Google web spam czar Matt Cutts recently spoke with Eric Enge on duplicate content, the problem with infographics, competing against big brands, and more. Here are a few highlights from their interview.
Avoiding Duplicating Content Isn’t Enough; Google Looks for Differentiation
Remember article spinners? I really hope you’re not still using them.
Spinners are like an automatic thesaurus, changing out certain words just enough to make the article different enough that you hope Google won't catch on.
Another tactic used real people, often underpaid outsourced workers from developing countries, to change the structure of an article and trade out a percentage of words so you could call an article “unique.” Of course, article spinning typically generates garbled, unintelligible garbage. It did work for a while a few years ago, to fool the search engines into thinking a site had more unique content than it actually had. No longer.
Of course, there are other, less insidious, ways of changing up content just enough to make it appear unique, without adding anything of additional value to the reader. Some may not even be aware of what it is they’re doing; it can be difficult to add your own unique spin when you’re talking about a topic that seems to have been done to death.
Take accounting principles, for example. You’re an accountant and you want to rank for accounting topics, but what can you really add as a unique perspective when accounting principles are standard, static, and have been covered on nearly every accounting site out there? This is the challenge.
Cutts highlights the importance of truly unique content by reminding marketers and publishers that Google is looking for added value. He told Enge, of sites with content that mirrors that of other sites, “While they’re not duplicates they bring nothing new to the table. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what these people have done, but they should not expect this type of content to rank. Google would seek to detect that there is no real differentiation between these results and show only one of them so we could offer users different types of sites in the other search results.”
It is more important than ever to write from your own experience, on topics on which you have first-hand knowledge, in order to create something not only original in sentence structure or word choice, but in essence.
Specific to e-commerce and aggregator sites, Cutts said, “They need to ask themselves what really is their value add? That does not mean they cannot create something that works, but they need to figure out what it’s that makes them special.”
You Don’t Have to Be a Big Brand to Rank
When Enge asked Cutts to clarify Google’s position on the subject of big brands and whether Google rewards their advertisers with better rankings, the answer was an emphatic “No.”
“A brand could be potentially useful, but it’s certainly not the only lens to interpret the world. There are lots of signals we use to try to find the results that bring the most value to users. And whether or not someone is an advertiser does not matter at all,” said Cutts.
The challenge for smaller companies and publishers, however, is that brands have an inherent advantage with “lots of signals.” They have the manpower and budget to create greater amounts of fresh, unique content. They probably have more reach in social media. They may be able to leverage relationships with major distributors, manufacturers, and others.
Still, said Cutts, smaller publishers can succeed. “One of the great things about the web is that it still offers up-and-coming businesses opportunities to build their own reputation online. This can enable them to succeed even though other companies may have large advertising budgets,” he said.
It’s not easy, and you’re going to have to compete with every other competitor trying to achieve the same outcome. This is where establishing authorship, creating value-added content, and building your reputation through social activity, reviews, and link building are key.
Infographics: Proceed With Caution
“In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of an infographic.” Cutts told Enge. “What concerns me is the types of things that people are doing with them. They get far off topic, or the fact checking is really poor. The infographic may be neat, but if the information it’s based on is simply wrong, then it’s misleading people.”
Indeed, infographics are all the rage. However, they are just another type of content that must offer something of unique value, as with written content.
We recently received an infographic submission at Search Engine Watch that demonstrates the problem with the infographic trend. It showcased a series of images representative of search queries, with sets of two pitted against one another and one named the winner in query volume. What was missing? The information that would have made it an interesting “info”graphic.
There was no actual data on search volume. There was no indication of geography, a timeline, trends over seasons, or historical performance. It was simply a graphic tied to a recent event that offered nothing a marketer (the target audience) could take away and actually use.
If you expect people to link back to your site because you published an infographic, you need to make sure it’s relevant to your readers and theirs. “Any infographics you create will do better if they’re closely related to your business, and it needs to be fully disclosed what you are doing,” Cutts advised.
Content for Multiple Location Sites within the Same Company Must Be Unique
Using the example of a pizza chain with 60 locations, Enge asked Cutts how a business owner should deal with populating all of these sites with unique content. Where people run into trouble, said Cutts, is in using the same description of the product or service across all of the different location sites.
“That information would be great on a top-level page somewhere on the site, but repeating it on all those pages does not look good. If users see this on multiple pages on the site they aren’t likely to like it either,” he said.
Enge raised an excellent point: searchers who land on the site for the Chicago location have almost no chance of also landing on the Phoenix site, for example, and reading the duplicate content. How is a business owner to describe each of their physical locations in a different way when they essentially offer the same thing?
“In addition to address and contact information, 2 or 3 sentences about what is unique to that location and they should be fine,” said Cutts. He said Google would not see this as thin content.
What do you think of Cutts’ recommendations? Do you take exception or particularly agree from experience with any of the advice he put forward? Let us know in the comments!