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The truth about duplicate content

There are many myths and rumours surrounding duplicate content. In this post we’ll separate the fact from the fiction in terms of its potential impact on your website.

What is ‘duplicate content’?

Where better to start than with Google’s definition?

“Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin. Examples of non-malicious duplicate content could include:

• Discussion forums that can generate both regular and stripped-down pages targeted at mobile devices
• Store items shown or linked via multiple distinct URLs
• Printer-only versions of web pages”

There is a common misconception that any amount of duplication on a web page is a bad thing – this is not the case. Generally, some duplicate content is OK if the source is credited, adds value and it doesn’t make up a disproportionate amount of your content.

The quoted copy above is a good example of this, we are not passing this off as our own opinion, we are very clearly referencing and linking to the original source.

So what’s wrong with duplicate content?

Problems with duplicate content arise if its intent is seen as malicious. Once upon a time, black hat SEO practitioners could copy content across sites to manipulate search engine rankings. But algorithms are much smarter now, so having a large amount of duplicate content on your site will do more hard than good.

Also, if your site has a significant amount of duplicate content, search engines will have the following problems:

– They won’t know which version(s) to show in search results – and what order to rank them in.
– They won’t know which version of the content to include/exclude from their results.
– With internal duplication in particular, search engines won’t know if they should direct the link metrics to one page, or keep it separated between multiple versions – essentially diluting the ‘link juice’. But if the content is on only one URL, each link will point to that single page, enhancing its authority.

Can you be penalised by Google for using duplicate content?

There’s a common myth floating around that you can receive a formal penalty for duplicate content. However, in a recent video, Lipattsev was adamant that if Google discovers your site’s content isn’t unique and doesn’t rank your page above a competing page, it isn’t a penalty – it’s simply Google trying to give the end user the best experience. Depending on the search terms and the quality of your content, your page containing duplicate content could appear higher in another relevant search.

In the following video, Cutts makes it clear that duplicate content won’t raise a red flag with the search engine giant, unless it is spammy or involves keyword stuffing.

Although you may not be penalised by Google for duplicate content specifically, there are issues surrounding duplication which can hurt your rankings – namely the three points mentioned earlier.

Google and the other search engines love uniqueness, added value and high quality content, so sites providing this will be rewarded, while sites providing a high amount of copied content won’t be.

What about plagiarism?

Content scraping is not protected by copyright law if the person who’s using the content on their site gives credit to the original source. However, if an acknowledgement of the source is not included, this is classed as plagiarism; if you’re the victim, you could file a Digital Millennium Copyright complaint against the person who has stolen your content. Take a look at this real-life story of website plagiarism, including steps you might want to take if you’re in a similar situation.

How can you avoid duplicate content issues?

Although duplicate content may not be as deadly as many people believe, it’s still important to take steps to minimise its negative effects on your site. As a first step, tools such as Siteliner and Copyscape can help you to discover any obvious issues. You’ll find lots of helpful, up-to-date tips from the folks at Hobo Web and if you have an ecommerce site, US agency Inflow have also produced a handy guide.

If your website contains a lot of internal duplication, which is particularly common on ecommerce sites, you should indicate preferred URLs to Google via Canonicalisation.

Image courtesy of Andrew Mager.

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SEO content best practices for 2016 and beyond

The nature of SEO has changed beyond all recognition in the past few years and, as a result, content writing has also undergone a radical shift. Low quality, keyword-stuffed articles are no longer enough to achieve those all important rankings; today you need informative, insightful content that delivers genuine value to the reader. In this article, I’m going to show you some of the best SEO practices you should be following in order to get results, both in 2016 and well into the future.

1. Keywords should be strategically included, not stuffed

Long gone are the days when businesses could stuff their websites with a few choice keywords and expect to soar on to the first page of Google in no time at all. Updates to the search engine’s algorithm, most notably Penguin in 2012 and Panda in 2014, were designed to reward sites offering genuine information to help visitors, while penalising those attempting to falsely inflate their position. So, how can you keep the Google happy and still attract the right people to your domain?

