Long ago and far away, there was a world where there was no Web. Back in those early years (such as the 1960′s through the mid-1990s), there were certain basic concepts that guided the world of marketing. One of the facts of life during those times was that each market space tended to support somewhere between three and five major brands, and no more.

The major brands were the ones competing for general merchandise or services on a national or global scale. Regardless of where you went, they were there. There were other companies in these market spaces, too, but they operated in a niche fashion. They constrained their efforts to a local market, or a specific subset of the products in a given market space. They also could do quite well, but they were inherently smaller, and they were not in a position to cover the broad market the same way the big brands did.

The Great Disruption

Then came the Web. Suddenly, leadership was defined by understanding the universe of terms that a user might type into a search engine, implementing keyword-rich pages on your website, and using a link-building strategy. Dozens, or scores of businesses could compete on very generic terms nationwide (pick your country!) or even globally.

In some cases, this actually helped make these players huge brands. But more often than not, there were tons of companies that were no-name brands, competing in their market in a broad horizontal fashion — not like that post-caveman era/pre-Web marketplace at all.

This disruption is coming to an end.

The reasons for this reversion are quite clear. To see what is happening, we need to understand how the products of the search engines work.

A Little Frog Story

I am going to illustrate my point with a sequence of screen shots that tell of a user’s hypothetical search experience. Imagine that a user searches on [frogs]. They click on the first result, and they get a page that looks like this:

Frog Search Result Page One

Frog Search Result Page One

However, the user does not get what they want from that page. So they go back to the search results and click on result #2, which brings them to this page:

Frog Search Result Page Two

Frog Search Result Page Two

Still not finding what they want in the second result, they go back to the SERPs and click on the 3rd result:

Frog Search Result Page Three

Frog Search Result Page Three

If you look at these three pages closely you will see that they are not duplicate content, and they are most likely written by different people. But the problem is, they have the same four basic pieces of information, which we can summarize as: frogs are green, they live in water, they jump, and toads are a sub-species of frogs. In other words, there is NO difference in the actual information provided. Imagine what this does for the person who is trying to find out what frogs eat!

Angry Search User!

Why This Story Matters

It’s simple. Content-identical results like these are bad for the search engines’s product. The search engine’s customer is unsatisfied — they did not get the information they wanted, and they are frustrated.

More importantly, the search engines know this, and they are working on methods to eliminate this type of “sameness” from their search results.

This is something I discussed with Matt Cutts over a year ago, and here is what he said when I showed him this frog story:

Those other sites are not bringing additional value. While they’re not duplicates, they bring nothing new to the table. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what these people have done, but they should not expect this type of content to rank.

The bolding is mine, but the key point I want to get across is that success as a publisher does not simply mean “don’t spam” or “don’t use duplicate content” — in fact, it means much more. If you are publishing websites and ranking in search engines is a key part of your business strategy, than be prepared to answer the following question:

How will showing your webpages in their results improve the search engine’s product?

In more traditional terms, how will your webpages provide users with materially different value than the other websites covering the same market space?

If you don’t know the answer, then it might be that you won’t be showing up high in those results any time soon.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | SEO: Duplicate Content | SEO: General | SEO: Writing & Body Copy

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About The Author: is the president of Stone Temple Consulting, an SEO consultancy outside of Boston. Eric publishes a highly respected interview series and can be followed on Twitter at @stonetemple.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Mike Allan

    Thanks for this Eric. My encounters with crappy search results often end up with me creating content that answers my original question and hopefully others with the same question. Google likes my content as the blog posts I create to answer questions or solve problems rank very well. For example I wrote a post after receiving a mysterious phone call from 760-750-8888 and all I could find were others with the same problem. Or trying to remove the AVG Search Status from Chrome. Even AVG’s answer was dated!

    Solve a problem, answer a question, provide value of some sort to the searcher and you will be rewarded with better rankings.

  • http://www.ferreemoney.com/ Neil Ferree

    Evering since I started learning about semantic search from David Amerland and how our body of work is all connected, indexed and rendered by Google based on how well our schema markup is packaged and if our authorship is verified and trusted based on quantitative and quality of our social signal footprint and that it doesn’t look gamed or unnatural to the algo.

    In the old days, I would use Squid Lens and Hub Pages and article directories to amasse content that would banter the same social marketing issues. No Mas!

    Nowadays, I try to build well optimized social profiles on the big socials; YT, T, FB, G+, Li, SlideShare, Listly, Quora, Scoop.it, Flickr, Local IYP and a bunch more so as to increase the my social microphone so that if/when I come up with killer content that hits the mark, I’ve got a OK social link wheel to work with to brand my work product.

