Monday, 6 December 2010

Duplicating website content - always a bad idea

This is a slighly techie post for photographers with sites at Photoshelter but may also be of interest to anyone who thinks that putting up two identical sites at different domains is a good idea. (It's not).

Google has an easy way of sorting out people who put up the same content in two or more different web domains - it simply chooses to ignore one of them and index the other.

That may be a little over simplified but in effect that is what happens. I've just been careless and stumbled into the position of setting up duplicate websites without appreciating what is going on.

How? Well, in using Photoshelter.com to set up a website at their sub-domain lighttouch.photoshelter.com and then using a facility that they provide to run the site from my own domain at library.lighttouchimages.co.uk, I omitted to observe (or get told), that lighttouch.photoshelter.com would continue to exist as a complete duplicate of library.lighttouchimages.co.uk.

There are many other photographers in this position (using a CNAME to run a site off their own domain or sub-domain) and several may be wondering why their efforts to get their sites noticed by Google are not yielding the results they should.

Simplifying something which is no doubt very complicated, Google quite sensibly detects that photoshelter.com is a far bigger and more authoritative presence on the web than my little site lighttouchimages.co.uk. It would also note that almost immediately after hitting library.lighttouchimages.co.uk the links on that site direct traffic to lighttouch.photoshelter.com.

So behaving as any rational robot backed by an algorithm would, it pays attention to the pages at lighttouch.photoshelter.com and more or less ignores the pages at library.lighttouchimages.co.uk.

The upshot is that most of the work put in by photographers to help with a site's Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a waste of time. There could be more issues issues, but if there are others, I believe this will still be the biggest.

Why? Photoshelter educates photographers to link to their sites from blogs, social media such a Facebook and garner links from third party sites. It kindly sets up gizmos to make this a bit easier. It provides the ready made links too - but those links are directed to the photographer's own domain, (in my case library.lighttouchimages.co.uk), the site which Google is most likely to ignore!

So in the end the photographer's efforts mean little or nothing. Some traffic still goes to the site hosted at photoshelter, because the photoshelter.com domain is indexed by Google without a duplication penalty, but there could be much more traffic if the SEO efforts were directed at those photoshelter.com pages.

It seems that this is something that Photoshelter, in all their SEO wisdom, should be smarter about. It seems to me they could do one of two things:

1) Educate photographers about the existing situation: perhaps photographers should do what I have just done and make sure that all inward links go to the photoshelter.com sub-domain (I've gone through all the links I can find amending them)

2) Set up the domain at photoshelter.com so that Google is told to treat the photographer's domain as the site to have precedence. Those that know more about this than I do say this is is apparently possible but this seems to have been either overlooked or for some reason not adopted by Photoshelter.

I've raised this issue on the forums at Photoshelter and in doing so learnt some more about how Photoshelter works, but in all the noise (I'm by no means the first to raise the issue) the issue seems to be lost. If and when it's sorted out I may have to redirect my links again, but at least now I'm in a bit more control of my SEO destiny while those who know about library.lighttouchimages.co.uk will continue to find a site there.

2 comments:

  1. I'm a bit confused about this myself.

    I am a PS user and I have been using the CNAME technique and making the same "mistake" as you i.e. getting links to my domain and not the PS subdomain. If I check with a Page Rank checker then both domain names have been given the same rank 4/10, so is there actually a penalty?

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  2. Hi Nico

    Go with the evidence of what actually turns up in searches rather than the Page Rank checker!

    Cheers

    Scott

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