I’m sure many people know about issues surrounding duplicate content. This post is inspired by a strange trend we are seeing related to the increase in use of certain types of article subscription services used by professionals in the accounting and financial industries relative to the decrease we see in other industries. This post is written from the perspective of a professional who might be using one of those services and be naive to the negative and long-lasting effects that they are setting themselves up for.
Content Strategy for the Web
The focus of any strong content marketing strategy should be the frequent publication of interesting, engaging and unique content for your intended audience. Many industries and web teams are getting knowledgeable to that fact. Perhaps as a product of the abundance of information available to those benefits, we have been seeing less sites coming in to us with major duplicate content issues out-of-the-gate. What is strange (and the inspiration for this post) is that there is a particular industry where we are not only seeing a lot of duplicate content issues, but it actually might be increasing in frequency.
There are dozens of companies that write content once – or worse, use content generators – and sell the same content to multiple websites. These content production companies seem to target CPAs and other financial firms. What the accounting firm typically gets as a deliverable is 5-10 articles that are short in length and on a timely topic. What many of these accounting and financial firms don’t know is that the same content they are paying for is being sold to multiple sites for use in web page copy, newsletters, blogs and other content that appears online. Many times this is occurring in the same market or geography. The content is not cheap either. Worse, many of the companies subscribing to this content have no idea the long-term damage they are doing to their site’s online visibility.
Google hates copycats, and punishes what it considers duplicate content by omitting it from the search results. Worse, if a website publishes a large volume of duplicated content, it can cause the site as a whole to be omitted or sandbagged in the search results.
What does Google Consider ‘Duplicate Content’?
Examples of copy that Google may consider duplicate content include blocks of copy, quotes, press releases, or bulleted lists which have been copied and pasted from other sources. Typically, you do not want more than 5-7% of all of the copy that appears on your web page to be duplicated from elsewhere on Google’s indexed internet (including other pages on your own site). Most often this duplicated content is completely unintentional and consists of lengthy chunks of boilerplate text (such as product descriptions, rules, disclaimers, or “contact us” paragraphs) that are reprinted across multiple pages on your website – often in a footer, or as the stock ‘closing paragraph’ to certain types of pages or blog posts. Sometimes, duplicate content comes from paragraphs or bulleted lists that have been directly copied from informational sources such as Wikipedia or government websites. When any of this happens in a large enough chunk, Google will devalue that page in favor of whatever source it considers the original source of that content.
Now, what about when having duplicate content on your web page is not intentional or you are naive to the fact that you are publishing duplicate content? The short answer is that Google doesn’t care. This is the danger and what is concerning in regard to what we are seeing with CPA and Financial Service firms. They are actually paying to negatively impact their website’s visibility.
Here is a perfect example of the same text on multiple financial services websites that was provided by a subscription-based content supplier that targets financial planners:
In this case, only one of those websites would rank in Google search for any terms related to the content on that page. All the others would be excluded.
How to Find Out if Your Content is Duplicated
There are many resources available online to find out if your content has been duplicated from somewhere else. Google search itself used to be a great resource but they recently changed Google search so that it cuts everything past 32 words. There are many free tools available to check for plagiarized content, but we have not found that any of them are particularly comprehensive. For instance, if you visit Grammarly.com’s tool (which bills itself as the “best plagiarism checker available”) and cut/paste content from another webpage, it will only get a hit about 10% of the time (when we checked it against 20 sites).
One of the standards for running duplicate content checks is copyscape.com. It is paid, but works very well. Simply cut/paste a url or actual copy into it’s window and it will tell you any site it has crawled which has more than a 2% match to that content.
The Dangers of Using Content Subscription Services that Duplicate Content
Some content creators will sell the same content to multiple clients for outrageous fees. We’ve seen other companies charging around $250 per month for batches of content. These companies will target an industry, such as SEO for lawyers, and sell the exact same content to dozens or hundreds of different companies. While many of these companies use that copy for monthly newsletters, some post the content on their web pages – or their main service pages. While this may fill your website, it will nearly guarantee that the page will not perform. If that page is your homepage, you are in big trouble. $250/month might not seem like a lot, but compared to the cost to hire a professional to write original content or paid advertising, there is a lot that you can do in certain geographies and industries for $250/month.
Google will always display the version of content it believes is most helpful or relevant for users based on their search query, regardless of which version you prefer. In this case, it would most likely be the first version that was indexed or if someone expanded on that content considerably. Any effort that you spent proofreading, publishing, or blasting out related to that content is wasted (in terms of SEO visibility).
Duplicate Content Kills SEO Performance
If you have duplicate content on a few pages or blog posts Google will simply devalue those individual pages in favor of what it considers the original or more useful source. That means that your page(s) either will not be visible in Google search or not be as visible as they could be. Where you start to get into real trouble, is when many or most of the pages on your site have duplicate content within them. Then Google starts to devalue all of the content on your site, regardless of whether it is duplicated or not. Both scenarios are bad.
How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Duplicate Content
First, we understand that many industries have advertising ethics rules that limit your options in terms of what you can and cannot say. Many sites may sound very similar because the advertising rules require disclaimers and statements to be worded a certain way. However, if your content is the same as other competitors who use the same language, and you have that language in the footer of every page on your site, your website’s performance will suffer. The easy solution is to put all usage rights or disclaimer language on their own pages and link to them from the footer. If you want to take it one step further, you should “noindex” those pages, which essentially asks Google to keep those pages and the content within out of its index of web pages and nullifying any effect those pages would have on your site overall.
In terms of copy, the best and obvious way to avoid duplicate content is to generate original/unique copy with minimal inclusion of direct quotes or bulleted lists from other sources, whether those sources are external sites or other pages on your own site.
Make sure that there are no large blocks of copy that are included in your footer, header, sidebar or within each page across large portions of your site. If you need to copy a quote or include a bulleted list, try including as little of that content as possible relative to the overall word count of the page. You can also try reordering bulleted lists or linking to a longer quote.
If you are outsourcing your content creation, make sure that the company writing your content is handling those efforts in-house and that they know what they are doing.
Wondering if Your Website’s Content is Considered “Duplicate”?
As I mentioned in the opening of this post, we see a lot of sites that come to us with duplicated content issues. Many clients are surprised when we tell them that x% of all of the content on their site will need to be rewritten.
If you are interested in finding out if, or what percentage of the content on your site is duplicated, give us a call. We can tell you how much of your content is considered “duplicate” and how bad it is impacting your website.
Our team of in-house writers and marketers manage content marketing, strategy and creation for professionals and service providers across the world. We also provide unique product descriptions and copywriting for eCommerce sites as well as Spanish translation and content writing.