What Is Original Content?


You don’t have to spend more than five minutes reading about search engines and how they work to know you need original content for SEO. Google and other search engines penalize duplicate content even if you own both the rights to that content. If your content creator has inadvertently borrowed – or worse, outright taken – that content from another source without owning the rights to it, you could get a DMCA takedown notice or even face legal action. Obviously, original content is important, but what is it? First, it might be easier to look at what it isn’t.

“Original” Doesn’t Always Mean “New” (And That’s Okay)

People watch more than 6 billion hours of YouTube videos every month. That’s about 685,000 years’ worth of adorable cats, product demonstrations and movie clips. The chances that at least two of those videos will feature very similar content are extremely high. The same goes for written content, especially in hotly competitive verticals. Even the best writer isn’t able to produce a startlingly new way of thinking about five ways to trim belly fat or how to keep your shop floor clean. Even if they did, those writers would sell their new magic formulas for millions instead of putting them into a one-off blog post.

What most content creators do instead is take a slightly different angle on a specific topic, giving a new perspective on an established theme and leaving room for future variations on it. Take that shop floor example; a blogger might write one week about how to remove minor oil stains from concrete and cover soaking up liquids efficiently the next. From Google’s perspective – and just as important, from your audience’s – these highly specific articles are useful and original even if someone else has previously written something on the general subject of keeping your shop floor in good shape.

Repurposed Content – Original or Not?

Repurposing an already-written piece can still give you original content. By using it as the central chapter in an e-book, making it the jumping-off point for a series of blog posts or turning it into a new feature article, an older article reaches new audiences. When done well, repurposing even has a positive effect, giving you a stronger brand identity as you carry the same message across multiple channels.

The only caveat to content creators and publishers who want to repurpose is that the text must be unique for copy that will be visible online. You don’t want to take a single feature article you’ve published in an online magazine and take it apart to publish as-is in your blog, for example, because Google will see the duplicate text and potentially penalize you for it. For items that won’t see publication online, including print magazine articles, e-books and manuals, reusing some information is safe. However, keep your readers in mind; if they’ve avidly read your blog for years and plan to buy your book, make sure the book has enough new material to give your most loyal readers something novel and valuable.

The Illusion of Originality: Article Spinning

Automated spinning software takes a block of original text, replaces words within it with synonyms and spits out something that search engines don’t recognize as duplicate content. Unfortunately, they also produce text most readers won’t recognize as English. Spinning software makes a hash of idiomatic speech, metaphors, analogies and wordplay – in other words, it spoils most of what gives your content its character. Some companies offer article spinning by hand, paying workers a few pennies per article to use a thesaurus and replace words manually, but because spinners working at low wages usually don’t read English fluently themselves, the results are often almost as garbled as the products of spinning software.

Google and other search engines won’t register spun articles as duplicate content, but you risk alienating your human readers if you go this route. It passes the most minimal standard for original content, but text generated from spinners will almost always fail the eye test with readers, leading to high bounce rates and negating any gains you may have earned with your SEO from publishing ostensibly original content.

Spinning also presents potential ethical and legal problems if you don’t own full rights to the original content. Taking information from elsewhere, replacing a few words within it and representing it as your own is a form of plagiarism. While buying full rights to your content is usually preferable, you might have some content for which you have usage rights; spinning that content violates the terms under which it was bought and could leave you open to a takedown notice or worse.

Confounding duplicate content checks with what amounts to a trick isn’t enough to earn you traction on search engine results pages. For that, you need content that’s original in every sense of the word.

© Business Content, Inc. 2014 All Rights Reserved.

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