We got robbed. Not our offices. Not our cars or our houses. It was our ideas; our code and our designs.
We’re taken aback. Flattered, but shocked.
Now, we’re sensible people (most of the time). We’ve been in this game long enough to know that designers will always take ‘inspiration’ from different places here and there and we know that functionality can only be coded in so many different ways. As a creative digital agency, we’re affected by culture as much as we create it; that is the symbiosis of design and designer.
But when you find a website for a company half way around the world that looks, reads, acts, feels and, well, is exactly the same as yours, it becomes harder to pass off as ‘homage’. So imagine how we felt when we found a website in Mumbai that had done exactly that to our website:
I guess it’s a compliment. But the issue with duplicating content and code isn’t only about taking the high road or giving credit where credit’s due. In fact, there is a whole lot more at stake:
Duplicate Content = SEO Penalties from Google
Google want to deliver genuinely valuable search content to searchers (anyone who reads this blog regularly will be sick of hearing me say that). It’s in their best interest.
Unsurprisingly then, Google don’t like it when someone just duplicates content. Even if it is valuable content, there is already an established source for it; so putting the duplicate in the Google listings next to the original would be a waste of a search result. It would replace another genuinely original piece of valuable content.
In general, Google’s punishments are to drop the copying site by -10, -50 or -100 search results. Which one depends on the metrics of the wider search market for similar websites. However, a serious penalty would be complete omission from search results.
But what if Google struggles to render a clear picture of who came first? Both sites can see a negative impact in search results!
If content must be duplicated, it should always reference the source website properly, letting Google know that you are not trying to claim it as your own but rather pointing to somebody else’s work without having to send people away through a link to another site. Google will then ignore your duplicate content while promoting the source – after all, genuine references to the original source content are indications to Google that the content is valuable and is being shared and re-posted, just like social media shares etc.
Whenever possible, just rewrite content with your own take on it. That way, you shape and build on the value until it is original again.
Context Is King
People used to say that ‘Content is King’. It’s still true to some extent – Google like popular content – but the search engines have evolved. It’s no longer good enough to just host ‘popular’ content; you need fresh and relevant content that adds value in it’s specific context.
In other words, it’s not just about content anymore, it is about valuable content. And value only exists within context! By reproducing content elsewhere, the intended context is lost and hence the value is lost. And we already know Google won’t like that!
For example, the differences in tone-of-voice, humour, culture, language and general topics of interest between Staffordshire and Mumbai are probably quite vast. Our content speaks to the UK market primarily and we can be quite confident and tongue-in-cheek. A web design company based in Mumbai should either speak to the Indian market and/or the UK market, taking into account all of the positive and negative preconceptions they will be faced with.
Content should be written specifically for the audience.
Not a complex one here – our website is pretty much our brand. If people use a copycat website and get bad service, that nasty stink could end up rubbing off on us.
And don’t even get me started on the necessity for a brand that is suitable for the audience. If you need context for content, imagine how much you need context for branding.
With these things in mind, it’s hard to understand why anybody would duplicate content at all, let alone without referencing it properly. It might save a little time, but plagiarists end up with an unsuitable brand, content that sits out of time and place, and no traffic because of omission from results.
Are you worried people are stealing yours? Highlight a few small selections of your body text and Google them – see what comes back. Alternatively, drop a few unique design elements into Google’s image search function.