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Duplicate Content a Site Killer? Not to the ILSs

            I recently heard someone say that duplicate content will get your site banned from Google. It simply isn’t so. If it were, every single ILS would have been out of business years ago.

            Most larger property management companies are interested in maintaining a consistent message and rely on products like Lead2Lease, ILS Portal, Dynamic Lead Solutions or other lead management and tracking solutions to automate feeds to ILSs, craigslist and other online marketing vehicles. Among other things, this results in the same community description text being in hundreds of places on the web.

            Let’s look at 1500 Locust as an example, which is managed by The Bozzuto Group, one of the top 10 multifamily developers in 2011 and one of the largest property management companies in the East. Its community description is 199 words long. According to Google’ Webmaster Tools, “Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. ” I think most people would agree 199 words is a substantive length.  Doing a Google search for a snippet of the text reveals they are sending this description to (or in some cases, it has been unknowingly syndicated to or scraped by) ForRent.com, Orbitz.com, 4WallsInPhilly.com, BridgeStreet.com, Oodle.com, ApartmentRatings.com, YouTube.com, RealEstate.com and olx.com.  Clicking through to the second page reveals another ten results. After looking at the 5th pages, I got bored. I’m sure if I continued clicking I’d see Google has omitted some results, but I rarely click beyond the first pages when I’m searching anyway.

            In a perfect world is it ideal that all ILSs have the same content? Not really, but in the fact is that duplicate content has not gotten any of the ILS sites banned, let alone the individual pages. And one of the realities in our imperfect world is it’s unrealistic for ILS customers to produce unique text for each site.

            And at least in our case, while it may not be the best case scenario, it’s yielding good enough results. Our 1500 Locust listing is a search engine magnet. According to Google Analytics, that page had  233 entrances (and only 58 bounces). 

            Duplicate content does not appear to be hurting 4 Walls. How is it affecting your site traffic?

 

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I appreciate you noting that property management companies know what they are doing by distributing duplicate listing content to high rank sites like YouTube and RealEaste.com. Google appreciates those sites and that content.

However, it would be unfair to compare this long term traditional listing and property description syndication strategy to the new social web. PMCs and the search engines alike are finding their ways with the proliferation of new social tools like blogs. Duplicating content across scores of blogs will end up hiding most of those properties from search, but it would take repeated offense, but I agree its tough to get banned.

The more likely outcome is a repeat offender site achieving a lower Google page rank and 'omitted' SERPs which has been documented. Duplicate blog content is not anything like listing distribution, and that is what google has been warning about now. (See Google Panda release notes as recent as this year)

We noticed your company also added higher cost services to start creating unduplciated content for your clients and we applaud that. As a vendor to the industry, it is important to set the right strategies for PMCs and not try to work around the search engine rules just to match client budgets. As Web marketing service providers, we owe it to clients to offer a product with the greatest chance at visibility and ROI.

  Chris V
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Chris V.,

Thanks for for expanding on this commentary. I agree with most of what you are saying and I think like many areas discussed on MFI, there are shades of gray on this issue.

Is 100% unique content always best for a community blog? No. For instance, we proofread and physically post content to social media sites on behalf of customers. Some content come from corporate offices along with instructions to post it to all community blogs, which in some cases is scores of blogs. An example that comes to mind is a Happy 4th of July message we posted earlier this year. In this case, the company's primary objective was to use their social media platform as an internal communication vehicle, not an SEO engine and IMO, social media's value as a resident communication, engagement and retention tool has a higher potential ROI than SEO.

Since 2009, we have had a custom blog option and 98% of our customers have chosen an offering that includes duplicate content. We recently dropped the price of our unique content option and reintroduced it. Exactly one customer is upgrading and we have not been able to sell the unique content option to anyone new (and it's just $20-40 more per month). Truthfully, we were a little surprised, but the reality is while in theory this make the product "better," in practice we can't prove it. Our test sites didn't perform any better (and yes, we were also surprised by that).

Notwithstanding my opinion SEO is of secondary importance, I just looked at Google Analytics and in the trailing 30 days, 33% of our social media customer's traffic came from organic search, 46% from referring sites and 21% was direct traffic. Given that so much traffic from referring sites is baked in (the community sites, some ILSs and each FB and Twitter post link to the blogs) I think it will be hard to move the % needle too much.

What is even more important (and an ongoing challenge for us) is to get the communities to let us know about events and community...

Chris V.,

Thanks for for expanding on this commentary. I agree with most of what you are saying and I think like many areas discussed on MFI, there are shades of gray on this issue.

Is 100% unique content always best for a community blog? No. For instance, we proofread and physically post content to social media sites on behalf of customers. Some content come from corporate offices along with instructions to post it to all community blogs, which in some cases is scores of blogs. An example that comes to mind is a Happy 4th of July message we posted earlier this year. In this case, the company's primary objective was to use their social media platform as an internal communication vehicle, not an SEO engine and IMO, social media's value as a resident communication, engagement and retention tool has a higher potential ROI than SEO.

Since 2009, we have had a custom blog option and 98% of our customers have chosen an offering that includes duplicate content. We recently dropped the price of our unique content option and reintroduced it. Exactly one customer is upgrading and we have not been able to sell the unique content option to anyone new (and it's just $20-40 more per month). Truthfully, we were a little surprised, but the reality is while in theory this make the product "better," in practice we can't prove it. Our test sites didn't perform any better (and yes, we were also surprised by that).

Notwithstanding my opinion SEO is of secondary importance, I just looked at Google Analytics and in the trailing 30 days, 33% of our social media customer's traffic came from organic search, 46% from referring sites and 21% was direct traffic. Given that so much traffic from referring sites is baked in (the community sites, some ILSs and each FB and Twitter post link to the blogs) I think it will be hard to move the % needle too much.

What is even more important (and an ongoing challenge for us) is to get the communities to let us know about events and community news so we can post them on their behalf. The content we produce should only supplement what is coming directly from the community anyway. Not tomorrow, but in the near future, I expect community managers will be expected to write their own blog posts at many PMCs.

In the meantime, the content curation and auto content generation tool providers are making inroads into the multifamily space. In a nutshell, content curators let you do a keyword search and then show you a bunch of related web pages. With once click, you can copy of paragraph from existing web content as well as a link to it. In theory, you're supposed to use this as the starting point for your blog post, but in practice, I think the temptation to simply hit "publish" and lean on the fair use loophole of copyright law will be too great. This will lead to a lot of duplicate content of low value...but more on this in another blog post. :-)

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  Ellen Thompson

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