A client recently wrote to me and asked these excellent questions on how to avoid SEO penalties:
Last week I rushed to publish an article I wrote on my website before it was published on a industry journal’s website so that I would get SEO credit (for new content) instead of an SEO penalty (for plagiarism). Unfortunately, I was scooped by the other website (they published the story 52 minutes ahead of me). What does this mean for me? Should I keep my post as is? Should I adjust it somehow? For future reference, is it possible to publish something so that Google can index it without it being public?
Too bad. I felt the client’s pain. Believe it or not, it will probably come down to which site is indexed by Google first. I told him to keep the content up as it was, but change the time on his post so that it appears as if he published it before the other one. This may do nothing – there is a lot of debate as to whether time/date stamps are important in SEO.
Unfortunately, there is no way to publish something and keep it totally out of the public domain. And for it to be indexed, it has to be published. You can always publish something and not tell any humans, but as soon as it’s indexed there is a chance that people will find it via search (especially if you make all of the appropriate metadata entries!)
- To improve your chances of getting indexed first you can submit a sitemap to Google as soon as you publish.
- The best way to handle future situations like this is to tell other publications/publishers that you want to publish your work on your site first and then they can publish it on theirs. If they know what we know, they won’t like it, but I feel that when you are contributing content at no charge it is reasonable to get the first right of publication. If you are being paid to write for another website, that’s another matter entirely.
- If you decide to let another website publish your writing first, you should request that they at least include author information in a rich snippet. If it’s being published on a WordPress site, suggest to the webmaster that he/she use a schema plugin to help with this.
REMEMBER: If you publish it on your site and it gets indexed first, that’s all that matters. You can still write an attribution clause in your post that says something like “This article was published in the April 2016 edition of XYZ Journal and appears here with permission.” That might make the journal happier while preserving your SEO credit.
The takeaway from all of this is to publish “it” NOW, and make it perfect later with edits.
Don’t fret over this too much. Even if you get an SEO penalty, it will be small in the grand scheme of things.