Friday, December 27, 2013

Duplicate Content & SEO: What are You Adding to the Conversation?

What is the Internet? Of the infinitely possible definitions, we prefer a meaning that speaks to connectivity and sharing. For The Organic SEO Blog, the Internet is a conversation. Within this conversation, relationships often blossom between people as well as people and businesses. The best online businesses understand this simple fact: communicate with your customer like a respected friend and you will have a customer for life.

The online men's clothing company, Bonobos, understands this simple fact. If you own an online business, you'd do well to take a few tips from Bonobos for transforming customers to "brand promoters." Of course, many online companies excel at customer service. comes to mind. And Nordstroms. We mention Bonobos here because they also provide a good example of carefully-executed differentiation. Beyond its great-fitting pants, Bonobos has created a steady market for its clothing by selling its own unique, and often quirky, brand.

Most online businesses fail at differentiation. Some businesses sell truly unique products, but  fail at marketing the product's uniqueness. Many businesses, of course, sell similar products, but fail at differentiating other important factors, like cost or service. A failure of differentiation is a communication failure. If the Internet is a conversation, the businesses that fail are like boring people who avoid conversation, or worse, people who drone incessantly about "the seven things you're not supposed to talk about," like how you've slept, or your day-to-day health. Ho hum!

If you own an online business, and you're trying hard to create a market for your product, you might begin by asking yourself a simple question: what am I adding to the conversation? The answer to this question just might be the make or break factor for your business.

As our sponsor, Alex Stepman of Stepman's PC says, "If you're not adding something new to the conversation, after all, why are you talking?"

As we've written before on this blog, fresh, relevant content is the key to success. In the world of SEO, one of the most egregious conversation failures is duplicate content--content copied and pasted from other sites without attribution. Now, many sites necessarily use duplicate content as a matter of business. As Google's head of webspam, Matt Cutts explains, a lot of duplicate content is often benign:

"We do understand that lots of different places across the web do need to have various disclaimers, legal information, terms and conditions, that sort of stuff, and so it’s the sort of thing where if we were to not rank that stuff well, then that would probably hurt our overall search quality..."

So not all duplicate content is bad. It's the online business that simply copy and paste product information or, worse, entire chunks of text, from other sites--it's these businesses that crowd the space, and make the Internet conversation boring. This sort of duplicate content is everywhere. We often discover it when searching for health supplements. So many sites sell the exact same supplements with the exact same product descriptions without offering any additional helpful information that might actually inspire a sale.

Take the example of a popular probiotic from Garden of Life, Primal Defense. Take a look at how Vitacost and Vitamin Shoppe essentially offer the exact same information. Yet Vitamin Shoppe differentiates itself by adding product reviews. Differentiators are key--especially if you're an affiliate. As Google's Cutts explains:

"Hopefully you’ve got a different page from all the other affiliates in the world, and hopefully you have some original content – something that distinguishes you from the fly-by-night sites that just say, ‘Okay, here’s a product. I got the feed and I’m gonna put these two paragraphs of text that everybody else has.’ If that’s the only value add you have then you should ask yourself, ‘Why should my site rank higher than all these hundreds of other sites when they have the exact same content as well?'"

We mentioned Bonobos before because they do a good job of differentiating their own brand and their own products as well as other brand's products. Bonobos sells the popular boat shoe, Sebago. Notice how Bonobos uses Sebago's description for the Docksides--"The handsewn boat shoe that started it all"--but then adds its own unique paragraph about the company: "The Sebago-Moc Company was founded in 1946 by three New England natives..."

Incidentally, if you google that last sentence from Bonobo's site, you'll see many imitators who've duplicated the text without attribution.  From Google's perspective this is the bad kind of duplicate content--the kind you should avoid, at least if you want to place high on Google's search results.

The lesson? As always, keep your content fresh, relevant, and original.