Copying content from another website may be tempting, especially for a non-writer. Admittedly, it’s quicker, easier, and in the short run, cheaper. (You don’t have to pay a professional writer!) Duplicate content is plagiarism plain and simple. It’s stealing someone else’s intellectual property.
If the ethical argument doesn’t work. Here’s a more pragmatic one. It’s bad for business. Google will penalize you for it, especially if they deem it manipulative and with the intention of gaming search engine rankings. Here’s what they say:
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.
Even when Google finds no malicious intent, your rankings will suffer if you employ duplicate content. There’s a very good article on the subject that explains how non-malicious duplicate content can hurt your search engine ranking.
I’m writing about this now because I’ve recently run across a spate of new clients and potential clients who have this problem. Typically, they’ve purchased a cheap web design and the companies who designed the sites offered to provide them “free” content as an incentive. A year or so later, the business owners are complaining to me about how they never get business from their website. They think the whole “website thing” is a scam and are ready to give up on it. I can relate one instance recently. I went in to visit a potential client who told me he’s had his website for a few years now but can’t find his company in any of the relevant keyword searches. More importantly, he hasn’t had one customer from the internet. I reviewed his site with him and found a tell-tale sign. All of the content on the site read like something out of Wikipedia. It was so generic it could fit any of his competitors sites. I suspected duplicate content so I used an app that checks for duplicate content. Voila! Every page was copied/plagiarized from another site! No wonder he wasn’t ranking. Google hadn’t even indexed his site (a separate issue, but a huge issue nonetheless).
Google is concerned about the end-user’s experience. They are excellent at what they do and they take this sort of thing seriously. If your site doesn’t have original content that is informative, original and enhances the user’s experience, don’t bother publishing it. You won’t rank and you may end up penalized.
Search engine rankings are all about content marketing. I emphasize content here. Aggressive marketing will never trump good content. If you want to perform online, you’d better hire professional writers who know how to write for the web.