Marketing disaster

Imitation – the highest form of flattery or marketing disaster? 


As a marketing consultant I frequently encounter difficulties that clients need me to solve.

I discovered this week that whilst George Bernard Shaw might have been right when he said “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning” it doesn’t always work to your advantage if you’re on the receiving end of the ‘imitation’.

Let me explain.

I have a client who I’ve helped with marketing for many years. They have, over that time, built a high performing website rich in valuable content which, until recently saw them appearing at, or near, the top of search results for lots of relevant keywords and enjoying significant web traffic.

In the middle of last year traffic started to drop off, but as enquiries didn’t take a similar dip they weren’t too concerned, in fact they were pleased that their visitor to enquiry conversion rate had increased. Being aware of recent changes which affected how Google ranks sites and which sites are pushed to the top of search engines we started to explore whether the site had fallen victim to any of the changes.

And you’ll never guess what we found? Go on try.

Several other companies in the same sector as my client had reproduced copy from my client’s site on their own – word for word. As George Bernard Shaw suggests we could have been flattered and certainly they’d learned and benefited an awful lot from my client’s hard work in developing their copy and getting to the top of the search engines.

The result, you might think would be minor. But oh, no!

A number of the websites which used copy stolen (and no, I don’t think that’s too strong a word) from my client’s site appeared higher in the search engines than my client for terms specific to that page. So not only had they stolen content they were stealing visitors too. We think this is probably because Google’s recent updates are focused so much on downgrading sites with duplicate content (which Google has never liked, by the way) and for whatever reason we lost out – possibly because my client’s site had been live since 2008 and the ‘copiers’ were much more recent.

Obviously, my client has acted to rectify the situation by having copy removed from the offending sites, but it could take some time before their site recovers fully in search engine results.

Check for copying and act now

I wanted to share this experience as I’m sure my client is not alone. I’d recommend, to anyone reliant on their website for business results to take the following actions:

  • Check whether you too have fallen victim to any copyright infringement and take action. There’s a useful tool called Copyscape which allows you to monitor the web for plagiarism. I’ve not tested it fully myself yet but I’m told it’s very effective.
  • Your action doesn’t have to be heavy handed, just ask them to take the content down. It could be that they have been the victim of unscrupulous content writers themselves.
  • Review your SEO (search engine optimisation) activity. If you are using an agency, ask them about the tactics they are using and how they are making sure what they do doesn’t fall prey to Google’s changes. Lots of SEO agencies previously focused on what were seen as legitimate inbound link building strategies across a wide range of social media platforms. These strategies no longer work.
  • If you haven’t already you’ll probably want to put systems in place to monitor the performance of your website in terms of visitors, leads, sales and ranking for your most important keywords. This should help you spot any discrepancies quickly and take any necessary action.
  • Stop sharing content with other websites. You might be flattered when someone approaches you and says, ‘Oh, that’s a great article, can I add a copy to my website?’. It’s good of them to ask but the answer now should be a firm no. Offer to write something unique for them or encourage them to blog about your article and include a link back to it, but don’t let people copy your content.
  • Continue writing great content and promote it via social media. Links are still important to Google, but they need to be genuine and high quality links. To put it simply one link from a highly ranked site (the BBC site, for example) would be worth thousands of low value links from directory sites or other dubious link building tactics. Genuine links to your website, articles or blog posts from other quality websites, mentions of your articles from your Twitter followers and +1s on Google+, will all help.

As we all rely more and more on our websites for business success we need to be more vigilant in tracking any attacks on them.


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