Business Insider's Dirty SEO Tactics

Business Insider LogoOne of my favorite sites that I read daily is Business Insider, a site which meshes together technology news with business and finance news, combining all of my favorite topics. On occasion we are fortunate to be included in Business Insider’s site, however more recently there have been a number of instances where we weren’t so grateful. On Friday we became the victim of Business Insider’s dirty SEO tactics.

Business Insider As An Aggregator

Before jumping into the technical tricks being used by the Business Insider team, I think it’s important to highlight the company’s overall strategy. Rather than just posting articles that were created internally, the company “links” to other sites that they believe have relevant content to their readers. The result is that the site becomes a news aggregator for their target market.

It’s an interesting tactic and one that I’ve regularly considered here at Social Times. The reason is that it can actually add value to the reader, while simultaneously increasing your site’s search engine traffic. Even if reposting an article only gets you a few hits, it only takes a couple seconds to repost someone else’s content.

While I haven’t seen Business Insider’s internal system, I can only assume that they have a list of blogs which they follow regularly (this one of which they also follow, something I’m personally flattered by). If they want to repost the article they can click a few links and they’re good to go. Makes sense.

Where Things Get Dirty

On Friday I found out that the company plays a dirtier trick in which they don’t even publicly link to you, but instead index the title, first couple sentences, and link back to your RSS feed (not your actual website). It’s the exact same trick that splogs use, except splogs take your entire content, whereas Business Insider is “polite enough” to limit their citation to a few sentences.

Did I give them permission to do this? Nope. In fact, I actually rejected a second opportunity to have one of my articles reposted on their site after a previous incident. Business Insider republished one of my articles (under my permission) and now shows up in Google for one of my target keywords. While I would have imagined that Google would be smart enough to realize that I was the original source, for the time being, Business Insider is the site which will get most of the traffic from my content.

After learning my lesson I decided that I would no longer let them republish articles in full. In part, I am partially fine with them posting shorter snippets because I hope it will drive some new traffic. On Friday one of my articles about installing Cassandra on a Media Temple server was republished on their site. However the article isn’t listed anywhere in their main article index.

Instead, it’s buried in the site but placed in a place that Google can find it. The result is that their article now shows up just under mine in Google for any relevant search and it only took them 5 seconds to republish it. As mentioned earlier though, often times their article will rise to the top spot in Google over time.

Why Their Articles Show Up Above Ours

In addition to having a number of incoming links, which makes their site a Page Rank 7 (one above AllFacebook and Social Times which both have a Page Rank of 6), the company also uses an interesting URL structure. Rather than posting the month and date at the beginning of their URL like most people do (including us) (e.g. http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/2009/02/sample-article), Business Insider places the month and day at the end (e.g. http://www.businessinsider.com/sample-article-2009-02).

From what I can tell, this simple change is dramatically boosting their search engine placement. Since the words in your URL are an important factor in ranking your page, it appears that this structure works more efficiently. The reason that they keep the numbers in their URL is that Google News requires publishers to include unique numbers for each article, in order to be indexed.

Questionable Practices Lead Us In An Interesting Direction

Ultimately one has to wonder whether or not this strategy is a good one in the long-run. While I support the journalistic work of Business Insider, I don’t support their strategy of essentially lifting my content for search traffic. While Huffington Post and other companies have used this strategy successfully in the past, I’m not sure this is the best direction for online publishing.

New aggregators are infamous for using snippets of content. I’m fine with being indexed by Google News, Digg, Delicious, and other aggregators because they drive us significant traffic. However, for publishers to mix original content and other publishers’ content from around the web becomes a questionable practice. While this may be the direction that things are going, I’m not quite sure I’m a supporter of the tactic.

Do you think online publishers should be able to lift segments of your content just for SEO purposes? What do you think of the practice of linking back to your RSS feed rather than the actual article?