Copying Content Is Bad For SEO & Its Wrong

Well this is a first for us! We have been building websites for over 10 years and working with computers and many different programming languages since I was 12 years old, Commodore Vic 20 to be exact (yes that makes me that old) Today it was pointed out to us from another company about some content that was copied and used on a website. Well its actually a good thing that it was our website that content was used on and not a clients site. When we start any project with a new client the first thing we ask for is all content and images needed for pages for each design. This way the content is unique to their project and hen we tweak to wording to enhance SEO results. That is why half of our team is a professional copy writer and notary (commissioner of oaths) to ensure the highest in quality of copy for each website and graphic for print media or social. Our oldest daughter is 17 and graduating in just over 1 month, her friends like to code and they are quite good. We helped them learn WordPress by letting them work with us on our new website launch from last week.

It did not go exactly as planned as we found out today. They decided to take the idea of “take a look at what well established design firms do across Canada to come up with ideas” a little too literal and actually copied and pasted content. No harm no foul! That content was removed and edited, we did not even notice until it was pointed out. We decided to turn our lesson that we learned into one that others can also learn from.

Having quality, authoritative, regularly updated content on your business’s website is important for several reasons:

  • Shows your expertise and knowledge.
  • Helps potential customers make purchasing decisions.
  • Increases the likelihood of visitors to your site returning again.
  • Makes it more likely that other websites will link to you.
  • Increases traffic from long-tail searches.

Unfortunately, many business’s overlook this important aspect of their website and the SEO process. They want to spend as little money as possible on the development of their website after they have paid out for it to be designed. The development of your website shouldn’t be considered as a once or twice a year job though. It also shouldn’t be considered only in terms of visual appeal.

Everyone likes to see a nicely designed website, but given a choice between a great looking website with little/poor content and a poor looking website with great content, people prefer the latter. They aren’t searching online to look at pretty websites. They’re searching online for a specific reason and if you meet their needs then there’s a good chance that they’ll make a purchase from you, either straight away or in the future.

The obvious answer for businesses who want the benefits of good content, but who don’t want the hassle of producing it, or the expense of paying someone else to create it, is to find other websites who have good content and to copy theirs. Copying text from other websites is extremely easy – select all and copy. Copying images is just as easy – right click and save as. Using this approach, you can potentially add a new page to your website in less than 5 minutes. But why copy images when you have great resources like mentioned here:

That is one of the worst things that you can do to your business’s website. Practically all content published online is covered by copyright law and the penalties are the same as if you published a duplicate of someone else’s book under your name or if you used a photo someone else took on your printed promotional material without paying them. It’s a myth that “because it’s online it doesn’t matter”. It matters just the same. The fines are just the same.

Some people think that because there millions and millions of websites, the chances of being caught using someone else’s content are slim to none. It’s actually easier to be caught than copying content offline though. To find if someone has copied text, all that needs to be done is to do a Google search for one sentence of text from the content with quotation marks around it, i.e. “sentence of text from the content”. This will instantly return a list of everywhere on the internet that the exact same sentence has been used. Test it for yourself by searching for a sentence from a Wikipedia article.

To find copied images is just as easy – TinEye’s reverse image search gives a list of everywhere on the web that a particular image has been used. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) is a piece of legislation that was enacted specifically to crack down on online copyright infringement of all types of content – photos, text, videos and audio. Using the legislation, a copyright owner can get the entire website of someone who has infringed their copyright taken off of the internet. That’s a major, and expensive, problem for a website owner to deal with.

Even if a website doesn’t get forcibly taken down, it can get blacklisted by Google. Copyright owners can notify Google that someone has copied their content without authorisation. If Google agrees with them they will, at the very least, remove the pages with the copied content on from their search results. At worst, they would remove the entire website from their search results, and not showing up in Google for any keyword searches at all will have a massive negative effect on visitor numbers. Traffic will probably drop by at least 90% over night.

Those are the worst case scenarios, but even the best case scenario is pretty bad. Even if the copyright owner doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, if you’ve copied their content, Google’s algorithm is clever enough to know if new content that it comes across has been already been published elsewhere. There isn’t a penalty, as such, applied if they find that content on your website already exists (unless, as mentioned above, the copyright owners submits a complaint to them), however, the algorithm will take it into account when determining where to rank the page in their search results.

Google cares a lot about giving searchers a good range of relevant and interesting results when they search for something. If they listed exactly the same, or even very similar, pages of content multiple times on the first page of their search results when someone searches for a keyword then the searcher wouldn’t be pleased. Who wants to see the same content on a bunch of different sites? People want to see different information, opinions and views. Therefore, Google will only show the same page of content once in their main search results, and that page will be the original publisher, not anyone who has copied the content.

Google will typically show the searcher the website that first published the content and then below that in the search results will be this message “In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the one already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.” So, the copied versions can still be accessed, but almost no-one is going to repeat the search to be able to see omitted pages.  They’ll just click on the one page that Google has shown them. Why would they waste their time repeating the search just to see the same content listed multiple times?

Having your content being omitted for being “very similar” isn’t a penalty, but if no-one is ever going to see the content then the benefits of publishing it in the first place disappear. It may only have taken 5 minutes to copy and publish the content, but it’s still 5 minutes of your time that you’ve wasted. Also, if you do this many times, even if you do have some unique, quality content on your website, the overall trust that Google gives your site will diminish, and even your good content will fail to rank well. In Google’s eyes, your business’s website will essentially be categorised as a spam website and not worthy of good rankings in their search results.

If you want to avoid any/all of the above issues, the answer is to not copy content from other websites for use on your own. Spend time on, or invest money in, creating original content.

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