Wordstream recommend that you “include relevant keywords in a number of high-attention areas on your site”, including in page titles, meta descriptions and body copy. As your site will have hundreds, and potentially thousands, of short and long-tail keywords to target, you’ll have to be intelligent in terms of how you do this – for Searchmetrics, “Keywords are, of course, an organic part of good content, but are meaningless without relevance and structure.”

In their 2016 SEO checklist, Web Runner advise utilising several methods for keyword research, so you end up with a definitive and relevant list you can use “to provide answers to your visitors’ questions, as well as to position [yourself] as an authority who can help them if they need even more.” Integrate your keyword research into your existing content calendar, so you are focusing on a few key terms for each piece of content, rather than over-extending and trying to cram everything in in an artificial manner. As long as you’ve done your homework and your content includes a smattering of key search terms in all the right places, you’re abiding by the rules and should start to see evidence of success sooner rather than later.

2. Let the link juice flow

Links have always been an important factor in determining the provenance and relevance of a site, but the way in which search engines view linking has changed over the years. In 2016, it’s vital that your content contains a mixture of internal links to other articles or pages on your domain, to help visitors navigate through your site, and external links to authority sites. For your audience, this shows evidence of where you got your information from, but in terms of SEO, external links are a powerful ranking factor.

Internal links – According to Forbes, “the number of internal links on high-ranking pages has increased since 2014.”  However, as with most current SEO best practices, the key here is quality, not quantity: links should be provided in an intelligent and non-intrusive way, “ensuring that the user stays on the page and is satisfied.” KISSMetrics recommend not over-optimising by including keyword-rich anchor text; instead, links should be spread naturally, over longer anchors.

External links – Link juice is a term used by SEO specialists to communicate the increased authority granted to sites receiving lots of links from other sites. Although the benefit to your ranking will naturally come from other websites liking your content and deciding to link to it, you should always be linking to authoritative sites yourself; outbound links to toxic sites could see you penalised. Again, differentiate your anchor text, and make sure the reader can find value in whatever it is you’re linking to.

3. Include headings and sub-headings & use tags correctly

Large blocks of unbroken text are a big no-no in modern SEO. Just as your audience is likely to be disconcerted when confronted with a huge body of text, search engines also struggle to extract the main points of a long post with no discernible structure. An easy way around this is to incorporate headings and sub-headings into your content, as plenty of SEO experts, such as Yoast, recommend.

Headings and sub-headings are a useful way of including variations of your key search terms, enabling people to find your site, but again, you should ensure that any titles you do include are relevant to the copy itself and guide the reader through your content. Header tags should also be used correctly – Google itself recommends “multiple heading sizes in order to create a hierarchical structure for your content” – which, if you’re using HTML, involves you knowing the difference between H1 and H6 tags.

4. Aim for longer posts

Ten years ago, 300 word posts were considered long and effective, in terms of SEO. In 2016, however, the benchmark is around five times that length, with Martin Laetsch recommending a focus on long-term content, between 1,200 and 1,500 words, as ideal. John Lincoln found that longer articles targeting competitive keywords rank higher and attract more backlinks, while Google’s own Pandu Nayak has said that one of the key thought processes behind the Panda update was “to help users find in-depth articles.”

It’s not a given, but as long as you’re following the three SEO best practice tips outlined above, you could well see more benefit in posting a weekly 1,500 word blog than you would from daily 300 word offerings.

Key takeaways

• Research and organically include keywords in your content to please a human audience, not search engine bots.

• Internal links help readers and search engines navigate through your site, while external links build authority – so use them!

• Always break up content into easy-to-read chunks with relevant headings and sub-headings containing a selection of your target keywords.

• In modern SEO, long-form content is king: the more in-depth you can go with your topic, the better.

These are just a few on-page SEO tips to guide your content writing over the next few months and beyond – do you have any further suggestions?

Image courtesy of Andy Roberts

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Drive more traffic with this simple, 4 step SEO content audit

Continually reviewing and improving your on-site content is an integral part of any SEO campaign. In this post, I’m going to show you how you can keep on top of things by providing a step-by-step guide for auditing your pages, identifying what’s working and what isn’t and targeting areas for improvement.

