Did you hear that sound last night during the Super Bowl?
It was the collective SEO community hitting their heads against a proverbial desk.
Wix’s foray into the world of Super Bowl advertising this year caught the attention of SEO professionals.
If you didn’t see the advertisement, you can watch it here.
The ad is mostly about how “easy it is” to use Wix. Pretty standard Wix promotion – until about 25 seconds, where you can hear these words:
“Wix “SEO Wiz” let’s you grab those top search results!”
What followed was a large collective sigh from the SEO community and thousands of status updates from SEO professionals simultaneously asking the same thing:
“Really, Wix? Really?”
Wix & SEO
Wix has historically had a poor relationship with SEO. And by poor, I mean, nonexistent.
In the early days Wix was run on Flash, so it was almost unindexable (Google couldn’t read sites created in Flash well, if at all).
To be fair, Wix has made a lot of improvements from the days when their sites ran on Flash. They now:
- Allow for you to have your own domain, instead of being hosted on theirs.
- Have https functionality, which is essential if you don’t want browsers blocking users from your site.
In a Google Forum even Google’s John Mueller said that these sites could be indexed and ranked:
Mueller is telling the truth here. Technically, these sites can rank well. But technically I could be a super model – if I grew 6 inches and had a time machine.
The issue is “technically” doesn’t mean good or well. It also doesn’t mean likely. And it definitely doesn’t mean competitively.
Technically just means it is possible. Yes, it is possible you might rank your site in a competitive vertical with Wix.
If you can rank them, technically speaking, then what is the reason for the collective head banging?
While Wix can technically rank, Wix is also giving site owners the idea that SEO is plug and play.
Wix is promoting the idea that users will be getting customized SEO that is good enough to get them to the top of Page 1, when it is actually just offering a few SEO basics that any site that wants to appear in Google’s search results above the top 100 must do.
Sure, you might get in the top 10, but only as long as you are not trying to rank in a vertical with any competition.
The restrictions that come along with a Wix’s site mean that it’s difficult to get a site to rank well. The site is generally incapable of meeting enough of the ranking factors necessary for a site to rank in the top results, if competitors exist in that same query term.
What they are promoting isn’t personalized SEO. It is just SEO 101 – and barely even that!
Wix Gives Bad Advice on Important SEO Topics
There is nothing wrong with offering SEO 101 assistance. That is actually a good thing. But the devil is in the details.
While Wix does not offer a lot in the SEO Wiz tool that would affect site ranking outside basic core factors, they do provide a lot of SEO information that appears to be geared towards bridging the gap between what the tool lacks and and what needs to be done.
When you are reading through the guides that Wix provides to educate users on SEO they get a lot right, but they also get a lot wrong.
For example, here’s a Wix SEO tip about how your website SEO is boosted by how long people spend on it:
One of the things that boosts your website’s #SEO is how much time people spend on it. Your #webdesign should be focused on making your visitors stick around for as long as possible.#WixRead #seotips https://t.co/lW97Di5kwO
— Wix.com (@Wix) December 28, 2018
OK, this doesn’t even make sense. I’m guessing what they’re trying to say is that your value to Google will increase and your rankings will improve? Either way, this is incorrect.
From the actual article they shared:
No, just no.
There are things in SEO called “dwell time” and “pogo sticking”, which Google uses to help determine relevance for a query term. However, these are not related to how many pages you browse or even if you leave a site quickly and they do not devalue your site.
Think of sites that offer time or weather.
You might just want to see if it is going to rain today. You come in and leave quickly. Google does not then devalue the site organically because of this user behavior. This wouldn’t be beneficial to Google or the user to react this way to an expected user intent.
They are similarly incorrect about other SEO topics such as content freshness, keyword usage, and alt text.
If anyone from Wix is reading this, please go to WEBAIM and read how alt text should be written. I feel real pain at anyone who is forced to listen to the alt text they have been instructed to write in your guides.
Now, as I said there is a lot they get right. I am not saying there is no value in these articles, but a person who has no SEO knowledge reading these guides would not know what is correct versus incorrect. So, there is a danger in that for the site owner that they will do something that is either ineffective or could actually hurt the site.
But what about the tool?
