If you've been walking on the sunny side of a clean street on your Search Marketing journey, hopefully you've skipped right past that dark and narrow alleyway in which lurks the spin monster. The practice of 'spinning' articles for directory submission isn't new, but it has come to my notice that marketing firms are currently utilizing this as a post-Panda effort for avoiding the dread Google duplicate content label, and I'm writing this article today to describe what the process is. If you're about to hire a marketer/SEO whose methods of promotion include submitting 'spun' articles to content sites, read this first before you sign that contract.

How To Spin An Article

In a rancid little nutshell, spinning articles involves creating synonyms or alternates for words and phrases within the body of the copy so that the text can be hashed up and put together again as though it were multiple pieces of content instead of just one. Here is an example of what this looks like:

{Some marketers | Some SEOs | Some consultants} {persist in | insist on} believing that it is better to {attempt to | try to} {hoodwink | fool | trick} Google than to devote {time | effort | money} towards playing by the rules for their clients' long-term success.

From the above example, you can see how choosing the alternate wordings would enable one to create copy with a certain percentage of distinctness. The whole point, as far as I understand it, is that you can then submit the spun articles to multiple sources for the sole sake of backlinks. The education, engagement and reading pleasure of human beings is definitely not the object.

You can hire a 'copywriter' to manually spin articles for you, or you can shove the task off onto a helpless computer program which is, of course, incapable of protest. Either way, you are engaging in a practice which I can only view as one of those ugly outcomes of Google's historic dependence on links as a metric for relevance and authority.

Why I Think Article Spinning Is Shady

As a professional copywriter, my instinctive response to what this practice does with the English language is one of revulsion. Language can be so powerful, and to see it reduced to this purpose is like watching someone whittle a Redwood into a toothpick. In my opinion, this type of marketing hinges on the lowest form of communication of feeding the stupidest of the bots. Why settle for this when your alternatives have the potential to inspire, enlighten and satisfy those real human beings - your customers?

My tender personal feelings about fine prose aside, every business owner must realistically confront the fact that everything published by him and about him on the web is a piece of his reputation. Do you really think that having your linked signature on an article at garbage-content.com is going to show you in a professional light? Consider that.

Thirdly, I find article spinning to be a poor concept from its very foundations because it is built on deception. The intent is to deceive Internet users, search engine bots and, possibly, content sites. If your marketer thinks that the best way to get ahead is with a good old lie - well, you've got a problem on your hands.

Finally, the fact that dubious marketing firms are apparently seeing this as the answer to Panda means that some people have come out of that web-wide shakeup without having learned a lesson. Instead of trying to become more genuine in their business practices, some business owners/SEOs are simply trying to find other ways to game the system. Of course, there is some money to be made in being tricky, or no one would be doing it, but in my opinion, everyone comes out of this situation a loser. Why?

The public loses because the web is further polluted with flotsam and jetsam that is devoid of usefulness or real expertise. The business owner loses because he is wasting his own profits on a marketing strategy that will attach his name to idiotic documents across the web. Further, the next panda-esque debacle may include new sophistication that will render an increased number of content farms inert. The time and money invested will thus be voided. The marketing firm loses because it is risking being called out for selling bad product and it is making its money by offering the worst kind of education to its own clients. It may well be soliciting its own demise.

But Isn't There Any Value In Article Marketing Anymore?

We can debate this for days. I thought Michael Gray's 2011 article on post-Panda article marketing was pretty on-target, but frankly, I am still convinced that building out your own website's content brings greater rewards than handing it away to somebody else. There will, of course, be exceptions to this, and linkbuilding is every bit as much on the SEO table in 2012 as ever, but be honest with yourself about what you're actually doing.

I have found it exceptionally interesting to watch Social Media begin to sway the big discussion towards genuineness. Being real with your real audience, being accountable, being transparent and honest - these are the practices that are now being cited as carrying the richest long-term rewards. I can certainly recall the days of the really dumb bots of a decade ago, and confess I was even amused at some of the gaming going on, but remember this - the humans were never dumb.

All of this stuff your business is putting out there on the web - an audience is on the receiving end. That audience contains your potential customers. And, honestly, they are not going to be impressed by finding 6 versions of your story about pet allergies that cleverly substitute the word 'canine' for 'dog'. There are more intelligent ways to engage people.

We can do better than this.

January 25, 2012

Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.


Spinning articles isn't "shady." It's an appalling cynical tactic that obviously wouldn't even exist without the search engines' duplicate content filter - and search marketers trying to game the system by republishing the same thing over and over again without concern for provenance, authorial integrity or the best interest of users.

As you say, "[t]here are more intelligent ways to engage people." I'd go so far as to say "there are less offensive ways of insulting your readers' intelligence."

The amount of poorly written content on the web is just amazing. In order to please the search engines, you need to please actual human visitors. It's obvious when an article is "spun" because the wording just isn't natural. The search engines want to provide users with the best possible results and spun articles just won't cut it anymore.

Speaking as somebody who takes a lot of pride in his use of the English language I also found the concept of 'spinning' rather repulsive.

At first.

Upon using a spinner program and distributing a little content however, I realised it's just a really excellent way to produce a lot of unique content to build back-links.

