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Brighton SEO: Winning at SEO with duplicate content

September 9, 2011 2 Comments

Usually duplicate content is bad. Google filters it out and links and social signals are split over several different URLs even if the content is the same.

But it turns out that you can dominate Google's search results in the short term via duplicate content - and here's the explanation, based on a talk I'm giving at Brighton SEO.

Look at all the traffic I got

Here's a graph that showed how I got loads of traffic to this blog by exploiting duplicate content. Don't look any further if you're easily offended or love the royal family.

Traffic graph

WOW. Where did all that traffic come from? Where did it go?

I took this blog from a few hundred page views a day to 30,000 at its peak by exploiting the fact that Google was looking for new content when it comes to suddenly popular or brand new search terms. Then I stopped and I went back to normal levels.

I'm sorry to report those search terms involved Pippa Middleton's arse and underwear and super injunctions and twitter.

So I waited for something to happen that I knew would trigger lots of searches. After the Royal Wedding it was Pippa Middleton's arse. Then a few days later it was her underwear. Just as that died down, the whole Ryan Giggs / Twitter / superinjunction thing kicked off.

Each time something happened I would throw a short blog post together and publish as quickly as possible - my ambition each time was to beat the mainstream news sites to publishing something.

Then I pulled a trick - for a few stories, I republished the story shortly afterwards on a different URL and 301ed the first URL to the second one. Then I did it again.

(This trick only works on trending news topics - so search terms that are suddenly popular and which make Google think that it should throw away its usual search results and replace them with pages that have only just been published (to correspond with the new interest in the search term).)

Look, two results for the same content ...

Not sure what I'm on about? Well, look at this picture.

Google screenshot

Step one: two results for the same content.

Hopefully at the bottom you can see that I have two URLs for my Pippa Middleton underwear pictures (NOTE: there are no pictures of this kind. She's in swimwear - blame the tabloids).

What I did

I took the first URL which was http://www.malcolmcoles.co.uk/blog/pippa-middleton-underwear-pictures-google-updates-autosuggest and I changed it to http://www.malcolmcoles.co.uk/blog/pippa-middleton-underwear-pictures-google-updates-autosuggests - the same URL but with an S on the end. I also tweaked the HTML title a bit (took the word its out).

How WordPress helped

Now a quirk of WordPress means that it tries to match partial URLs and will redirect accordingly. What this means is that if you tried to access the old -autosuggest URL you would get automatically redirected to the new -autosuggests one.

Try it with this URL: http://www.malcolmcoles.co.uk/blog/pippa-middleton-underwear-pictures-google-updates-auto and see where you end up. That's not a manual redirect, it's WordPress doing it automatically.

How this fooled Google

What Google sees is as follows:

  • It sees some content on a subject everyone is searching for but no on has published on lately.
  • So it shoves my result on page one.
  • Then it sees I've published another URL.
  • It's still desperate for new content so it gives me 2 results.

Of course, the 2nd one is 99% the same as the first one but (1) it hasn't noticed that yet and (2) it hasn't revisited the first URL to see that it redirects to a new one.

Now I've got three!

But if I can pull that trick once ... Here's another screenshot.

Screenshot

Hat trick

Yes, I've now got three results on page one. I'd changed the URL again. This time from -autosuggests to -autosuggests2. I didn't bother changing the title.

Again, Google is still desperate for new content. Everyone is searching for this term because American sites published the pictures. But very few UK sites have. So it gives me three results.

As a searcher, however, if you click on the old -autosuggest or -autosuggests URLs, which no longer exist, then WordPress will just match those to what it thinks you're looking for which is -autosuggests2. So you always end up at the same place.

Boo. Back to two.

Eventually, Google wised up to the fact that the first URL was 301ing (or was maybe the same, who knows). And it took me back to two results.

Results

Back to two

As you can see, the first -autosuggest has now vanished.

Eventually, all the duplicates were filtered out and my current URL is now top of Google for a search on her undies. Oh good.

But for a crucial few hours, when loads of people were searching, I had the same content several times on page one of Google's results.

Conclusion

One side effect of this is that people think I'm a pervert. That aside, for spiking news terms you can insert the same piece of content into Google's results. It will eventually notice that the earlier URLs redirect or are duplicates of the later ones. But by that time everyone will have stopped searching.

To be honest, you probably shouldn't do this. It breaks Google.

You also need to be on the ball. You need to beat big news sites (if you're dedicated, this is possible). And it only works on spiking news terms (these news data tools might be handy).

And don't cock it up. Duplicate content is bad. Ask the Express. Or the Indy.

This is the last of my posts or conference talks on Pippa Middleton (here's my earlier talk on Karen Gillan's underwear). I hope you enjoyed them. Don't blame me for the fact that nation is a bunch of perverts.

You might also like
  1. Pippa Middleton underwear pictures: Google updates its autosuggester
  2. Pippa Middleton’s arse: how newspapers optimise for the phrase without showing it to their readers
  3. Pippa Middleton’s arse: classy, Google, classy …
  4. WordPress comment pagination & duplicate content
  5. Avoid duplicate content with paged comments in wordpress

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