Dodging Duplicate Content Filters While Assisting Affiliates
A Get Elastic reader asked a question last week about duplicate content issues, SEO and providing affiliates with content. Our reader manages SEO for an affiliate site which has a sub-program of affiliate partners that do not use their own content on their sites, rather opt to use the content from the mother-site.
He wanted to know what he could do to protect his site from duplicate content problems that arise from content syndication. This refers to the way search engines filter out copies of a page on multiple domains and choose one or two sites to actually rank for the content.
You as a retailer with an affiliate program may wish to provide content for affiliates such as expert / editorial product reviews, general advice / guides on the product or activities related to the product or even product description content itself. This is great affiliate nurturing on the part of your affiliate management team - but it's vulnerable to duplicate content filtering.
What is Duplicate Content Filtering?
If a search engine returned a bunch of results for your search query that were pretty much the same, you would get a bit irritated, wouldn't you? Search engines understand this, and have tweaked their algorithms to filter very similar pages so you get a range of results that are relevant, but still different enough.
Is There Such Thing as a Duplicate Content Penalty?
Many people fear that they may incur a penalty for duplicate content - not to worry. You won't get penalized, only your indexing and ability to rank for a certain page will be affected. Still, this can translate into money lost for an online retailer.
There's 2 types of duplicate content: what I refer to as internal and external.
Internal duplicate content is when search engines recognize very similar pages from one domain. External is when multiple copies exist across multiple domains.
Internal duplicate content is not as bad as external but it can be irritating. Say you have copies of very similar pages on different URLs that are all indexed because they've been linked to internally or from other websites (domain.com, domain.com/, domain.com/index.html). When a search engine selects your content to show in search results, it will pick one version - and it might not be the version you want (a print-friendly page that strips out images and cross-sells, for example).
External duplicate content can be more problematic for a couple reasons. Essentially a search engine robot visits a site to crawl its pages to store in the search engine's index of pages. Search engines can recognize when a page's content already exists in its index. So if you have doesn't bother to add your page to its index. Even if it does, search engines may select someone else's page to show to searchers instead of your page.
Many people believe that the key to avoiding the filter is to publish the content before anyone else. But from what I've observed in the days of syndicating my own articles across many sites, that's not the case. Reprints can outrank the original if the site that copies the content has more authority, or for some other reason.
Unfortunately, this leaves almost anyone vulnerable to the duplicate content filter.
Is Duplicate Content Filtering Really A Big Deal?
Our reader was concerned about being outranked by affiliates. But do you really need to worry about being outranked by your affiliates? On one hand, yes, because if you make the sale yourself you save margin that you would have paid out to an affiliate.
On the other hand, when you have a large number of affiliates, your long-tail traffic potential goes through the roof. So it's not a big deal if the traffic goes to your affiliate, only to be directed to your site. In fact, your conversions may be higher simply because the traffic referred is now pre-sold on your product.
And that really is the benefit of offering such supplemental material to your affiliates. Whether it is filtered by search engines or not, your affiliates will still capture eyeballs through search engine traffic from other keywords, bookmarks, email marketing, directories, PPC, links etc., and the informative content you provide only helps the customer convert by pre-selling them.
However, you can provide content and give affiliates a choice whether to use the content as-is, or modifiy it enough that it's no longer duplicate content. If you educate your affiliate on the benefits of creating unique content (unless he/she's a newbie he/she should already know), then that should motivate your affiliate to do the work. Less risk of duplicate content filtering, more traffic, more sales, more money.
So yes, the duplicate content filter is a concern, because it will squash the aggregate long-tail potential of the content you supply to your affiliates - which impacts the overall sales you can make through your affiliate program. But NOT because affiliates may outrank you.
Nevertheless, making the sale straight from your own site is more profitable. So when affiliates outrank you on content you also have on your own site, there are a few things you can do:
Solutions for Duplicate Content Issues That Arise From Affiliates
1. Modify the content on your own site. Make sure you have unique content, even though you supply materials to your affiliates. Let the filter apply to your affiliates and make sure your terms and conditions of your program prohibit direct scraping of your site. If it's a product description, adding customer ratings and reviews could add enough unique content to your page to beat the filter.
2. Boost your internal Page Rank through interlinking (adding keyword-rich text links to product pages from articles on your site or a blog attached to your domain).
3. Use your external blog (or start one) to link to your content/product/resource pages.
4. Build links to the pages on other sites (resource lists on the topic). You can do this by searching for "keyword + links" or "keyword + resources" and contacting webmasters suggesting they add your resource to the list. Yes, this is old school, but back in my SEO days I had 30%+ conversion rates by asking nicely...
5. Optimize your title tags so they don't match the title of the content (if it's an article or guide).
Other Duplicate Content Issues
Another issue regarding duplicate content and affiliates is a canonicalization issue - meaning affiliate URLs appended with an affiliate ID (www.domain.com/12345 for example) are essentially copies of your site's page. If search engines follow the link without a rel=nofollow attribute, your affiliates could end up outranking you for your own products.