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February 13, 2011Duplicate content – are you protecting your page rank?

I’m obsessed with my metrics. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the process of building a site, of populating it with content, of monetizing it and making it work isn’t about guesswork. It’s about making informed decisions by checking who’s visiting your site, how long they’re staying, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking for. In short: your site flourishes when you provide people with content they want.

I came into the office for a Sunday session, thinking today would be a good day to go over my metrics and make a few tweaks to my site.

I was surprised to find five visits from tumblr. As a tumblrite myself, I wondered who’d blogged about me. What I discovered wasn’t a friendly link, it was duplicate content.

Duplicate content designed specifically to harm my page rank and, therefore, my business.

Duplicate content: how the scam works

You can set up a blog on wordpress, blogger, tumblr etc these days in three or four clicks. In days, if not hours, Google will index your content and check it against what’s already out there. If it’s duplicate content from somewhere else, it’ll go on both of your permanent records. Of course, Google isn’t stupid — it knows who the original author was and takes steps to counteract the scam. But so-called black hat SEO tactics are short term in nature — for all I know this duplicate content might have taken me off the front page for my chosen keywords for a couple of weeks, or even a month, before being adjusted.

It’s a variation on an old scam. Once upon a time, both parties had to hang up the phone before the line would become free again. So rival taxi firms would call each other’s numbers, leave the phone off the hook, and prevent anyone else from calling them — ruining their business for the night.

In this case the actual effect on my site has been fairly minimal. But it’s been a big wake up call. Until today, I never really concerned myself with questions like “what if other people are using black hat SEO techniques to damage my page ranking?”

But I need to be thinking about this more and more. After all, if I drop off the front page for a couple of weeks, my business is dead in the water. My rent doesn’t get paid. I don’t eat.

I’m mostly angry because it must have been a competitor – another copywriter. Most of us in this business are pretty honest guys. When one person stoops to this level, it harms all of our reputations in the eyes of our clients.

Until today, I never thought I was important enough for this sort of thing to happen to me. But content theft is a very serious business and it could be harming your site.

I’ll be on high alert from now on. You should be too.

How to protect your site from duplicate copies

1. Use a duplicate checker like copyscape.com to see if your content is being stolen
2. Use Google Analytics to see if any odd sites are linking to you — I found my tumblr doppleganger because they’d copied the site, but kept the links — so people were finding my real site via their duplicate content.
3. Report any duplicate copy to Google, and to anyone capable of taking the copy down, right away. You’ve no time to lose.
4. If in doubt, change your copy. Minor changes to a few sentences here and there will mean Google will no longer see the pages as identical. This can be a lot faster than waiting to have the duplicate copy taken down.

A good, and comprehensive list of things you can do to protect your content, including technical countermeasures such altering your HTML, robots.txt and using PHP can be found at wiscocomputing.com

Update: It was a graphic designer, not a copywriter, who had copied the site. They have since taken it down and offered a sincere apology. Personally, I’m just glad it wasn’t a fellow copywriter. There are one or two out there who use black hat tactics – fortunately most of us are an honest bunch.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, February 13th, 2011 at 6:16 pm and is filed under Blog, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment

  1. Owen Marcus says:

    Good post. I had a problem with duplicate content.

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