Here’s something you didn’t expect from the Republican National Convention: an insight into digital marketing. With her Michelle Obama copycat speech, Melania Trump confirmed a truism for us, and that is that duplicate content is very bad news.

So what really is duplicate content, and why is it such a problem?

Duplicate content doesn’t have to mean you’ve directly plagiarised from somebody else. It can mean you have the same content multiple times within your website, or you have hosted the same content in multiple places across the web. The place where it matters most is in the body of your content, rather than in the header or footer, where text space is limited and similarities are more likely accidental rather than deceptive.

But it’s not just word-for-word copy-cattery that will get you penalised. You’re still at risk if your content exists in a slightly altered version, where a couple of synonyms are dropped in, or only a block or so of text has been recycled. Google sees, and Google knows.

And that’s the exact approach the American public took to Ms Trump’s address at the Republican National Convention. The whole speech itself wasn’t duplicated, just a rather extensive passage. But in the eyes of the public, and the eyes of Google, that’s still duplicate content, and it’s still unacceptable.

Penalisation for Ms Trump comes in the form of public humiliation. Penalisation for you comes in the form of reduced traffic from search engines. This happens for two reasons. Firstly, you’ve confused Google. All-knowing as it seems to be, Google can’t work out which version of your content to display when you have duplicate content containing the searched keywords*. The second is that Google thinks you’re trying to dupe it with dirty SEO tactics. Bam, more penalties.

So why does Google care so much about duplicate content? Why does it bother snapping back at the (sometimes accidental) plagiarists of this world?

Google is a benevolent internet overlord. And it wants to deliver you fresh, relevant content every time you search. If Google didn’t do that, you wouldn’t use it. Simple.

As humans, we’re suspicious for the same reasons: we don’t like Melania Trump duplicating Michelle Obama’s speech because it confuses us. Why would she do that? Was it an accident? And we don’t like it because it makes us suspicious. It’s a pretty dishonest thing to do. Did she think we weren’t smart enough to notice?

So here’s the message, loud and clear: don’t try and fool the collective knowledge of Google. Or the general public. It never ends well.


Image credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo