"A website is supposed to represent you well, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, your website let’s prospective customers know why they should choose you – what set’s you a part from your competitors. So, if there are multiple websites that look similar to yours, you’re neither setting yourself apart, nor differentiating in your local market."
In November, we were speaking with two central Virginia business owners that wanted to upgrade their websites, and wanted their new websites to actually make them money -- instead of just being overhead.
A new website = easy! The new website making the business money versus being overhead = also easy!
Both customers wanted some local examples of websites for businesses in their industries that we thought were: 1) designed well; 2) appeared to be designed well, but were not; and, 3) not designed well at all.
As we gathered URLs for such businesses website’s we noticed a horrific trend -- dreaded replicated themes!
What’s a Theme?
For those not up to speed on website jargon, a theme is nothing more than a prepackaged set of short codes -- the form of translated language used by WordPress -- eliminating the need for HTML, and in most cases, CSS coding skills. Think of a theme as a resume template for a WordPress website. The formatting is there, you just change the details. AND, it is critical to change and/or remove the details; just like with a resume template.
Themes are sold online by developers that have taken the time (often hundreds of hours) to package dozens and even hundreds of pages of short code used to more easily build websites.
Many of these themes are industry specific, appealing broadly to both end-use customers and website developers alike.
The Issues Prelude
The first problem many end-use customers run in to is that ‘website developer (and designer)’ is a term used very loosely now days, and unfortunately encompasses just about anyone with a computer that can manipulate a few strings of short code, but with no real design & development experience.
These novices take advantage of ‘themes’ because they are usually cheap ($19 to $200 being the typical range), themes save a great deal of time, and themes enable novices to look professional and experienced.
And so, what happens in many geographical markets is the perfect storm.
Theme developers very effectively attract their target customers; end-user businesses and novice developers / designers. And novice developers push the same themes to multiple end-users in their geographical market, and focus on similar industries to achieve a higher return on their learning curve investment for a particular theme.
The end result is multiple businesses -- in the same geographical region, in the same industry(s) or market segment(s) -- with very similar websites that have been built from the same themes. I.e. replicated themes.
Oh, the Horror!
While looking for examples for our customers, we found two industries plagued with replicated themes.
Please be mindful of two things! First, we didn’t set out looking for replicated themes, or rather websites with them. That’s just something we found. And, ‘plagued’ might seem a drastic term when you read of the numbers, but trust us, the term is befitting.
To save your time reading, we’re only going to focus on one customer’s industry – haircare. Specifically, barbers / salons.
We looked at a total of 104 websites in the geographical target market.
Of those seven, several had only very minor changes made to them, with three being practically identical. Remember earlier when we wrote that changes are critical; we’ll discuss more about that shortly.
Of those nine, five were almost identical to the theme and one-another. Again, this is VERY bad!
OK, So it’s Bad! Why, Exactly?
-- Short & Simple --
Well, I suppose we start with the most obvious. A website is supposed to represent you well. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, your website let’s prospective customers know why they should choose you – what set’s you a part from your competitors. So, if there are multiple barber and salon websites that look similar to yours, you’re neither setting yourself apart nor differentiating in your local market. You’re just cookie-cutter, at best.
-- It’s Killing Your SEO! --
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines. Simply, good SEO gets your website listed in the first search returns for a good or service in your area.
When there are multiple websites for businesses in your area, using identical content, your website’s SEO/returns is negatively impacted; like a lot.
Why is that? Well, it’s because of ‘duplicate content’.
Our friends at www.MOZ.com have laid out the issue very well:
“Duplicate content is content that appears on the Internet in more than one place. That “one place” is defined as a location with a unique website address (URL) - so, if the same content appears at more than one web address, you’ve got duplicate content.
When there are multiple pieces of, as Google calls it, "appreciably similar" content in more than one location on the Internet, it can be difficult for search engines to decide which version is more relevant to a given search query.
Why does duplicate content matter?
For search engines duplicate content can present three main issues for search engines:
1) They don't know which version(s) to include/exclude from their indices.
2) They don't know whether to direct the link metrics (trust, authority, anchor text, link equity, etc.) to one page, or keep it separated between multiple versions.
3) They don't know which version(s) to rank for query results.
For site owners, when duplicate content is present, site owners can suffer rankings and traffic losses.
These losses often stem from two main problems:
To provide the best search experience, search engines will rarely show multiple versions of the same content, and thus are forced to choose which version is most likely to be the best result. This dilutes the visibility of each of the duplicates.
Link equity can be further diluted because other sites have to choose between the duplicates as well. instead of all inbound links pointing to one piece of content, they link to multiple pieces, spreading the link equity among the duplicates. Because inbound links are a ranking factor, this can then impact the search visibility of a piece of content.
The net result? A piece of content doesn't achieve the search visibility it otherwise would. Or put even simpler, one or more of the websites with similar and even identical content from the theme package isn’t getting noticed.”
-- Content is not always King! --
Much of the unneeded theme demo content for those websites was not removed from the sites we found– which killed functionality and speed, and yes, SEO. Themes are PACKED with every conceivable content to attract licensees. The themes mentioned above include prebuilt pages for e-commerce, blogs, multiple layouts with the same content, and multiple ways to display menus, etc. If ALL of that content is left, without killing links, removing widgets, changing layouts, etc, it’s too much for most hosts, on most shared servers.
-- Poor/Lack of Coding Skills and Updating --
Short code snippets were not close-bracketed and appeared on numerous websites pages (this is when you see lines of short code that you shouldn’t see on the actual website). This is usually just poor modification by the novices of the short code used by the theme developer, but can often be due to plugin/Addin conflicts, or failures to update the theme and plugins/addins.
-- IP Law Applies to Everyone --
When you license a theme, you do not typically have extended license to use the images used in the demo content of the theme. Those images are used to show a prospective purchaser how images, or video, might be used by them if they purchase a theme license.
Unfortunately, those novices often use the images, and even with the same language, buttons, and shapes additions. Remember the first theme we mentioned above. Five of those seven websites using it had the EXACT same imagery in the front-page slider. Amazing! And this despite the fact the theme develop specifically and conspicuously writes that the licensee MAY NOT do so.
-- The Bottom Line --
Remember that first theme we listed the URL for? Well, ‘officially’, they have total sales and comps of just over 2500 licenses.
But we have some pretty sweet scraping ability, and can tell you that we found just over nine thousand websites with substantial identical content to that of the theme.
That’s a ton of ‘duplicate content’, that’s a ton of dysfunctional websites, that’s a ton of competition for each of those NINE THOUSAND websites to get noticed by search engines, and that’s a ton of shady novices.
If you’d like to talk about what we can do to make sure your website stands out, shoot us a note below!