I had the chance to sit down with a large, multi-national, manufacturing company the other day. We did some research on the company before I went into the meeting, just to get a feel for how they were doing online. We knew they were large, had hundreds of employees, spent quite a bit on traditional forms of marketing, and we were curious to see if they were allocating any resources to their online marketing efforts. What we found was quite telling. Between all the different divisions this company had over 15,000 pages buried in the supplemental bone yard, not to mention little to no rankings for keywords we considered highly relevant to their business interests.. So we knew they obviously needed some direction just to fix this aspect of their online efforts. We found that distributors from their large network had just been scraping the manufacturer’s site, using the corporate product descriptions on their own sites; not good when you are looking to rank well.
The meeting was held in one of the division President’s LARGE office, on the top floor, with tons of windows and very impressive. The meeting began with them taking some time to explain to me each division, the products, the markets, and their plans to launch a new replicated website system to be offered to their entire distributor network. The distributor network is quite large, with over 100,000 active distributors world-wide. Currently distributors choosing to market online do it on their own, selling the manufacturer’s products through their own efforts and sites. To address some legal issues, the manufacturer has put together a team of employed “compliance officers” who scour the distributor sites daily to ensure the claims made concerning the products are appropriate and legal, and frankly it sounded like quite a bit of tedious, thankless work. I don’t know how many distributors actually do have sites, but with over 100,000 active distributors, the numbers would have to be pretty high.
Eventually they told me how excited they were about the launch of their new replicated site program, and it was their intention to launch over 100,000 sites all at once, and that they were expecting great search results for all their products when this happened, as each replicated site would link back to the corporate site, and would increase their online presence for each product in their lines. Here is where we had a problem, they were going to launch all 100,000 + sites with identical content, with only the name of the distributor being different, and no capabilities for the distributor to add or modify any content on their own. They went on to explain how the launch was going to be a big deal and they had spent a considerable amount (I am sure millions) to produce the system (including hardware requirement to host them all), a system-wide launch party, etc. Imagine the horror when I attempted to politely, yet candidly inform them they would see no benefit to their search rankings when these sites were launched. It was a bit uncomfortable there for a few minutes. I then discussed their current supplemental pages situation (and was so grateful we had done a bit of research), and how their new launch of identical sites would essentially become the same situation, just on a larger scale. Taking their supplemental page totals considerably higher, but with no real effect on their rankings for any of their products, or their corporate site.
We discussed various options to address the problem, but nothing was finalized. I am not sure what the end result will be, this company obviously has spent considerable time and effort in the new system, and just wanted to launch to see all the success, I felt bad about being the bearer of bad news. But without addressing the duplicate content issues, launching “as is” would unfortunately be a colossal waste of money, and since the time spent to date is already shot, I hope they address the problems before the launch occurs. I must say I am still quite shocked the IT or Web group of this company did not already know their system was flawed. The importance of unique content is one of the most basic and proven concepts of good SEO. We talk, blog, and have conferences about it all the time, and yet here was a large multi-national company ready to launch a multi-million dollar system, in hopes of improving their online positioning, and they didn’t know the problem of duplicate content. It was quite eye-opening.
Moral of the story, no matter if your site/company is big or small, there are very basic aspects of SEO we all must know, and not knowing them could be very costly. While you and I aren’t going to throw away millions if we make bad SEO decisions, others could. I would strongly advise companies spending considerable amounts on your online efforts, to make sure they are well-versed in the basic principles of SEO, either by reading, or by finding some savvy SEO consultant. In a previous post Michael shares a list of blog authors, reading these blogs is an excellent place to start learning SEO. Please take the time to become more SEO knowledgeable, and put those potentially lost millions toward something else, like local charities, employee training programs, or even a donation to the Aaron R. Stewart Fun Fund (ARSMFF), which would be greatly appreciated, and quickly utilized.