I recently got this question and stared at it. Long and hard. There were so many things wrong with the question that I didn't know where to start. But since this is a blog post, don't fear. I've figured out where to start by now. I hope when you are at the end of the post that you know where to start, too. Duplicate content is a subject that everyone asks
about, but I find that few people truly understand what it is or what search engines do with it, much less the answer to how to avoid the duplicate content penalty.
The first reason that I started staring at the question was because of how it was worded. Here is an excerpt from that e-mail:
We want to start put lots of content in our blog and hope those articles we put will show up in search result (and we can catch long-tailed keyword search). It looks like it is quicker to establish content partners and just use other people's content. Will the content still show up in the search result if it is exactly the same as the content in another website? If not, how much percentage difference should we have? 80% the same?Gee, the whole approach is so wrong. Taking other people's content and trying to change it just enough to fool the search engines—where do we start?
Image via Wikipedia
First, I'll try to answer the questions. SEO gurus describe this situation as the "duplicate content penalty," but the phrase is somewhat of a misnomer, because the search engines are not really penalizing your site—they are just showing content that they believe is unique (by removing duplicates). So, if your content is substantially the same as another page on the Web, Google and the other engines won't show them all—they'll just show one version, or they'll show one ranked substantially higher than another that is somewhat different, but too similar to show close together in the results. This makes sense, because searchers don't want a page full of search results that all have similar pages in them.
Fine, you might say. How do I make sure that mine is the one that is shown? The best answer is to make your content original, because if someone else rips it off, the search engines will probably show yours. They try to show the one that was posted first or the one from the best site, so because the rip-off sites steal so much content, the search engines detect properly (most of the time) whose content it is. If they get it wrong, you can assert your rights under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) with Google or Bing (or whatever engine you are struggling with). Likewise, if you are the one pasting content from other sites, Google will probably know not to show your version and the real owners can assert their DCMA rights against you. (Most countries outside the U.S. afford you similar protection for your copyrighted material.)
To get to the burning question, no one knows how high a percentage you need for your pages to be hidden in the results, but some search gurus claim it is as little as 30% of the copy on the page. Having said that, I think it is the wrong question.to be asking.
Your goal shouldn't be to grab other people's content and post it for your own benefit. If that content is protected by copyright, then what you are doing is illegal if you haven't received permission from the copyright owner. Second, your site is likely to become an eclectic mess of opinions and writing styles from people who aren't you. In your haste to create lots of content, you probably aren't creating very good content. Your branding and your expertise should be out front—you do that by creating original content that shows off what you know and explains why people should buy from you. It might sound harder at first, but it works a lot better in the end because you'll get the search rankings and the search traffic you crave, but also the customers, too. You see, getting search rankings isn't your end game. Even if you manage to fool search engines with your purloined content, you are unlikely to win customers that way.
So, if you are trying to do something at low cost, go ahead and hire people to write your content. But don't just accept whatever they crank out--that is cheap but not usually very effective, Instead, make sure that they are writing content that shows off what you know. Give them some of the ideas and inspect everything they do to ensure that it meets your quality standards as well as your brand message. It might sound hard to do, but I have found that it's easier in the long run because you don't have to undo any content that shows you badly, and because good content can work for a very long time.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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