Wix’s SEO Wiz: It’s Just Basic SEO
I went through the process of SEO for a site to see how it works. It should be noted I could set up the SEO before I even created a site, but that is a process issue. I am assuming they do not publish default templates live that have not been edited.
The Wizard has a lot in it – too much to review here. But a lot of it is irrelevant to ranking well in Google – and what is relevant is fairly basic.
Title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, alt text, and content are primarily what they focus on.
It is not wrong to have these in a tool called SEO Wiz, but their marketing copy is really misleading users into thinking that doing these few things means they will rank high in Google.
While you might find you rank for terms that are specific to you, these few items will not rank you on Page 1 for competitive queries. There is much more to SEO than just doing title tags and writing content with keywords in them.
In simple terms, SEO is about who does the most the best or who does the best at the factors most heavily weighted. What is in the wizard is literally the least you could do, which is better than nothing, but not what is going to help you beat a site that is doing full-on SEO.
For brevity’s sake, I won’t go through every step in the Wizard.
We’ll look at how you set up keyword (query) terms.
I tried to choose terms from the perspective of someone who might be creating their first online presence with no understanding of how SEO works.
After it had me enter the site’s purpose, they had me pick 4-5 keywords. After I entered these terms, it took me through a process to refine the terms I selected. This was part of my “personalized” SEO plan.
Here were my suggested terms for “chef”:
The suggested related terms are all but irrelevant.
Now, to be fair, the next set of terms were better, desserts being the most relevant.
However, we can see there is nothing really “personalized” here either.
What about the rest of the tool?
I walked through all the given steps and can say this theme carried through the entire process. None of it was truly “personalized.” Most of it was just basic SEO you could do with any site and any tool.
So Why Does This Matter?
If you are old enough you might remember when you changed your own spark plugs, I know I do. The process was pretty simple. The plugs pretty easy to access. Once you got good at it, 30 minutes could save you the money you would have paid a mechanic.
Steak dinner anyone?
But then cars got complicated, access to those spark plugs got more complex, often requiring special tools to reach them. So now it costs me a few hundred dollars to do what was once a $10 job.
Well SEO is no different, except as the actual job of SEO gets much more complex more and more companies are coming out with “plug and play” SEO tools that in the end don’t do all that much.
SEO is Complex
Ten years ago, you could have used a tool that did titles, metas, alt text, and along with good content you might really get some placements, but those days are long gone.
Google not only has on-page factors to consider, but technical SEO has just gained in importance and that is something you cannot touch on a site like Wix.
Not to mention they make almost no real mention of the need for links to the site. Even when they do, it is often listed as an afterthought.
If a site can’t rank well, companies that need organic traffic can’t thrive. And when companies can’t thrive, people don’t stay employed.
And that makes this dead serious.
The Real Cost
As I always tell anyone I train in this industry, I see my job as being the one that stands between people getting hired and people getting fired. This is literally the case more often than it is not.
So, for a company that just bought a Super Bowl ad, to publish “guides” and “advice” so rife with errors promoting a tool that just barely covers the basics of an SEO plan, it is more than a little bit concerning.
Wix Over-Promises & Under-Delivers
My message to Wix: Don’t over-promise.
This would not be an issue if Wix was not trying to make a play into a space where their tool is unable to really compete.
To use a football analogy, do you want to go 10 yards or do you want to score a touchdown?
For anyone building a business, Wix can’t get you into the end zone. It is just not built to do so.
Is Wix Useless?
No, not at all.
There are many uses for a site creation platform that does not have real ranking capabilities. However, if you are going to use a Wix site and plan on scaling or expanding your online presence you have to know at some point you will have to move a more robust platform like WordPress or if you are in ecommerce one of the many cart systems like Shopify or Magento, possibly even a customized solution.
So, the question you need to ask yourself before you start is how big do you want to build your house? If all you need is say a “business card” site or it is for an event like a wedding, then by all means save your money and use Wix! Not everyone needs to be worried about rankings in the search engines or about scaling their online presence.
However, if you’re going to build your future on it, be aware at some point when you have to move you won’t be able to simply move your site to a new platform. You will need to rebuild from scratch – and you won’t have an easy way to port that data over.
This will not just be due to SEO issues, but because of general development needs. Wix sites are NOT meant for businesses that need to grow an online presence.
