In my last post, I looked at how PC World/Currys and Tescobank/Tescocompare were harming each other's search rankings

This time I have an example from RBS and Natwest, both owned by RBS Group, showing the damaging impact of duplicate content.

We also have a similar example from Smile and Co-operative bank. 

In both cases, duplicate content on the sister sites is creating problems for Google. 

RBS and Natwest 

In my previous post, I looked at how PC World/Currys and Tescobank/Gocompare were harming each other's search rankings. 

The two sites are confusing for Google, as Sam Silverwood-Cope explains: 

Google cannot decide between the two very similar sites owned by the same group. In one instance they are flipping positions, then they come together and perform a dance in the SERPs. 

Here, for the term 'offset mortgage' both sites are ranking most of the time, aside from a period in April and May when Natwest's rankings dipped below 100 on several occasions. 

Does the more consistent pattern since then suggest that Google has decided what to do, or can we expect further turbulence? 

Here's another example, for 'secured loan', a highly competitive keyword and one which would cost upwards of £14 per click via PPC. 

It seems clear that the two sites are damaging each other's rankings here.

The maximum rank of roughly midway down page three on Google was achieved by Natwest in early January and hasn't been bettered since.

In fact, both sites have lingered on pages five and six for most of this period, and virtually disappeared in the second half of January. For such a valuable term, this performance could mean a loss of business for the two banks. 

 

At the moment, Natwest is on page four of Google UK and RBS is nowhere, while rivals such as Barclays, Tescobank, Sainsburys and comparison sites are taking the page one positions. 

If we look at the pages for 'secured loans' on the two sites, we can see the problem. The content is identical. 

Here's RBS: 

And the equivalent page on Natwest. I can't spot the difference, and neither can Google. 

RBS Group has basically set up two sites with identical URL structure, theming and content. 

If RBS Group wants the two brands to rank highly, and independently of each other, then it needs to consider whether saving money by duplicating content is worthwhile. 

These two sites should be capable of challenging rival banks in the SERPs, yet they are lingering in nowhere-land on Google. The cost of saving on content is the loss of valuable search traffic. 

Smile and Co-operative bank

Like RBS and Natwest, these two banks are part of the same group, and they are also affecting each other's search rankings. 

And we see this in the chart for the term 'changing current accounts'. In this example, Co-operative bank starts out at around position 20 on Google, but eight months later it's down to 30, having spent almost a month at position 100 or below. 

Smile starts lower, is higher at times, but ends up ranking below 100 in the period this chart covers. 

We can see a fairly tragic looking dip around mid July, which it doesn't seem to recover from.

Indeed, as I write this post, I can't see Smile in the top 12 pages on Google for this term, while Co-op is sitting at the top of page four. 

 

Co-op's rankings are slightly healthier and it seems to have recovered from its slump in July. 

Again, as with RBS and Natwest, we have a case of duplicate content on the two pages. I'm concentrating on the 'switching' pages which both would like to rank for this term ('A' in the Smile chart and 'B' for Co-op) though all the pages shown here have similar issues. 

Here's the Smile switching page. It even mentions Co-operative bank. 

And Co-op banks's equivalent page. Same design, same content. 

It seems, for now at least, that Google has decided to favour the Co-operative bank's page and view the Smille version as duplicate content. 

How does Google spot the links between sites? 

In these cases, the links between the sites are obvious to us, but how does Google decide that there is a relationship? 

Sam suggests a few signals it may look for. 

  • Who Is registration.
  • Content.
  • Code (including analytics).
  • Servers.
  • Umbrella or similar network linking to whole site or certain pages. 
  • Or a combination of the above. 

The solution? 

These examples suggest that Google won't tolerate sites under the same umbrella using duplicate content and pages.

It will make a decision to rank one or the other or, if both rank, they may well pull each other down. 

The simplest solution would seem to be to produce unique content for sites, even if they are part of the same parent company, and are offering the same products. 

What do you think? Have you seen this pattern elsewhere? How would you deal with the problem? Let me know below...  

Graham Charlton

Published 17 September, 2014 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Cecilia

I am thinking probably the use of cross-domain canonical tags will massively help in these cases. But obviously the company should decide which domain to prioritise and the other one would stop ranking for those queries.

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Cecilia. Yes, that's the conundrum. I think they're paying for being cheapskates on content.

over 3 years ago

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David Lomas

A simple point about 'why NOT to use duplicate content, which was nicely explained and well illustrated.

Thanks for that Graham!

I emphasise this point to our clients continually and will pass your article around.

David Lomas
http://www.M3Publishing.co.uk

over 3 years ago

Grant Whiteside

Grant Whiteside, Technical Director at Ambergreen Internet Marketing

Its a problem so many of the financial institutions. Their no risk strategy gets to the point when it starts hurting their search marketing visibility and the profits to the share holders off the back of it.

Check out the Yorkshire Bank product pages; http://www.ybonline.co.uk/personal/credit-cards/ and the Clydesdale Bank; http://www.cbonline.co.uk/personal/credit-cards/ .

These pages are a lot better than they used to be, it took years to get to this point, but its still a really poor attempt to make each page 'unique'. We all know that things can done far better.

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Grant - I wonder if those two banks have the same issue.

over 3 years ago

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Thomas Barker, Performance Media at RBS

Graham, fair enough on the whole duplicate content is bad argument. I'm not going to get into that.

My issue with this is the fact that for the 2nd time now loans has been used as an example even though it is/was the one product category across our sites that was completely different from a content and design perspective as it hadn't been migrated to the new one/CMS.

They have actually recently (July) been duplicated so you'll have to rely on Wayback:
http://web.archive.org/web/20140421234227/http://www.rbs.co.uk/personal/loans.ashx
http://web.archive.org/web/20140122100855/http://www.natwest.com/personal/loans.ashx

So your graph above is actually showing ranking fluctuations across non duplicated pages. Interested to hear your thoughts.

Tom

over 3 years ago

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Lee Kenny

This is a similar challenge the larger retailers in most sectors face. The only difference there is they are competing against other retailers who, due to lack of time and resource rely on manufacturers standard descriptions. When the product range is in the 10,000's its a constant battle.

Have to agree that it feels a little lazy having almost identical content in 2 x competing banks, irrespective of common ownership. I guess they'll point out its a dry industry, highly regulated and with far too much power in the compliance department to let marketing shine through?

Lee Kenny
www.SnowflakeMedia.co.uk

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Thomas Thanks for commenting. This may explain the fact that, though they seem to be affecting each other, both secured loan pages are ranking for the term, most of the time at least.

I would think that the new duplicated secured loan pages would make the problem worse. I'll find more stats on that but at the moment I can see that RBS is on page 10 for 'secured loans' and Natwest isn't in the top 13 pages.

Out of interest, what was the reason for duplicating all the content across the two sites?

over 3 years ago

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Amy Nicholson, Head of Editorial Client Services at Sticky Content

It's no help being reductivist about this - in our experience brands frequently have to make difficult choices about budget and priorities (plus, based on Tom's comment above, all may not be quite how it appears in the post...).

This really speaks to the very common problem of content governance, particularly in large organisations. When any organisation needs a new site, based on an old one, 'let's redesign it' feels like an obvious need. Whereas 'let's rewrite it' immediately triggers thoughts of massive headaches and copy approval processes that can derail a whole project schedule.

When you don't have a clear, hierarchical content workflow in your organisation, the three-way tug of war between product owners, marketing and compliance means that publishing product content can be contentious, lengthy and often involves a unhealthy dose of compromise. More often than not, this kind of thing isn't a content problem, or an seo problem - it's a people problem.

over 3 years ago

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