Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) is a means of imposing restrictions that control what users can do with your digital content. This is done by coding the restrictions into your website. When you put a program in place to prevent unauthorized users from copying or sharing an article, reading an eBook, or downloading a song or video, you’re using DRM.
Naturally, some users don’t like restrictions and will look for ways around them. But if you’re not using restrictions on your digital content, you are exposed to the loss of your own intellectual property, or a violation of legal agreements with the original sources of the content. Either way, you could be looking at a loss of revenue, possible legal consequences, and a loss of prestige.
Restricted content and its impact is one of the least-discussed topics on SEO. SEO improvement depends upon making content more searchable, more visible, and more readable in terms of both search crawlers and human traffic. It seems logical to think that putting restrictions on your content would cost you some points with the search engine algorithms.
However, that might not always be the case, certainly not with all search engines and across all forms of content. Consider some of these tips on content restriction:
- Folder Indexing
When you adjust the organization of your site data, you can tell the search engines which folders you want them to index or skip. There is both an up and down side to doing this. Depending on which folders you choose to make public or private, it could affect your site ranking. For instance, it would be good practice to make images folders public (except possibly archived images), but exposing your WordPress hosting files to search engines will bring you far more risks than advantages. When it comes to restricted content, it’s best to keep it in private, non-indexed folders.
- Nofollow Tags
Within your content, you can use the nofollow tag to create two kinds of links, those search engines follow and those that they don’t. Crawlers look at all links, so this affects your SEO ranking depending on the quality of the site you’ve linked to. You can restrict crawlers from following paid links, competitor links, or links to any sites you feel may not reflect well on your own content and PageRank. You can also use it as a restriction on internal links, provided it doesn’t interrupt navigation flow.
- Tabbed Content
You can serve several purposes by using tabbed content in your pages. It makes your visual themes easier to manage, makes site navigation easier for your users, and appeals to mobile device users because they don’t have to do as much scrolling. But there is some suggestion that Google and the rest may frown on it because some of the content isn’t immediately visible. Still, there’s no indication anywhere that you’d actually be penalized for this, so if you’re going to restrict access to certain content, it may be wiser to do it on a tabbed design.
- Text-crawler Schedules
When you setup your site you have the option of suggesting to search engines how often they should scan your site for new content to index. Consider the most appropriate settings for your content production and stick to it. You can also request a Google re-crawl when it will fulfill a need. By posting new content and restricting existing content with the right timing, you can boost the SEO value of new content to minimize the negative effects of restricting content.
- User Access Control
If you’re blogging through a WordPress hosting site, operating an online service, or any kind of website that requires people to log on for a personalized environment or a certain level of privileges, you will want to include user permissions that restrict access to certain information or pages on your site. Just what content you restrict can have an impact on your SEO ranking. If Google can’t see certain pages, will that drop your ranking? So far, even Google can’t provide a definitive answer on that, so you have to conclude that it’s all relative. The best answer is to avoid restricting any content unless you feel it absolutely should be restricted. Also, it doesn’t make much sense to build SEO-rich content and then restrict access to it.
When it comes to using someone else’s restricted content on your site, even backups may violate non-copy arrangements. Other restrictions coded into content may restrict user rights even for legally purchased materials. For example, a buyer may not be able to share an eBook with a friend, or make private playlist of various songs they’ve legitimately paid for. As far as how user restrictions are implemented, it’s important to weigh the customer experience against your own self-interest.
Built-in security measures may be the best way to restrict how your content is used. Bad security on hidden content is very easy; it will look forbidding to visitors but present an invitation to hackers. Good security on sensitive content will protect you better while still enforcing user restrictions.
For many users, however, digital rights and restrictions are a sore issue. Certainly, it’s an inconvenience not being able to download a game for a little harmless personal entertainment. But DRM software platforms create the fear of building controls into the production and distribution of all online media. This could lead to DRM companies and their principal stakeholders not only conducting wide-scale “data collection” of individual viewing preferences, but a say in what should be made available – undermining freedom of expression.
As a business, you’re naturally entitled to maintain control over your own software or digital content. However, the manner and the extent of the restrictions you impose could have serious consequences for your brand and your bottom line.