And just one final thing you should remember about Wix when it comes to SEO:
Wix held an SEO competition last year. And they actually lost.
— Bill Hartzer (@bhartzer) February 4, 2019
Featured Image: Wix
All screenshots taken by author, February 2019
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How Your Company Can Prevent ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits
Every day, websites and mobile apps prevent people from using them. Ignoring accessibility is no longer a viable option.
How do you prevent your company from being a target for a website accessibility ADA lawsuit?
Guidelines for websites wanting to be accessible to people with disabilities have existed for nearly two decades thanks to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative.
A close cousin to usability and user experience design, accessibility improves the overall ease of use for webpages and mobile applications by removing barriers and enabling more people to successfully complete tasks.
We know now that disabilities are only one area that accessibility addresses.
Most companies do not understand how people use their website or mobile app, or how they use their mobile or assistive tech devices to complete tasks.
Even riskier is not knowing about updates in accessibility guidelines and new accessibility laws around the world.
Investing in Website Accessibility Is a Wise Marketing Decision
Internet marketers found themselves taking accessibility seriously when their data indicated poor conversions. They discovered that basic accessibility practices implemented directly into content enhanced organic SEO.
Many marketing agencies include website usability and accessibility reviews as part of their online marketing strategy for clients because a working website performs better and generates more revenue.
Adding an accessibility review to marketing service offerings is a step towards avoiding an ADA lawsuit, which of course, is a financial setback that can destroy web traffic and brand loyalty.
Convincing website owners and companies of the business case for accessibility is difficult. One reason is the cost. Will they see a return on their investment?
I would rather choose to design an accessible website over paying for defense lawyers and losing revenue during remediation work.
Another concern is the lack of skilled developers trained in accessibility. Do they hire someone or train their staff?
Regardless of whether an accessibility specialist is hired or in-house developers are trained in accessibility, the education never ends.
Specialists are always looking for solutions and researching options that meet guidelines. In other words, training never ends.
Many companies lack an understanding of what accessibility is and why it is important. They may not know how or where to find help.
Accessibility advocates are everywhere writing articles, presenting webinars, participating in podcasts, and writing newsletters packed with tips and advice.
ADA lawsuits make the news nearly every day in the U.S. because there are no enforceable regulations for website accessibility. This is not the case for government websites.
Federal websites must adhere to Section 508 by law. State and local websites in the U.S. are required to check with their own state to see what standards are required.
Most will simply follow Section 508 or WCAG2.1 AAA guidelines.
If your website targets customers from around the world, you may need to know the accessibility laws in other countries. The UK and Canada, for example, are starting to enforce accessibility.
In the U.S., there has been no change in the status of ADA website accessibility laws this year.
Some judges have ruled that the lack of regulation or legal standards for website accessibility does not mean that accessibility should be ignored.
Is Your Website At Risk of an ADA Lawsuit?
Some businesses feel as though they are sitting ducks, and rightly so, since in some states, there are individuals and law firms searching for websites that fail accessibility.
Since the Federal government has put a hold on addressing accessibility standards for websites, several states are taking matters into their own hands.
In California’s Riverside County, the DA’s office is pushing back against a law firm and individuals accused of filing more than 100 ADA lawsuits against website owners and small businesses. According to a report by the Orange County Breeze:
“Abusive ADA lawsuit practices are not new, but the defendants in this case are responsible for a significant volume of the ADA lawsuits that have been filed in Southern California over the last several years. Rutherford has been a party-plaintiff in more than 200 separate ADA lawsuits the defendants have filed against businesses in San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.”
In New York, which saw 1,564 ADA cases in 2018, two plaintiffs filed over 100 ADA lawsuits against art galleries this year. Artnet News reports:
“Technology has changed, that’s why we’re dealing with this, says Frank Imburgio, founder and president of the website development firm Desktop Solutions. “The state of speech recognition and speech synthesis that’s in everyone’s Alexa? That same piece of software embedded in your browser means blind people can avail themselves of your website, but the websites were not designed with that in mind” five or ten years ago.”
New York State Senator Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, chairs the Senate internet and technology committee that considers legislation affecting issues related to technological advancements, like artificial intelligence and digital currency.
It was recently announced they are planning legislative action to curb the surge in the number of lawsuits.
