It’s that time of the year again, April 1st a day when pranking and trickery are considered common place. The internet has always had these types of things but today is when it’s stepped up a bit and taken to an extreme through viral marketing efforts. Today I went to check my Gmail and came across Google’s April Fools trick about how we are now able to back date e-mails months into the past and make them look like they had been read. It was pretty funny but that’s to be expected of Google. I would highlight them but Google doesn’t need SEO. Continuing into my e-mail I had 2 new newsletters. One from Microsoft’s Xbox 360 site and one from a favorite shopping site of mine ThinkGeek.com.
Microsoft’s newsletter had some “new products” for spring which included a gaming helmet with “rumble” effects, an Xbox 360 made of wood, the Xbox 360 board game, and a Xbox 360 that came with a solar power tv and generator just incase the world ended and you needed power. Their items were unconvincing and were all done with computer graphics. Regardless of this fact I clicked through to see if there was any more effort put into their campaign. Clicking through the newsletter took me to this Xbox promotion page and although it is a very pretty page its total lack of text makes it useless for SEO. After clicking on one of the items in the flash movie the page tells you it’s a joke and to e-mail your friends and the campaign ends there. So what did Microsoft get from their viral marketing efforts? Not much. They managed to get 1 visit to an obscure promotion page and maybe a few e-mails out to my friends. They effectively drove traffic to a site that did nothing but generate traffic to a site with no conversion.
A better example is a personal favorite of mine ThinkGeek.com. Every year this site has a new April Fools viral marketing campaign and is known to be one of the best on the internet (You can see past year’s items here. Their entire home page is transformed by this campaign. Product pages, movies, and user images are all created to support it. Great items such as this Beta-Max to HD-DVD Converter or this USB Pregnancy Test are highlighted on their home page. The fake products that have movies are uploaded to YouTube where they spread like wildfire by un-expecting victims. Other are spread though word of mouth, blogs and message boards.
By this time tomorrow ThinkGeek can expect thousands of backlinks to these products by people who either thought they were funny, clever, or real. I can’t think of a better example of viral marketing that also translates into amazing SEO results. ThinkGeek has a PageRank of 8. This score is higher than Buy.com, Half.com, and Overstock.com. Through its creative marketing and SEO efforts this little niche ecommerce site has sky rocketed its self 1 PageRank away from the likes of Ebay.com and Amazon.com the 2 largest ecommerce sites on the internet.
Examples like this are proof that you can build relevant backlinks through viral marketing and social media. It doesn’t take a huge budget it just takes creative marketing efforts to enforce your SEO efforts.
Many companies today are starting blogs to help boost their SEO results. Blogs can be a great tool to introduce new content to the site in an easy to use fashion and without the resources of a web designer or knowledge of html. One great aspect of these blogs is the comments feature that allows users to post comments about your blog post. This is great because the comments are usually about the same topic as the post and can add a lot of good, indexable content to the page other than the main post.
But there is also a darker side of comments, the spam side. Blog comments are an easy way for people to spam links to their site because many people leave the option in WordPress “on” that auto approves comments. I know there have been many times that I had read a comment along the lines of “Great site, keep it up” or “Just surfed in and I love your site”. Sure they seem harmless, but comments allow the user to post his url and name with their comment. So the above two comments were posted by a person named “Buy Viagra Online” and were actually a link to an online pharmacy. This is not good for your site at all. Comments like this can put you into bad link neighborhoods and associate your site with theirs.
The problem is that not all comments are like this. The option to add your url is so other blogs can link back to their blogs. The idea of comments is great and the rewards of building a solid community outweigh the risks of possible spam. But if you are going to allow comments, you need to moderate them all. Check the users post; make sure it is relevant to the topic of your post and not a generic post. Generic posts can be a sign of an automated posting spider trying to spam blogs with open comments. Check the users name and url; you want to allow them to post their url because it is part of blogging but you should always visit the url a user gives to make sure you are ok linking to that site before approving the comment. Comments are one of the best things about blogging but if you are going to enable them make sure you moderate them properly.
There was recently a frantic post on the Google groups by a gentleman who was sure that his entire website was de-indexed by Google because another domain had a cached version of it indexed. After he saw what had happened he researched the matter himself and assumed that he had been hijacked by this proxy cache and that he needed to take action to block any further problems. His response was to block all robots to his site with nofollow and noindex meta tags which only made matters worse. His actions caused his entire site of 4000+ pages to be removed from all search engine indexes and destroyed his business.
Of course this example is a bit extreme, but would your response have been any better? It’s time we educated ourselves about the mystery behind the dreaded duplicate content matter and learned how to really deal with it.
By basic definition, duplicate content refers to an exact copy of webpage or content on a page that is listed under a different URL. Meaning that the pages look exactly the same but the URL in the address bar is different. This could either be internally (within your site) or externally (on another website). For today, we are going to stick with external duplicate content since this is what is described in the example.
But first, before we begin, we should look at why we are concerned about what other people do online with our content. What caused this whole duplicate content beast to appear anyway? The true cause of the fear of duplicate content was Google’s supplemental index (which is now gone). The problem was that Google wanted to find a way to limit the number of results from a single site about a single keyword. For example if you had a page about green tea on your site and you also had ten copies of the page under different categories still on the same site Google had to pick one of them so your single site did not take up multiple spots in the rankings. These duplicate pages were placed in supplemental index to show the owners that Google knew the page was there, but didn’t want to put it in the search results because either the page itself or something very similar was already there.
Many site owners had problems with this because they did not have enough unique pages. Simply replacing green tea with white tea did not make a page unique enough to be listed as a different page. Pages needed to be clearly different with different, text to be unique, but no one knew. And so the dreaded duplicate content page missing issue began. The beast had been born.
So how does external duplicate content actually affect your site? The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t affect it at all. The stories we hear of cached versions of pages replacing the real site all have underlining nonrelated problems that we never hear of. If for example you were caught and deindexed for taking part in a link farm, it’s only natural that a copy of your site takes its place. It’s still your site and still your content it’s just listed somewhere else on the internet that’s not in trouble with the search engine.
If we really take the time to think about this whole issue of external duplicate content before we panic and make matters worse, we can see just how unfounded it really is. Could it really be so simple to destroy your competitors that all you needed to do was make a copy of their site? Heck, even multiple copies of a website could be done with just a few dollars. The internet would be in total anarchy as site after site would compete in terms of who could copy each other the most. Major sites like WhiteHouse.gov could be removed from Google because of the actions of the average middle school child with internet access and fifty bucks. Do we really want to think this is how the internet works?
In the end, we should actually consider these duplicate external websites and caches to be a good thing. If by some off-chance some user finds a cache version of your site online in the farthest reaches of the internet, it will still have your content on it and your contact information. This copy somehow could reach a user that in a million years could have not found your real site for some reason or another. Right now your articles and products could be being viewed by people you never even thought of targeting. This is a good thing for your business and your website. Some of these random cached pages might even be considered backlinks. Albeit this is a far fetched notion, but it is very possible.
I hope this has somehow cleared the air around the notion of external duplicate content and that you may feel more at ease when you see copy of your page somewhere online. It won’t hurt you or your SEO practices; all it can do is help spread your content. Remember copying is considered the most sincere form of flattery.