Step 1: Gather your site’s content using Screaming Frog

In order to perform an effective SEO content audit on your site, you’ll first have to gather all of your content. The best way to do this is to download Screaming Frog, which will scan your site’s URLs and analyse pages from an SEO perspective, saving you browsing through each page manually.

After Screaming Frog has completed its crawl through your site – this could take a few minutes, depending on how much content your site contains – filter as necessary and export the URLs and page titles you want to check to a spreadsheet; leaving plenty of columns free – you’ll need these to add the ‘SEO data points’ that you’re going to be analysing later.

There are many different data points you could consider. In his guide for Quicksprout, Neil Patel recommends creating columns for:

  • URLs
  • Date Audited
  • Title
  • Description
  • Content
  • Keyword
  • Alt Tags
  • Last Updated
  • Internal Links

Feel free to add and delete columns as appropriate.

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Step 2: Pull in data from Google Analytics to work out what you’re doing well

For the next step, you’ll need to sign in to Google Analytics. Navigate to ‘All Pages’ (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages in the toolbar) so you can obtain a list of your site’s most popular pages. As Patel highlights, “this will help you audit your most important pages first… [giving] you results as soon as possible.” Narrow or expand your dataset using the filters and, when you’re happy with the selection, export to a new page in your spreadsheet.

You should now have a list of your content, in descending order in terms of performance, with the following data: page views, average time on page, entrances, bounce rate, and exit percentage. Kristi Hines suggests doing this so you get an insight into what you’re doing right on your top performing content; you can then apply this to the rest of the pages you’re auditing or optimise further.

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Step 3: Analysing your pages

Now comes the difficult part: going through each page on your site in order to determine its effectiveness. There’s no quickfire way of doing this, you’ll simply have to trawl through each page, analysing content in terms of the ‘SEO data points’ mentioned earlier and make a record of how each page performs – several sources, including DynoMapper, recommend grading content on an A to F scale, with pages ranked ‘A’ being the very best and requiring little improvement and those awarded D, E, or F meriting action, which I’ll come to later.

As a minimum, you should analyse the following:

Page titles and URLs – Page titles and URLs should be unique, containing a maximum of 65 characters and, ideally, the keyword you’re targeting on that page.

Page description – If you’re using WordPress as your CMS, download Yoast’s excellent SEO plugin to make the auditing process easier. The plugin flags up missing aspects of your on-page SEO with a red light, so you should easily be able to edit your auditing spreadsheet accordingly. Page descriptions should be 160 characters or fewer, and should adequately convey to your audience what your content is about.

  • Content – Check each piece of content to determine if it’s relevant and insightful to your audience, grammatically flawless and well laid-out.
  • Keywords – Content should contain a selection of your targeted long-tail keywords, so ensure you have this information to hand at this stage of the auditing process.
  • Alt tags

 – Images should be under 100KB to minimise page loading times, but alt text should also be filled out. Remember: search engines can’t ‘look at’ an image the way humans do, so you need to tell the bots what’s included in the picture with a descriptive tag containing relevant keywords.
  • Internal links – Content should contain at least three links to other pages or blogs on your site, as well as external links, if possible.

If your page is missing any of the above, make sure you flag it up in the corresponding column of your spreadsheet. Moz’s exhaustive guide lists other aspects of your content you can examine for SEO, but how far you go is up to you.

Step 4: Actioning the changes required

The whole SEO content auditing process is worthless if you don’t take any actions to remedy the faults you’ve found. 

Remember the rating scale we talked about before? A good starting point in terms of recommended actions would be to either rewrite, remove, or optimise any pages which scored a D or less. The elements in Step 3 are fairly easy to change (if your page is lacking a meta description, include one, fix any broken links or images etc.); just remember that, if you’re removing pages or changing URLs, you should redirect the user accordingly.

Set yourself a deadline to implement the changes, and also outline the date you’re going to perform your next audit, so you can deduce how effective the process has been. As long as you’ve been thorough, and you’ve done what you said you would, you should see results.

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How to become a freelance web content writer

Google’s insatiable appetite for quality, informative content means that web content writers are more in-demand than ever before. The cream of the crop can, with the right determination, contacts and skills, make a decent living and enjoy a great work/life balance, but it’s a tough gig to begin with. If you want to get into this industry, whether you’re changing profession, or graduating from university, how do you get started?