Florida is a hotbed of ADA lawsuits. Flagler County paid over $15,000 to settle an ADA lawsuit brought by a blind person who was unable to use their PDFs.
They removed 7,500 informational PDF documents from their website because they were not optimized for screen readers. In doing so, sighted users no longer had access to this information either.
In the case of Robles v. Domino’s Website and Mobile App accessibility lawsuit, Dominos is taking it to the Supreme Court to fight back.
Every type of website has been the target of an ADA lawsuit. It doesn’t matter if it is owned by one person, a small business or a major corporation.
A Title III public-facing website or mobile app includes travel, hotels, finance, ecommerce, services, healthcare, real estate, and education.
Educational websites and software applications are a growing ADA lawsuit target not only for accessibility to the public, but also for employees and students who use school software.
One recent study found that 95% of U.S. K-12 school websites had errors that made the page difficult for a person with a disability to use. At the state level, schools and universities are facing an avalanche of ADA lawsuits.
What Can Companies Do to Prevent an ADA Lawsuit?
The only way to prevent an ADA lawsuit is to plan for, design and build for web accessibility.
Inclusive design should be a priority and considered the foundation of any website business plan.
Every business with a website, mobile app or internet software application should hire an accessibility specialist who is trained in the application of WCAG guidelines and has knowledge of accessibility laws and guidelines from all countries.
There are only a few companies that specialize in accessibility services, tools or training. They are competitive and busy. You can find alternatives with accessibility consultants focused on just testing or remediation.
If you live outside the USA, you will find accessibility experts and companies who have been doing this work for years and sharing information through podcasts, building new automated testing tools, and stepping forward as accessibility advocates through writings and webinars.
Companies are facing a shortage of accessibility-trained designers and developers. This is a real burden because putting designers on projects who do not know how to build for accessibility is almost as risky as not having anyone at all.
For example, applying ARIA with HTML5 is commonly done incorrectly or image alt attributes are not written properly, especially for infographics or images over background images.
The source of most ADA lawsuits is the inability to access webpages or mobile apps with assistive devices used by sight-impaired users and people who can not use a mouse pointer.
The fun of web design for designers is the visual presentation.
Elementor, a wildly popular WordPress theme building and page design plug-in, makes it easy to incorporate parallax, dynamic content, and animation, can be enhanced to increase the accessibility of the website, and it allows the creation of new themes, headings and footers with more developer control.
What If I Can’t Afford to Hire An Accessibility Specialist?
This question applies to all businesses, but for small and medium-sized businesses, adding an accessibility specialist is out of the question because of budget constraints.
Most small businesses are a team of one person, or the owner has a website person wearing all the hats from SEO to site maintenance, but not accessibility. That is a separate skill.
Find a website company that offers accessibility services. They may provide accessibility testing, accessibility site audits or affordable package deals for their clients such as monthly remediation for PDFs, documents, images, forms, and content spread out over time.
Accessibility reports performed after a company has received a letter of complaint are extremely expensive and unless performed by skilled accessibility specialists, will not hold up in court.
Should I Just Put Up an Accessibility Statement?
The original purpose of an accessibility statement was to show that a site was tested, what standards it meets, what was not tested, and how to contact the company if there are any accessibility issues.
Some accessibility professionals don’t advise using them at all because the pace of technology creates ongoing adjustments to accessibility guidelines.
Unless your company has gone through formal accessibility testing and remediation, I don’t recommend providing an accessibility statement.
Some companies want to put up one that says they are in the process of testing, but users have no proof and there is no accountability here. It won’t hold up in court either.
As a courtesy, every website or application should make it obvious and easy to contact by email or phone, not a form (because they are most often not accessible) and invited to describe the issue they found.
What Can I Do Now to Improve Accessibility?
Optimally, every website or app should not prevent anyone from using it regardless of any physical, mental or emotional impairment, permanent or temporary.
Understanding how to plan, build, and test for accessibility requires advanced knowledge of accessibility to meet Section 508, WCAG2.1 A+ AA guidelines and regulations required by states and countries.
Finding that miracle person who can do all that is unlikely, expensive, and too overwhelming to think about.
Yet, so is an ADA lawsuit, floundering conversion rates, search engine rank roller coaster rides, and a negative brand reputation.