The content is still readable if spun properly, and spun articles can still deliver the vital information that people are searching for.

You cannot rebuke this tactic on the grounds that it is ineffective. Feel free to rebuke it on the grounds of artistic integrity as a writer, however if you want to build a ton of strong back-links quickly it's a great method.

Sure it murders the language we've spent so long mastering, and yes I also find it slightly perturbing, but at the end of the day there are always going to be high quality written content and junk content to produce back links. I'm secure enough in the original and quality content I write for people to read to not be bothered by having to produce a shed load of trashy content to build links.

You make a lot of excellent points here. I just don't know if article spinning and other types of garbage content will ever leave us as long as incoming links remain vital to rankings and we have proof that, often, unethical practices actually DO work at achieving higher rankings, in spite of what Matt Cutts and Google's webmaster guidelines tell us. In other words, if Google can't plug the loopholes, there will always be people prepared to take advantage of them... and benefit from them.

How wonderfully refreshing to see such shabby practices wholeheartedly condemned.

I was trawling through one of my competitors' back links the other week and stumbled across a series of spun articles, some of which made me laugh. Somehow "search engine optimisation" had become "look engine optimisation". Gibberish.

Anyone who would choose to risk their professional reputation for a few extra short term bucks must lack self respect.

I hope the engines will soon be able to spot the lookalikes and drop the spun content and their embedded links from ther indices altogether.

Miriam, you're right, it does work, and sometimes SEO makes you do things to get results that as a marketer you don't like because you're not messaging and positioning things the way you'd really like. We can do better. But to some degree Google has sort of designed the incentives into the system that encourage this kind of thing, so I would place some blame there.

BTW, you might get a kick out of this parody spin formula article (I wrote it back when no one was following me so few have seen it):


Great points on murdering the English language, and authenticity not translating to end reader (consumer) with spun content. (pls excuse the grammatical laziness)

Waste of time, cheap tactic that degrades every other above-board visibility effort and ultimately waters down real helpful conversion based content. Too much trash already out there, no need to add to it.

Flotsam and jetsam - Young Guns was on TV last night, great pull!

PS - 'intert', 4th paragraph from the end (I'd want someone to tell me, zero malice or fun-poking intended)

I really appreciate all the thoughtful comments being shared here.

Ewan - your example of spinning is extremely funny. A classic! Nothing like a 'look engine' to make a great impression!

Friendly Rory & Ted, I do understand the concept that marketers may feel forced by circumstances to do things they find weird or distasteful, but on the other hand, we each have a hand in making the rules. Google is only processing our data...not creating it. If no one was stopping this low, this wouldn't be an issue. I think by taking a higher road we are actually able to be part of the solution instead of the problem.

Chris - thanks for catching my typo. Corrected! :)

Thanks, everybody, for your comments.

Hello Miriam,
Thank you for this article, it was very interesting to read your opinion on spun articles. As a copywriter I do respin articles but I complete that in a bit different way. I usually just rewrite the main sense of whole sentenses, for example It was a great day and kids were playing in the gardern|The weather that day was really nice and the gadren was filled with kids and so on. I do agree though that adding synonims to specific words works not so great.

I don't think that it will take Google to figure out a way to recognize this. I'm pretty sure that Panda is doing a pretty good job at detecting this sort of thing and nullifying it.

I really don't use any article spinning software as it produces poor quality content. I know that some marketers spin articles just to produce a huge number of articles. But this idea is not good because once someone reads the articles and finds out that these are nonsense, they wouldn't click over to your site. I think it's much better to provide few quality articles rather than producing hundreds of poorly-written articles. Keep in mind that you are writing for people and not for search engines.

Thanks for your article.
I think it makes much more sense to write your own original articles. I have started my own website and to be honest, I have been too scared to hire an SEO company in case they start submitting dodgy articles under my company name. I personally would much rather do the work myself, submit good quality articles and do my online marketing slowly. It may take longer, but I won't be worrying about suddenly seeing a drop in my rankings.

Great article
It probably won't be very long at the rate Google is moving to develop metrics taking the total backlinks of each page, give the results a weighted average comparing pages using simular keywords.
With that info they'll compare the similarities in content of those pages with excessive backlinks then penalize accordingly. Once again another gaming tactic dealt with while leaving the legitimate hard working IM to continue providing a great search experience. Also Google's mission of providing a better search experience becomes more evident for all of us.

I see a lot of my competitors using spun articles just to get backlinks. And when you try to READ the articles... they don't make a lick of sense. Complete non-sense there's no way to get anything from.

But I will say, they are stomping me at Google simply because they have hundreds and hundreds of backlinks from their spun articles. So while spun articles provide no value to anyone trying to read them, they do seem to give a benefit (to my competitors, at least). ;-)

Miriam, I agree with what you're saying, But I feel like writing good articles isn't enough. I can write good, quality content all day long but that doesn't mean people will see it. What do you suggest then for getting Google to rank us high by doing everything the legitimate way?

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Search Engine Guide > Miriam Ellis > The Shady Practice Of Spinning Articles To Avoid Duplicate Content Penalties