Marketing experts are constantly banging on about our “USP” – our unique selling proposition; for anyone to be interested in us we need to be different. Online, uniqueness is even more important. There are just too many place to go, sites to visit and people to contact who all do the same, look the same and well, are the same…!
Google and other search engines even weed out sites that are too similar. They have a “duplicate content” rule; if similar content is in more than one place online, Google will present only one of those pages in its search results. Yet, the web is stacked high with article directories where you can download text and have it appear on your web site, saving you the bother of having to write anything. The problem is that dozens, or hundreds, of other web site owners have had the same idea. Their web sites then include the content that’s on your web site and you are no longer unique.
Not only does using articles work against you in terms of search engine ranking, it also means your web site is no longer unique as far as your readers are concerned. They have come to read your views, your information, your take on your subject – not see what you’ve copied from someone else. True, having a collection of articles on a specific topic can help; editing a series of articles into a useful group can be a service your web site visitors would appreciate. But merely adding other people’s articles to your site won’t attract the readers.
It also can lead to other problems. Today, two separate legal actions have been taken which indicate the trouble you can get yourself into. The Associated Press (AP) has issued copyright infringement proceedings against The Drudge Report – a well known blog in the USA. Bloggers are arguing that carrying short excerpts from the AP wires is “fair use” under law. It may well be – but is it fair on the readers?
In the “olden days” consumers could not access press wires directly, so newspapers would include snippets of information from them, all legally and above board. Nowadays we can access the likes of AP directly, without the need for any intervention from other publishers. So, the use of AP snippets in places like The Drudge Report could be drawing readers away from AP, and therefore could be a copyright infringement. But it’s a disservice to the readers of Drudge. Just giving your readers material they can get elsewhere is no good any more. It used to be OK when the likes of Drudge began – but now Internet users know where to go; they don’t need “collections” of stories and snippets to guide them.
If there are items in the news you want to report on, your readers are seeking your interpretation of those items – not just re-reporting. So, even if the AP loses its legal action in terms of the strict definition of copyright, it does point to the fact that your web site can no longer just carry the news – if you are to serve your readers you need to interpret the news.
And this brings us to our second legal action that has important repercussions for web site owners. The TV psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud is currently facing a hearing at the General Medical Council, charged with plagiarism. His TV appearances and other media work came to an abrupt halt a while back when it became clear he had been using other people’s work in his own publications. He is arguing that it was “copy and paste” errors, but even so this hits hard at his reputation. Would you trust a commentator on an issue if their “work” turned out to be someone else’s? So, not only must your web site interpret the news, that interpretation must be your own, otherwise you will suffer reputational damage.
These two legal cases and the Google duplicate rule point to one essential element of your web site: the content must be unique and offer your readers material they cannot get elsewhere. Do that and you will retain your readers for a long time; fail in the unique test and you will be unable to succeed online for long.