Starting somewhere, here are steps to jump in:
- Do accessibility testing using a free automated accessibility testing tool like WAVE, Axe, or Tenon. You may not understand how to make the repairs, but you will see errors, warnings, and alerts you didn’t know existed.
- Hire an accessibility specialist to perform formal accessibility testing that goes beyond the limitations of automated tools. Some tools are better than others. Some are not kept up to date on standards. No accessibility expert relies on automated tools. They incorporate manual testing, too.
- Ask for a quote for a limited accessibility review or site audit. This is where a sampling of pages are tested rather than every single one.
- Look for agencies that include accessibility design or testing services. They are worth gold for your bottom line.
- Train your web designers and developers. Invest in them. Your online business may depend on their skills. They not only need to know how to code for accessibility but also how to develop the entire methodology for planning, development, testing, and long term maintenance.
- Large corporations should hire accessibility companies that specialize in user testing with disabled users. This is the same as user testing, but with the addition of new personas and real users with various impairments.
- Use your keyboard to navigate your webpage or mobile app. No mouse. If you can’t figure out where you are, where to go or got lost, this is a major issue for accessibility.
- Turn on any screen reader app, download a trial of JAWS, or use your mobile phone accessibility settings, and go to your website or app. You will quickly learn what the experience is like for blind and sight impaired people or multi-taskers who are adapting to the use of audible alternatives for reading.
- If you use any third-party software applications or WordPress plugins, require that it meet accessibility compliance by contract.
- WordPress site owners and designers need to know the basics that can be adjusted from the front-end to improve the accessibility of the site. This includes:
- Font sizes (use em), font faces (use sans-serif)
- Proper heading tags in the right schematic order (H1, H2, H3, not H2, H1, H4, H2)
- Test that colors contrast properly (use any free tool).
- Avoid using color as the only visual indicator that the state of something changed or is an alert.
- Make all PDF’s accessible (Adobe has a tool.)
- Underline text links. If you don’t want every link underlined, create rules in CSS to choose.
- Absolutely no centered text unless it is a heading or sub-heading.
- Describe each image using the alt attribute option. At a minimum, describe what the image is. There are lots of rules for alt text. Start with that one.
- Add the WordPress Accessibility plug-in (see resources below) and use it to add focus states, skip to content and other courtesies. And send Joe a donation for using it. He keeps it updated.
And finally, if you don’t need a CMS website, there is more control over the code if you return to an HTML website.
Fortunately, most of the information is available at free or affordable fees. There are accessibility communities, podcasts, webinars, and the WCAG guidelines themselves.
Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Adobe provide detailed how-to advice.
As you apply inclusive design practices, you will see the benefits for SEO, usability and conversions, brand, reputation, referrals, and customer satisfaction.
Accessibility at its most basic level is a human right. Investing in people is worth it.
In addition to the resources listed in Top 36 Web Accessibility Resources for Digital Marketing Companies, check out:
3 Image Optimization Tips for Faster Speeds & Higher Rankings
Some people are visual learners, some kinesthetic, and others auditory. But I’d argue the majority of us are impatient learners.
In many cases, images are the number one issue affecting website load times.
We all understand that high-quality images contribute to positive user experience, but I wonder have we drank too much of our own Kool-Aid?
A 2016 Google and SOASTA study confirmed that complex webpages with more images had lower conversion rates than webpages with fewer images.
While some websites may benefit being “image-heavy”, we should really look at page speed as a scarce resource. The more we dedicate this resource to loading large, bulky resources, the less effective it will be.
With Google’s redesigned PageSpeed Insights, a lot of people are confused about what it means to serve images in “next-gen formats” and what browser support exists to satisfy Google’s concerns.
Additionally, many people are still relying on old technologies to compress and serve images on their website.
Read on for some pragmatic tips to help you optimize images for faster page speeds while preserving your UX.
1. Use Images Responsibly
Minimalistic design often lends itself to good user experience because it provides greater performance. But you need to ask yourself whether an image is absolutely critical to your design.
For more dynamic webpages, it can be tempting to make images interactive and even a focal point of your design.
Unless you’re a photographer, you can leverage alternative resources instead of images to improve your UX, such as:
- CSS3 for interactive elements.
