of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Let’s add one more “re” to your arsenal: re-mine.

C.S. Lewis had some thoughts on this. He wrote:

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

That is, in essence, the concept of re-mining.

As a marketing manager, even if you don’t do the actual copywriting for your law firm, you’ve probably been involved in topic development at some point. We don’t have to tell you, then, that topic development is one of the most challenging and time-consuming parts of content creation for attorneys.

So here’s some good news: topic development is the part of this process that can be “reused” (that is, re-mined) again and again.

How to Re-Mine Your Existing Law Firm Website Content

Wondering how you can dust off your old ideas and rework them into something new? Here are some tips:

  • Change the audience — Good writing is always shaped by the people it’s written for. If you write for a different type of reader, you’ll end up with a different type of tone.
  • Give it a new spin Sure, you’ve written about insurance bad faith, but have you written about it in the context of California’s rash of wildfires?
  • Tie in local news or current events Has your city seen a recent increase in pedestrian accidents? Has a major bank just been busted for a data breach or fraud? Could new legislation affect your clients’ rights? Did a politician just say something bonkers? If it relates to your practice area, write about it… even if you’ve covered that same subject in a different light before.
  • Create a Part 2 (or make it a series) — You can always go into more depth, or explore a different-but-related dimension of the same topic. Blog series encourage loyalty in readership, and they can be very effective in increasing the amount of time users spend on your website (an important metric for your website’s Google quality score). It’s also a great way to get multiple articles out of the same idea.
  • Pull back the curtain — Acknowledge to the reader that you’ve written about this topic before. Link to the old article or webpage. And then tell them why you’re revisiting it now… to add some new perspective, to provide an update on the law, or to reflect on your own evolving thoughts about the issue, etc.

The Exception to the Rule: When Duplicating Content Is Okay

There are times when it makes sense to duplicate content — verbatim, even. Google understands this (as do most other search engine algorithms). For example:

  • Quotations (such as our C.S. Lewis quote above)
  • Common phrases (see our opening to this article: “There is nothing new under the sun”)
  • Citations of law
  • Disclaimers and boilerplate (just don’t overdo it or take advantage of this by trying to stuff irrelevant keywords into the copy)
  • Bullet points that are naturally going to be similar from one article to the next (e.g. common injuries, the elements of a statute, etc.)
  • Contact information, bylines, calls to action, etc.

Creativity Is Key

Whenever repurposing content, your goal is to create a new version of what you’ve done before. And that isn’t as hard as it sounds.

If your intention is simply to write about the same thing in a new way, you will most likely end up with content that works.

But if you’re attempting to manipulate search engines or “get away with” plagiarism, it will show in the results. Besides, meticulously trying to reword an old article paragraph-for-paragraph takes infinitely longer and makes you feel a little dead inside.

Creativity is what makes writing fulfilling!

Is Duplicate Content Really That Bad for SEO?

You’ll find plenty of advice online telling you that duplicate content is totally okay. Ask yourself: does that really make sense? Does it seem likely that your website can get ahead of its competitors by just re-posting the same stuff all the time?

While it is true that Google’s penalties are chiefly intended for those who are acting maliciously or in bad faith, duplicate content is never going to get you very far. Even if you don’t earn a penalty per se, duplicate content will not rank well because Google filters it out in the search results. You’ll just be competing against yourself, meaning all the time and money you put into the content creation was a waste.

Repurposed content, though? Not even Google has a problem with that, provided it’s done in the spirit we’ve outlined above. So re-mine your heart out!

Need Help with Your Law Firm’s Content Marketing? Call Black Fin.

Black Fin is a digital marketing agency that works exclusively with attorneys and law firms. Our only goal: getting you bigger cases and better clients by using the web.

We talk with law firm marketing managers every day. We understand the pressure to improve your Google search rank, as well as the critical role that great content (whether entirely original or uniquely rewritten) plays in achieving that goal. In fact, content marketing is the #1 thing we do as an attorney SEO agency. So let us help you get there. Call the legal marketing experts at Black Fin today.

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