Ensure your basic writing skills are up to scratch

Contrary to popular belief, freelance web content writers don’t necessarily need to have a degree; however, as the Study.com career guide points out, they “often have a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism or communications.” These study paths will inevitably give you an excellent grounding in the skills seen as indispensable for any budding freelancer to hold.

Being able to spell correctly and write in a comprehensible and engaging manner is obviously a pre-requisite, although, as highlighted by Victoria Delano these are basic traits desired in any writer. To really set yourself apart as a freelance web copywriter, you should also be able to “critically analyse content… and find inconsistencies in your writing” and “conduct thorough research and analyse the facts you learn”, determining which are most salient to the piece you’re writing. If you’re confident in your ability to do all of this, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Learn to market yourself

As a content writer, you’re going to be “creating… valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action [for the client]”, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s official definition of content marketing. It is vital then, that to attract business, you practise what you preach.

Establish a web presence, so potential clients can find you. Your site should list the writing services you offer (clients will be looking for varying forms of content, so be sure you know the difference between blog posts and articles, for example, and communicate this effectively) but, most importantly, it should also include a blog. For Mariah Coz of Femtrepeneur, “Having a blog is like having a collection of writing samples (a portfolio) that can attract potential gigs and clients.” Try to find a niche subject to write about, rather than covering as much ground as possible; it is easier for you to come across as knowledgeable and informative on one or two smaller topics, and gain work through this, than it is to blag your way through an issue you don’t fully understand.

Finally, adopt the tried and tested tactics of content marketers by guest-posting for bigger blogs in your niche. As Coz points out, this is “mutually beneficial” for you and the site: they get good quality content, for free, or for a small fee, while “you (potentially) get paid to write… get lots more exposure for your own blog and experience working with others and sticking to a schedule.”

Develop a wider understanding and skillset

While you may be confident in your abilities as a writer, and have a strong website and blog to back your skills up, there are thousands upon thousands of people out there who feel the same. In order to differentiate yourself in a competitive market, you need what Sherry Gray of Entrepreneuer refers to as “a full toolkit of marketable skills.”

This could include:

Technical knowledge – including the ability to design and code your own website, or simply being able to upload and optimise posts in a client’s Content Management System.

Familiarity with a range of social media platforms – on which you could build both your own and your clients’ following.

A wider insight into the marketing industry and the broad goals of the business you’re writing for – Gray suggests showing evidence of your ability to research keywords and buyer personas, for example.

The best content writers are polymaths: they’re marketers, SEO specialists, accomplished coders and social media masters all rolled into one package, so ensure that you can offer potential clients more than just the clichéd “carefully crafted copy” hawked by everyone else.

Keep yourself busy – and don’t give up!

By its very nature, copywriting is an inconsistent line of work, especially when you’re first starting out, seeking regular clients. Carol Tice underlines how important it is not to give up, saying “you can’t be a writer unless you are willing to put it out there and face rejection. You have to be willing to hear “no” and not crumple up in a ball and cry yourself to sleep.” Literature is littered with examples of writers, including J.K Rowling and Booker Prize winner Marlon James, who only became famous after years of persistence.

Fortunately, the internet is full of freelancing websites, which allow freelance web content writers to pick up work as and when they need it and build relationships with clients. Contently allows writers to easily assemble a portfolio and then use this to pitch for work.

When you work for yourself, time is money, so spend it wisely. Bear in mind the following advice of Laura Kay, writing for the Guardian’s Careers section: “If you don’t go looking for work, spending your days shooting off emails and writing pitches, then it is very unlikely the work will come to you.”

Conclusion

Becoming a successful web content writer is about much more than being able to write. You need to be able to communicate to a range of audiences in a succinct and effective manner and, of course, you have to find a unique way to market your own services and skills in order to attract business in the first place. You also need a number of personal qualities, including self-motivation, initiative and the ability to interpret clients’ instructions. If you can nail all of the above, congratulations: you’ll benefit from being your own boss, working your own hours and never having to negotiate the rush hour traffic or pull a sickie again!

Image courtesy of Fiona Palmer

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