- Scalable vector graphics for simple logos and designs.
- Embedded videos instead of bulky GIFs.
In fact, vector images tend to maintain greater resolution when being loaded on higher resolution devices.
Furthermore, instead of encoding text within images, which search engines can’t read, you could instead turn to web fonts which improve UX.
Within the PageSpeed Insights tool, you’ll often find that Google recommends deferring images offscreen to improve load outs. This essentially means moving images below the fold so at least the initial loadout for users is faster.
To accomplish this, you’ll need to optimize your critical path rendering.
Inline CSS delivery for header and main document module can also provide users with an instant loadout while all unused CSS and resources are loaded in the backend.
While this is fairly complicated, there are tools to assist in WordPress.
W3 Total Cache caches and minifies virtually every resource in your CDN from HTML all the way to WordPress elements.
This tool also offers HTTP/2 capabilities to further improve loadouts.
2. Automate Image Compression
Probably the two best ways to optimize images for speed are by reducing their size and compressing their files. Image compression is incredibly easy with the right tools at your disposal.
If you’re working with WordPress, you can install Imagify and compress all of your images in bulk in one click. All further images that are added to your library will be compressed using this tool.
This plugin even offers an aggressive setting to compress JPGs and PNGs for massive speed boosts.
If you’re worried about plugins slowing down your site or are working with a more open-source CMS, you can use Image Optim to compress all of your images in a particular folder. It’s drag-and-drop features make it incredibly easy to compress images and then add them to your site.
Additionally, if you’re worried compressing images in your CMS and leaving large file sizes, you can also experiment with compression in the Adobe Suite or Affinity Photo.
In terms of resizing images for different devices, WordPress’s responsive design can do that for you using the ‘srcset’ attribute.
One important thing to keep in mind is that lossy compression may come with the potential to sacrifice the quality of your image.
At larger scale compression, lossy compression will eliminate greater bit depth and provide noticeably reduced file resolution.
3. Serve Images in Next-Gen Formats
Depending on your file format, you will have to use lossy or lossless compression.
Traditionally, we’ve relied on two image formats JPEG (lossy) and PNG (lossless compression).
But tools have begun recommending new image formats, especially for creating fast load speeds and maintaining smooth aspect ratios over mobile devices.
You can choose between a number of new formats, including JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP.
JPEG 2000 is much like traditional JPEG, but with lossless compression. This means that compressed JPEG 2000 files retain their metadata without much of a loss of quality.
JPEG XR supports both lossless and lossy compression at higher compression ratios.
Unfortunately, both of these formats are unsupported by most major browsers, including Google Chrome and Firefox. This means that you’ll need to have the JPEG or PNG format as a fallback regardless.
The only image format that’s supported by Google Chrome, as well as Firefox is WebP. WebP offers lossless and lossy compression, as well as support for animation.
There are a variety of WebP plugins to experiment with and you can convert a JPEG or PNG file to WebP using an online converter or Photoshop.
Of course, it’s ideal to provide a backup to a WebP file. To accomplish this, you’ll need to leverage the <picture> element in your HTML to provide backups.
Plugins like WebP Express for WordPress automatically do this in the HTML and can be used for bulk conversion in your library.
Ultimately, the option to serve images in next-gen formats is not too appealing considering limited browser support.
But leveraging formats like WebP to give your site images greater compression ratios and smaller file sizes over mobile devices will make a noticeable difference in page speed.
Page speed over mobile is hard to maintain, especially on image heavy sites.
Responsive web design and other speed plugins can’t really account for large bulky file sizes and resources are trying to fetch on your site.
Fortunately, by automating compression, resizing files, and images more strategically you can drastically improve your page load speeds.
Featured Image: Pexels
All screenshots taken by author, April 2019
Google on Content Theft and Effect on Rankings
In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller answered whether plagiarized content could hurt a site’s rankings. Mueller’s response gave a peek into how Google handles sites that steal content and the effect it has on your site.
Scraper Sites and Effect on Ranking
There are many bad actors who steal content and use it on their own sites. It is done with automated software. The process is called content scraping and the sites that publish stolen content are known as content scrapers.
Stolen content is associated with the loss of rankings in Google. It’s not unusual to search a snippet of your own content and see another site ranking with it.