  • http://www.computershowto.pro/ Attila Szabo

    Amen to that …. sortof :) The sad truth is, that the overwhelming majority of “SEO” experts, and their sites, offers, articles, posts, “infographics”, are just synonim-rich copies and clones of what others have already said previously, about the same topic, in a hundred different places already. And it makes we want to throw a rock at almost anyone who tells me that their business is being an SEO expert.
    Why does everyone have to be an expert of some kind, to be regarded as a valuable human being, beats me :(

  • http://www.computershowto.pro/ Attila Szabo

    Amen to that …. sortof :) The sad truth is, that the overwhelming majority of “SEO” experts, and their sites, offers, articles, posts, “infographics”, are just synonim-rich copies and clones of what others have already said previously, about the same topic, in a hundred different places already. And it makes we want to throw a rock at almost anyone who tells me that their business is being an SEO expert.
    Why does everyone have to be an expert of some kind, to be regarded as a valuable human being, beats me :(

  • http://www.computershowto.pro/ Attila Szabo

    Mr. Allan, I agree, but my problem as of lately is, that it’s almost useless to do everything right, with the hope of getting ranked for your content, when 20 minutes later some punk copies your content, uses black hat to quickly tweet to 200.000 “followers” on link farms or whatnot, and you don’t get ranked for your own work and they take the credit. These are issues that if someone finds an answer to, I’d ask them to kindly let me know !

  • http://www.computershowto.pro/ Attila Szabo

    I’ve implemented and tested with google’s testing tool, all necessary markup on all my blogs, and I’ve also verified the authorship, so did my wife, as co-author of some blogs. Nevertheless, it’s been like 6 months or so since we’ve done that, and we’ve yet to see one single SERP where it mattered – the snippets are NOT displayed, and if they did, we sure didn’t see any improvement in our visitor stats, on the contrary, this is my first year in which, after 6 years of professional, respectful, and white hat blogging, I’ve started considering giving up, because of the fact that so many, poor quality sites and blogs outrank our blogs, for which we’ve worked so hard.
    So, it’s a mess, in searchengineland, IMHO

  • http://diyrickytlc1985.blogspot.com/ Ricardo

    Beautiful point, every new Blogger should read this as we all seem to spitting out the same generic crap, we are living in a age where we are generating more info than ever before, seems a large portion is social garbage and duplicate content. Great Article and I love the pic.

  • http://diyrickytlc1985.blogspot.com/ Ricardo

    Beautiful point, every new Blogger should read this as we all seem to spitting out the same generic crap, we are living in a age where we are generating more info than ever before, seems a large portion is social garbage and duplicate content. Great Article and I love the pic.

  • http://www.warrenlee.org/ Warren Lee

    I believe there is no one size fits all solution to solve for
    “sameness”. Defining the best results depends on whether or not the
    keyword has commercial intent or other intent and the solution for best
    results will vary across industries and whether or not personalized data
    or geo data is available. Thinking through the lens of “what is best
    for improving the search engine product” is challenging because
    information seekers or advertisers who will often have conflicting
    interests. The previous comments highlight that Google has not solved
    this challenge, and in my opinion the only way Google can solve this
    challenge is to think about the search engine results design without
    creating what I call unnecessary scarcity. Instead, it would be good to
    see other people create customized niche search variations of Google
    based on various intents. Not sure if Google has opened up their data
    API for developers to do this though?

  • http://www.e-careers.co.uk/ David

    I don’t think it’s a matter of having commercial intent or other intent or not, as, and lets be honest here nearly everyone producing content on the web is doing so for commercial gain of some sort or other! Whether or not it be to establish yourself as an authority in a particular field – so you will be able to leverage for commercial gain in the future ( perhaps authoring a book on your subject matter for example ) or if it’s to provide the best information possible to the searcher, so that you out rank everyone else and reap the benefits it’s all for commercial benefit in someway. and how can you know if an authors intent has evolved over time or remains constant over a period of time.. How could a search engine predict the future in terms of someone’s intent at any given time?

    I believe the search engine would like to produce the best, most informative answer to any given query, so if you have commercial intent bears no relevance as if you do have commercial intent but are providing better information and content than everyone else, delivered in a highly desirable manner, then you deserve to be at the top, as you are best serving the users query, as simple as that!

    I do agree that there is no one size fits all though..

  • http://www.e-careers.co.uk/ David

    I don’t think it’s a matter of having commercial intent or other intent or not, as, and lets be honest here nearly everyone producing content on the web is doing so for commercial gain of some sort or other! Whether or not it be to establish yourself as an authority in a particular field – so you will be able to leverage for commercial gain in the future ( perhaps authoring a book on your subject matter for example ) or if it’s to provide the best information possible to the searcher, so that you out rank everyone else and reap the benefits it’s all for commercial benefit in someway. and how can you know if an authors intent has evolved over time or remains constant over a period of time.. How could a search engine predict the future in terms of someone’s intent at any given time?

    I believe the search engine would like to produce the best, most informative answer to any given query, so if you have commercial intent bears no relevance as if you do have commercial intent but are providing better information and content than everyone else, delivered in a highly desirable manner, then you deserve to be at the top, as you are best serving the users query, as simple as that!

    I do agree that there is no one size fits all though..

 

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