Duplicate Content, Google, and Your Site

On the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog, Search Quality Team member Sven Naumann posted some clarification regarding duplicate content and scraping. I do recommend you read it, but regardless, a synopsis: scraping content’s not going to get you anywhere in Google’s natural rankings. It’s duplicate, it belongs to someone else, Google knows it, so cut it out, losers. Stop scraping. (Funny, though, that many of the sites I find who’ve scraped my clients’ content are fully stocked with AdSense ads. Kind of a mixed message, there.)

Good stuff, all told. Good stuff that links to more good stuff by Adam Lasnik and Vanessa Fox that expands the conversation beyond scraping.

Do Not Duplicate

Read it. Read it all.

I’ve recently had a number of conversations regarding duplicate content, its potential ill effects, its (more likely) potential lack of delivering any positive effects toward ranking, its overall uselessness. Its dead weight. I think that more to the point of the entire duplicate content issue is why people think that content in and of itself, that any copy at all (regardless of, um, its content/what it says), is a boon to their site. I.e., why do scrapers scrape?

What do you say to a client who (and thus confirming, once again, the cliche that a little knowledge is worse than none at all), having read that content is an indicator of quality in the “eyes” of search engines, purchased a bunch of syndicated articles that, unfortunately, are spread throughout the web, verbatim, on a jillion different sites? You say “well, that’s great, if it’s doing your visitors a service, but don’t expect it to help you a whole bunch, position-wise.”

“But it’s content.”

“You betcha. But you can find the same exact content, verbatim, on many other sites. This means it’s not unique. It’s not even duplicate, because it’s on like eighty sites. It’s eighty-uplicate. It’s oct-decaplicate.”

“But, content is king.”

No, you explain further. Unique content is king. Content for the sake of content is filler.

“So how do I make my content unique?”

Here’s where the discussion gets a bit sticky. The best unique content is pulled directly out of the creator’s brain. Think of your visitors. Think of your brand. You have expertise in what you’re doing, right? Why? What do you know? Write about it. Tell your potential clients why they should become actual clients. Help them learn. Further, it’s acceptable to do applicable research, gain additional knowledge, and pass that information on in your own words. If you have a source, credit it/him/her with an “according to…” or something similar. That’s OK. That’s unique. The point must be made, however, that poorly written unique copy may well do more harm than good, so if you can’t write, hire someone who can.

Here’s what’s not OK. My sixth grade teacher, who was mean and scary but who, in my memory, did make the occasional good point (albeit in a way that was unnecessarily mean and scary), provided a fine example of plagiarism while explaining the rules concerning an upcoming research paper (our first ever; I’m pretty sure I did mine on Stretch Armstrong). He’d had a student who he’d suspected had copied his entire report, as the work was of a far greater caliber than displayed by this student’s previous work. This suspicion was confirmed when he found, in the middle of a passage, apropos to nothing, the phrase “…(continued on back flap)…”

Busted.

That’s not OK. Don’t do that. That, in the guise of a sixth-grade book report, is scraping.

Per Mr. Naumann:

“In the majority of cases, having duplicate content does not have negative effects on your site’s presence in the Google index.”

Yeah, well, keep in mind that in the majority of cases of tapeworm infestation, the infestee doesn’t die. That shouldn’t come across as a free pass to eat raw pork. I’d say if you get scraped, don’t lose sleep, but worry enough to send a cease and desist letter to the owner of the site that’s stolen your content.

It’s not easy, creating unique content. But think of your site as brick and mortar for a moment: how long would you endure a salesperson who, when approaching a potential client, repeated, verbatim, your competitor’s sales pitch? A day, even? In addition, It’s probably not going to impress your potential visitors much. And you don’t have the benefit of the brick and mortar. Inertia and proximity aren’t your friends online; your competitors are one click away, every client is besieged with choices, and if you don’t stand out, they won’t wait.

Image: popilop