I don’t mind telling you that back in my high school years I was a bit of a rogue. For a few months at the age of 14, not only would I always take the seat furthest from the front of the class, but I’d often be seen leaning dangerously far back in it with a devil-may-care kind of spirit, perhaps even chewing on a stick of Wrigley’s. ‘Look at Bad Boy Andy Wilson leaning back on his chair again’, people would almost certainly say to themselves. ‘He answers to no man.’
Shocking, I know, but the bad behaviour didn’t stop there. My insouciant attitude spilled over into other areas of my school life, and on the odd occasion my mother wasn’t keeping tabs on me I’d leave my English poetry homework unfinished. Once, after realising absolutely everyone else had actually finished theirs, five minutes before it was due, I hurriedly scribbled down the lyrics to a Manic Street Preachers song in an attempt to pass it off as my own work. ‘That should do it’, I thought. Well, it didn’t and I was sentenced to three days of after-school detention. It was tough, but I did my time like the hardened outlaw that I was, and I also learned a valuable lesson about plagiarism and the punishments that go with it.
Issue of duplicate content
This, as it turns out, is an issue many websites are facing today. Plagiarism is what’s known as ‘duplicate content’ in web-speak, and occurs when identical (or almost identical) content appears in two different URLs. Rightly, Google punishes those who blatantly steal copy from other sites, but recently duplicate content has been causing a number of SEO issues for legit businesses promoting separate brands using the same content. One such business is the RBS Group.
Content duplicated on sister sites like Natwest and RBS is giving poor old Google a bit of a headache. The search engine can’t figure out which site to rank and which site to punish so invariably punishes both. For some of the highly competitive financial search terms, such as ‘secured loan’, Natwest and RBS have been recently ranking among the peons on page six. Page six! Can you imagine?
That can’t have been pleasing for the RBS Group’s head honchos to see, and even less pleasing to then discover that most of the country’s supermarket chains were sitting up on page one. Evidently, the Group’s decision to publish duplicate content – about subjects like secured loans – across its sites is having a damaging effect on SEO and costing them valuable search traffic.
Having said that, Google’s very own search engine expert Matt Cutts said not long ago that duplicate content wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to ranking (unless it was riddled with spam and overloaded with keywords).
So what are we to think?
Along with RBS’ and Natwest’s poor search-engine performance, there’s a raft of other evidence to suggest that Matt Cutts might not have been telling the whole story.
One example of where duplicate content almost certainly appears is in the form of terms and conditions pages; and URLs get replicated every time a user revisits an ecommerce website, which further effects where Google chooses to rank a site.
Avoiding the search engine drop
Basically, we can accept that producing some level of duplicate content is unavoidable and there are a number of ways to combat the issues it causes. Setting up a 301 redirect from the duplicate page to the original URL ensures they’re not competing against one another and also strengthens the site’s relevancy.
But beyond that, the damage inflicted by Google can be alleviated using a trusty content marketing ploy: generating quality content. By diluting the inevitable duplicate content with well-written, original copy ensures your site receives the search engine results it deserves. Once again, the ‘content is king’ axiom holds true.
Regularly publishing unique content on your website or business blog will do a number of things, all of which contribute to your good SEO karma and earning valuable search engine brownie points. Namely, you’ll be educating your audience with informed content and building a sturdy base of engaged and loyal customers; and, you’ll subsequently establish a level of trust, which will begin shaping your business into an industry thought-leader.
If I’d managed to hide my Manic Street Preachers rip off among streams of beautifully constructed prose I might have gotten away with it. But, alas, I didn’t. Because I was rogue. Don’t make the same mistake I did.