SEO & Web Best Practices
Victoria Kuhn
by Victoria Kuhn
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Original content is top dog

09/08/2010
Original content is top dog

The role and value of original content in an online strategy (with the bar as low as having a small Web site for example) is frequently underestimated. But let's be honest, unique content generation isn't cheap or quick. Prose on the Web requires a skilled writer who knows how to keep the user/reader engaged just where it needs to be to avoid the user abandoning the site, sales funnels, calls-to-action, or product (or service) mix, who understands the role of content in the educational process, and ultimately has the ability to change the behavior of the user to purchase something, adopt a way of doing (whether it's a new meal plan, getting more exercise, or being compliant with a medication or supplement regime), or simply keep them reading. Of course, what the brand is selling is important, whether it's a product like a widget, a service such as protecting your social security number from identity theft, or messaging the importance of good nutrition and exercise to help ward off disease.

Many people believe that it's perfectly acceptable to take content from a governmental or quasi-governmental resource and make it their own. The National Institutes of Health (NIH.org) is a good example. Its content is in the public domain and can technically be used without charge or restriction. The same goes for WIKI. Who do you think is going to rank on the search engines for NIH content? Your brand or the NIH? Well, if you answered the NIH, you’re correct. Don’t wholesale copy public domain content because it adds zero SEO value to your brand!

And some people believe they can borrow content from other organizations, including their competitors, to include on their Web site. Plagiarism is stealing! The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by US and foreign copyright laws. So how will the copy owner find out that an organization's Web site contains copied content (after all, the Web is a very big place to hide)? The simple answer is www.copyscape.com. Copyscape provides the world's most popular online plagiarism detection solution. Besides the obvious ethical issues, a business that engages in taking content from others is sabotaging its organic search strategy ... basically its Web pages being found by existing customers and interested parties. Why? Well-written, original content is rewarded by search engines, copied content is not. While there are a myriad of factors that help a page (or an entire Web property) organically rank (like Web site performance/speed, title and metadata, strong connection between title/metadata and the content associated, etc.), we know that unique content reigns.

When I started working in marketing, I learned very early on that search engines keep lists of words or terms of art and catalog pages much like what we see when we visit a library with lots of books on the shelves. Web pages that contain well-written, original content (and the other factors noted in the paragraph above) tend become better placed. [I write tend because no one knows precisely what is contained in the black boxes of the search engine algorithms.] Those pages that are duplicative of content on other pages, don't enjoy a space (or at least a high ranking space) when one searches on a term like Lyme disease, a serious disease that disproportionately affects folks in the New England states (and several others states too).

And only this week Google executives unveiled Google Instant, the newest version of Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Google Instant provides quicker speed functionality coming from artificial intelligence and intuitiveness when a user searches on a term or groups of words. Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google, in responding to a question, spoke of the importance of original or unique content and its role in search functionality. It was music to my ears, a validation of our mantra here at Dirigo. Search algorithms are not changing according to Google executives at the live press conference... but will the search function really remain the same now that Instant is live in the US? While we don't have a crystal ball, we wonder how the increased intuitiveness may change a user's search behavior, particularly in this health category example where even the best of medical providers sometimes struggle to accurately diagnosis and treat Lyme disease.

The combination of content volume available on the Internet on Lyme, Google Instant, and the user's impatience when searching the Internet (which Google may diminish via Instant shaving time off the user's search) may make a Web property's content on Lyme more challenging to be found. No matter how crowded a category (health or otherwise), we advocate with our clients for the development of robust and original content and couple it with deploying various best practices, and the organization's market mix to help them build their brand identity. In the case of the Lyme disease example, we also help our clients share educationally relevant health content, seek behavior changes from users to improve health, and offer a variety of ways (a few examples: science-based articles, meal plans, working with traditional and alternative provider community, and selling pharmaceutical-grade supplements) to help users feel and look better. Meanwhile, the organization grows their business.

With another blog post I'll examine the commitment needed to execute a best-in-class content strategy. For now, we'll sign off with where we started... original content is top dog with many of our clients (in human and canine health categories). Ruff, ruff!

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