The concern about the effect on rankings is a legitimate one.
Here is the question:
“A few websites have started scraping my content and have been publishing them. We tried to contact their hosts for a DMCA takedown without luck. Does having my content scraped and republished hurt my site? Should I disavow these URLs?”
What is DMCA?
The question made a reference to a DMCA takedown. DMCA is an American law called The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
The law protects hosts, domain name registrars and other businesses from liability for copyright violations as long as they provide a way for content creators to request that stolen content be removed. It also provides due process provisions that allow the takedown to be contested which can then result in costly litigation for the content creator.
It’s somewhat surprising that the publisher tried using the DMCA and failed. This can happen when the web host and/or domain name registrar are in a country outside of the USA. Each country has their own remedy.
Does Copied Content Affect Rankings?
Google’s John Mueller gave an overview of how stolen content affects rankings:
“So from our point of view, other sites copying your content wouldn’t be something that would negatively affect your website. So that’s a very common situation, that sites copy content.
…if you’re not seeing those copies showing up in search for the queries that you care about then it might not be the highest priority to focus on.”
What John Mueller makes sense in the context that scraper sites do not generally rank for actual search queries. Is it possible for scrapers to rank in long tail or non-competitive queries? Almost anything is possible with those kinds of queries.
Why Scrapers Rank for Snippets of Content
It’s not unusual for a scraper site to rank for a snippet of content stolen from another site, but there’s a good reason for that.
Snippets of content are generally regarded as gibberish. If another site ranks for a snippet, it’s not because their thievery has made your site less relevant. It’s because the search algo ranks pages differently for nonsense phrases.
Google’s algorithm is trying to make sense of all search queries. That’s virtually impossible to do when there is no “sense” in the search query.
And when the snippet does make sense, Google may very well rank other sites for that query ahead of your sites, but that’s the algo kicking in, ranking pages for “topics.”
Google does not rank pages by matching keywords, so even if the search is your snippet, that does not guarantee that your site will rank number one.
What’s important is that content thieves generally do not rank for the search queries that matter. So don’t let it trouble you if you see scraper sites outranking you for snippets. That’s not a sign that your site lost ranking strength due to stolen content.
How to Protect Against Scrapers?
WordPress Anti-bot Plugins
There are many WordPress plugins that provide a defense against malicious scrapers.
WordFence is a popular plugin that can be customized to block scrapers for however hours you want to block them. It emails you to let you know when you’re under attack, which can help you increase how swiftly WordFence shuts them out.
WordFence appears to work by monitoring visitor behavior, particularly the amount of pages or the kinds of pages that it is trying to download. It’s the behavior that triggers a wall that blocks the bots.
I use WordFence to stop scrapers and hacker bots and am happy with how it works.
Blackhole Anti-bot WordPress Plugin
Blackhole works on the principle of the honeypot. Good bots will avoid crawling a prohibited link. Bad bots will rush right in. Blackhole sets a trap for bad bots by including a link to the honeypot. Once the bad bot follows the prohibited link the trap is triggered and the bot is excluded from crawling.
All search engines are whitelisted. This means that no legitimate search engine will ever be blocked, even if Google follows the link.
There is a PHP bot blocker called Blackhole. Blackhole can be installed with any server that uses PHP. So it will be compatible with a forum site using software such as Xenforo or phpBB. Read more about the PHP version of Blackhole here.
reCAPTCHA Enterprise Beta
Google recently announced a free beta trial of a service called, reCAPTCHA Enterprise. It is a cloud service that is designed to block automated scrapers, hackers and other malicious bots.
That Google itself is offering a solution to bad bots may be a sign of how important it is to block automated bot software, including scrapers.
Should You Protect Against Scrapers?
I believe it’s a good idea to protect your site from automated bots. Bots tend to crawl at night at the same time that Google and other legitimate bots are crawling. This can become problematic when too many malicious bots are probing your site, slowing down your server. This can cause your server to begin serving error response codes to Google, which will then be unable to crawl your and index your site.
So although John Mueller is correct to say that stolen content does not affect your rankings, you should still try to protect against scrapers in order that Google can properly crawl and index your site.
What’s important is that Google confirmed that scraped content does not affect your rankings.
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