The Great Content Heist: Content Scraping

Are Search Engines Stealing Your Page Views?

Search engines are at a precarious stage of its service to users. There has been an incremental—but important—paradigm shift in not only how we consume our indexed information, but also in how that information is delivered to us. With search engines, comes page content provided to a user faster than ever. And what the search engines are not telling you is that, in doing so, your precious page views and possible conversions are dwindling. But how? And why?

First, let’s talk about what’s happening.

All Content, No Clicks

We can all agree that it has never been more important to be on page one of a Google or Yahoo search. Your business could literally succeed or fail from your page rank. However, in today’s new landscape of giving us the exact content we want in as few clicks as possible, a new trend has emerged in which content is being scrapped (pulled) from your website and delivered in search results. This, of course, is controlled and operated by the search engine.

What’s happening is that when a user searches for something like “How to tie a bow-tie,” the content that a user would normally click to the webpage to uncover, is now being extracted from a website and presented independently as the first result—with no click needed to the website and no attribution given, the user gets the content they need without ever going to your website. #GULP. If your website exists for people to actually visit it, that’s a pretty terrifying trend.

How Your Content is being Scrapped

In the search engine optimization game, Google loves fresh content that presents information in list form (a la steps, bulleted, numbered, etc.). Sure, it’s a great way to breakup content so that a user easily consumes the information. But it may also be so that Google (or insert any other search engine name) can troll your site as effortlessly as possible for content that can be scrapped. As of right now, search engine content scrapping is more-or-less limited to tasks that require a list to complete.

So the cleaning company you have that just posted a nice consumer-centric, altruistic piece on “How to remove a wine stain from carpet” to build trust and spur on customer relationships, is now void because Google took the meat of your post and gave it to your customer without them visiting your site. Again, the troubling aspect of this is that you loose eyeballs on your site, which could translate to a loss in site conversions, loss in new content viewed and shared and, ultimately, a loss in business.

A small, brief working example of content scrapping in action

Like many of you during the inhospitable winter months, I developed a nasty cold. What started as some major head congestion, quickly mutated into a mega cold that seemed to be transfixed in my lungs and destroying my voice in the process. Weeks later, I still had no voice. It was raspy and annoying to all—including me. So it got to the point I needed to turn to online remedies to get my voice back. I opened Google, clicked on the search bar, typed “How to get your voice back?,” and hit enter (Figure 1).

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Figure 1.

What I was presented with was a list of web pages providing tips and tricks like normal. However, before I see any of this, I see a scrapped, prioritized list of the most popular answer (Figure 2).


Figure 2.

I read the list, take it to heart, put it into practice, get better and NEVER click on the website that provided the information. The website has no clue that its information was incredibly helpful to me, nor do I even recall what the website was, thus no brand/site affinity being built.

Then set in my disappointment when realizing the information I used to get my voice back was stolen and repurposed with no attribution by Google (figure 4).

Why Your Content is being Scrapped

Search engines will do everything they can to give a user exactly what they are looking for as fast as a hard drive full of 1s and 0s will allow. Like any business, it’s about improving the satisfaction of users and expediting the delivery of a product. Right now, for certain types of content, we the owners of the web, are not the beneficiaries of this acceleration of content.

What does it all mean?

Honestly, I don’t know. As a fellow marketer and fellow business owner, I present this as something we should keep an eye on and see how it develops. Search engines know that the relationship between engine and webpage is not a symbiotic: They make changes, we adapt. There is only pull and no push.

Holden + Ellis is a Columbus marketing firm that matches innovation with integrated marketing

The web is scary but lucrative. Let us help you navigate search engines with custom innovation. Contact CVO Josh Fitzwater at josh [at] holdenellis [dot] com and let’s talk today.