It’s really no secret that we’re fans of unique, compelling content at Thunder. If you take a gander at our blog, you’ll see posts about the importance of content creation for link building, ways to leverage that content on social networking sites, and you might even learn that content is queen.
If there’s one thing I learned in college (ok, there were a few things), it’s that people are always looking for an easy way out. Since great content gets better rankings in the SERPs, businesses started searching for the easiest and fastest ways to get that kind of content on their site. So, in strolls my old friend supply and demand (see, told you I was a scholar!), and next thing you know, content shops are popping up all over the place. Just do a search for content creation, and you’ll get the gist.
Now, I’m not knocking professional copywriters. Like most things, there is a time and a place for these types of services. You’re building a website, and your writing sucks. By all means, please hire a writer. You need a press release, but you haven’t got a clue how to write one. Again, hire a writer. Do you have a million products on your website that all need unique descriptions? Yeah, you should hire a writer.
But what about that pesky blog? Do you want to show off your expertise in an industry, effectively making your website a resource in that space? Should your blog be real experiences you’ve encountered and overcome? And do you want the posts to be interesting, and more importantly, unique to your website and unavailable anywhere else on the web? Then take the time to make it great, and sorry to burst your bubble, but that doesn’t include buying canned content.
Example time. One of our favorite clients is an auto repair facility. They’ve been working with us for a while, and really understand the value of SEO and the impact it has had on their business. The owner (let’s call him Felix) is always trying new marketing experiments, and one of his recent endeavors has been testing out a content service. We’ll call them Auto Canned Content (ACC) to protect their privacy. In a nutshell, it’s a service that automatically updates your blog with posts about cars and auto maintenance, and to say they don’t really understand SEO would be like claiming that only a few people wanted to see the President’s birth certificate. The purpose of this post isn’t to harp on ACC, but I will say that their links are horribly structured, they stuff geographic keywords in weird places, and if you do a search for any of the sentences in their posts, you can find the same sentence on 20+ other blogs. Did someone say SEO nightmare? Yeah, it was me.
Of course, Felix and his team create unique blog posts to supplement the canned content, and we’re still figuring out if this relationship with ACC is one that should last. Since the posts are on his blog, he has complete control over everything, and we often make changes to the internal links and delete the overwhelming mentions of “San Diego.” But this week, Felix sent me an email that took things to the next level. It was from an obvious leader in the industry, and they were encouraging him to “map a domain” to his new “Service Assistant website.” Here is a snippet of said email:
Wait, what? After taking a closer look at his “Service Assistant website,” I knew the content had to be coming from ACC. Same linking style, same keyword stuffing, same everything. And now, they’re asking him to make this site a sub-domain on his real website? What the cuss!
Here’s why we would NEVER recommend this strategy at Thunder:
- Our auto repair client already has great (and unique!) content on their blog.
- All of the links on these posts point to the home page, while using anchor texts like “tire rotation” and “diagnostic testing.” Historically, we’ve worked really hard to build up the link integrity of our client’s website, with internal links pointing to appropriate service pages (e.g. mentions of “brake repair” go to the brake repair service page and so forth).
- Making this site a sub-domain is like telling Google “Yeah, we like everything about this other site, and we want it to be part of our website.” We don’t.
- The posts are boring. Why not create something new with shop photos and real-life examples?
- This could potentially be harmful to our work, given the fact that the links all popped up very quickly. A lot of the content was added in one day, and the content is canned. In fact, the same post can be found on 20 other websites, which bots could see as duplicate content.
And then there was that Farmer/Panda update. Matt Cutts has clearly stated that this Google algorithm update evaluates content on a page as well as how often the page is accessed by users. He’s indicated that Google is trying to weed out sites that have unrelated content that isn’t helpful to the user (by virtue of the low on-page interaction). This is part of the update’s attempt to weed out content farms, user-generated content sites and the like, and to give preference to high-quality and unique content. Google might not index these duplicate content pages, but even worse, they might actually lower the site’s authority (and rankings) overall by virtue of having these canned and low-interaction pages on the domain.
So, not only is this content not helping the site, but it’s probably hurting it. The part that really grinds my gears (pun always intended) is the fact that the auto leader presented this service to Felix (and who knows how many other auto professionals), spinning it as something that will positively help his site’s SEO. I could hear the excitement in Felix’s email as if this was something that was going to be a great addition to the site. What’s a small business owner to do but accept the wisdom of a giant and successful corporation in their industry?
If you’re considering a canned content strategy, please reevaluate your decisions. It’s my personal guarantee that writing a few posts a month yourself is better than hiring a company to write 20 canned posts a week. It may take a bit longer to rank, but if your readers find your material valuable, they will return and share your content with others. As my good friend Rand Fishkin says, “Ranking well is not enough. We must DESERVE to rank in order to win in the long run.” We concur!