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An example of Google’s search algorithm at work (and a story about copyright) – Joe Murphy

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An example of Google’s search algorithm at work (and a story about copyright)

Here’s a story about Google’s search engine ranking algorithm, Canadian health care, wholesale cut-and-pasting.
But wait, it gets better.

Two weeks ago I was talking with Dan Petty (our online intern at the Denver Post) about a Drudge Report link to our site from the week before. That link, and the words used in that link, had made this denverpost.com article a top-3 result on Google if you were to search for people shouting.

Another article on our site, Debunking Canadian health care myths, has been getting steady traffic, fed by links posted every so often on trafficked site, since June 7. I was curious how it placed in searches for Canadian health care. It wasn’t a first-page result. However, a CommonDreams.org page that had cut and paste (i.e. stolen) the Denver Post article in its entirety was the #7 result. Good for them? Not so much, though the Post is not the only ones who get ripped off by Common Dreams.

Anyway. I contacted Common Dreams about this, and they were nice enough to trim their copy of our article down to five paragraphs. And what happened next is what I find the most interesting bit of this: Within two days of Common Dreams trimming down their article, the Denver Post’s version of Debunking Canadian health care myths was the #7 result in Google in searches for Canadian health care. It’s not anymore, but it was.

What this means:

  • Google’s algorithm tries to figure out the original source of an article, and just because a cut-and-paste article links to the original doesn’t put it out of the competition. If you have the full article, and you have more links to your version of the article and a higher page rank, Google will likely think that you’re the source. Despite a Common Dreams link to the Denver Post’s article with this text “Published on Sunday, June 7, 2009 by The Denver Post,” Google still decided to post the Common Dreams article in the first-page results.
  • Wholesale cut-and-pasting of your content is probably worth addressing. Well, sort of. If you’re a local newspaper, those eyeballs from outside your circulation area aren’t so valuable to your advertisers. They will also skew your numbers (see Gerry McGovern’s Volume is the wrong way to measure web success. However, taking search engine ownership of phrases central to your coverage is a goal often overlooked by local news orgs, and addressing copy-and-paste-cats is a prong of a healthy search engine strategy.

If you have any real-life examples of Google’s search algorithm at work, do share.

Posted in Storytelling. Tagged with , , , , .

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