Over the years I’ve met some very cool people in the SEO industry, Everett Sizemore is one of them. Michael Gray introduced us a couple years ago and we hit it off immediately, we share many of the same interests and beliefs when it comes to SEO, sustainable living and well, just about everything else too. If I’m looking for a straight, no-frills answer, I know I can depend on Everett to give it to me.
Everett and his wife Missy became parents for the first time in June, that’s little Waylon in the MozBot onesie! Somehow, between feedings, diapers and moving to a new farm, Everett found time to write a guest post on duplicate content for the Link Spiel. While it’s similar to one I wrote recently, it comes at the issue from a different link building angle. Heck, I wouldn’t care if Everett wanted to write about Colorado potato beetles, I’d have him here regardless. So without further ado, here’s Everett:
Turning Duplicate Content Lemons Into Linkbuilding Lemonade
Whether you are dealing with a PR company’s bright idea to “syndicate” your content across a bunch of newspaper websites, dirty scrapers, or just a bunch of lazy bloggers who would rather steal and quote than write – you are bound to eventually find some of your content used on another site. This tip can be used for any of the above situations, but I just happened to be dealing with a wrong-headed syndication deal recently.
I wasn’t with the company at the time, but I imagine the conversation went something like this:
“This group of local newspaper websites wants to use our content.”
“What’s in it for us?”
“We could put in the contract that they have to list us as the author.”
“OK great. I don’t see how that could hurt.”
Skip forward a couple of years and now I’m finding entire articles copied verbatim all over the place. And even though they were contractually obligated to give us a byline, it didn’t have to be a link (and almost never was), and our contract said nothing about what happens when the genie is out of the bottle and those dozens of local papers decide they want to syndicate as well. Now we have several hundred cases where sites use our content and don’t link to us.
I always set up Google Alerts to catch when a site I was working on had been mentioned but not linked to. However, in this case, half the time they didn’t even mention us. Alerts don’t catch those.
This is why I advise everyone to use a tool like Copyscape to check every page on your site once every few months. Using the premium version, I was able to track down all the duplicates. Typically they fell into the following categories, ordered from least to most preferable:
- Used our content and didn’t even mention us at all.
- Used our content and gave us a byline with no link.
- Used our content and gave us a byline with a link to the home page.
- Used our content and gave us a link directly to our post.
It may come as no surprise that we were the first to rank when all of the republishers fell into category #4. Typically, however, it was a mixture of everything. I left those in #4 alone. I also left those in category #3 alone whenever we were seen as the authoritative / canonical version of the content by Google. I gave everyone else the following options:
A: Give us a byline with a link to the original post.
B: Take the content down.
About half agreed to link to us. The other half was divided between those that chose to take the content down, and those that ignored my request. Most of those that ignored the request weren’t part of the original syndication deal, and subsequently had their page removed from Google’s index with a DMCA report by yours truly. There was one group of exceptions worth noting: Sometimes our content had deep, keyword-rich links into other areas of our site. In cases like this where syndicators left the links intact and followable, and we weren’t seen by Google as the canonical version of the content, we sometimes chose to delete our version because the deep links from other sources were more important than what little traffic would come into a single article or blog post. There’s a newbie tip here: Make youre deep links in copy absolute paths.
Overall this was a huge success for us. We were able to obtain a lot of new links from sites that never showed up in my alerts, and get increased search traffic into a lot of content that had previously been unjustly indexed as the duplicate version. However, I would not recommend this as a “link building tactic” in and of itself. It is one thing to turn lemons into lemonade when you already have a problem. It’s something entirely different to syndicate your content just so you can get a link. Figuring out who should rank for a syndicated piece of content seems to be a thorn in Google’s side. They’ve pretty much just thrown up their hands in surrender, and asked webmasters to figure it out on their own with things like cross-domain rel canonical tags and, more recently, authorship markup like rel author and rel me. Having your content syndicated isn’t ideal even when they link to your original article. Just ask anyone who was affected by Panda, and they’ll tell you how frustrating it is to see someone else rank for an article that was stolen or syndicated, even though the copy – and several other sites – all link to the poor Pandalized site as the original source.
- Don’t just rely on Alerts for this type of thing. Sometimes your content is stolen or quoted with no mention of you, thus no alert.
- Use a tool like Copyscape to regularly check the web for duplication of your content.
- Consider giving offenders the option of linking directly to your original post.
- Consider removing your post if the article is copied on a high-quality domain that keeps your followable, deep links and you aren’t seen as the originator.
- If all else fails, report it to Google and the content usually comes out of their index with 24 hours.
Everett Sizemore couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted to be a sustenance farmer or an SEO consultant. So he decided he could be both and is now writing guest posts and working on websites from a 38-acre farm in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia.