Content syndication helps in reaching new audiences and can supercharge your blog’s growth. However, you are afraid of its impact on your website’s SEO.
What if you run into content duplication issues and it plummets your search rankings?
You can lose eyeballs and potential brand exposure.
Don’t worry. You can extract more value from your content by practicing safe syndication. In this article, I’ll show you how to do it.
Let’s begin by looking at the two SEO issues around syndication.
Two major SEO issues that plague content syndication
Let’s start by looking at the two common issues that most content creators run into when considering syndication. Both of them are related to content duplication in search engines. Later in the article, we’ll look at the four strategies to resolve them.
Issue #1: Content Duplication leading to the disappearance of the original content from search results
When Google’s search spidey crawls and finds substantive blocks of the same content at multiple places on the internet (URLs), then it deems it as duplicate content. It starts to contemplate between the available URLs and decide which one is better to show in the search results.
Google understands that it’s impossible to avoid it altogether. Indeed, 25% to 30% of content on the internet is duplicate. Here’s how Google manages duplicate content:
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mQZY7EmjbMA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>
As the job of search engines is to keep the user happy, they show the URL that best serves the user intent. And not display the other pages.
Google has cleared that content duplication isn’t a penalty in itself. However, you might run into ranking issues if you intend to manipulate search results through it.
Now, when you syndicate content, you deliberately duplicate your content on other websites. Else, you syndicate from other sites and publish duplicate content on your site.
In an ideal scenario, Google should deduce the original creator of the content and give it preferential visibility in its results.
However, what if the original content piece is deemed a duplicate and altogether excluded from search results?
If you’re the creator, then you lose direct traffic,
If you’re the syndicator, then you might ruin the relationship with your content provider (because who wants to lose their audience?)
Issue #2: The syndicated piece of content outranks the original in the search results
If a high-authority website (like the Huffington Post) republishes your content, then it might get a higher placement in search results than the original version on your site.
Guess the percentage of traffic you could lose with a degradation in the results page? A June 2013 study by Chitika found that about 33% of the traffic goes to the first organic result. And it drops to 17.4% continuing to degrade further from the third onward.
As Google keeps making additions and evolving its search results page, the above numbers vary. Specifically, for searches with featured snippets in their results, Ahrefs found that the first result loses a significant amount of clicks.
Hence, a drop in rankings can result in a significant reduction in traffic. As a result of the above two issues, you lose your audience and leads.
Special Case: When you run into content scrapers, here’s a way out...
The more the exposure you get on your content and build your brand’s authority, the more is the likelihood of your content getting scrapped (without your consent). In such cases, you will have limited control over the websites where your articles appear.
Mostly Google algorithm identifies scrappers and won’t give them preferential exposure over you. However, if a high authority website copies and publishes your content, you can run into duplication issues. A possible resolution is filing a request under Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
5 simple strategies to resolve content syndication issues
By now you understand that you need to facilitate search engines distinguish between the original piece of content and its syndicated version. Now, let’s look the technical SEO and other strategies you can leverage to achieve the same.
First, here are the three essential aspects that you should follow while practicing syndication:
1. Modify headline and the hero image of the syndicated piece - 80% of users don’t read past your article’s headline. Hence, you should rework the title tags in your syndicated pieces and ensure they are a fit for the target audience where published. You can also use a new feature image to improve the overall presentation of your syndicated content.
2. Revise your body content by about 20% - To match the style and audience requirements your syndicated piece could use some revision in its body. Social Media Strategist and SEO Consultant, Eren Mckay, suggests rewriting portions of the article.
3. Wait for a week before syndicating content - If the original version of the article is indexed first by search engines, then it helps in differentiating it against the syndicated version. Further, the original version rightfully picks up links from other websites and exposure on social media preferentially.
Once you’ve followed the basics, here are the five strategies you could use to get past content duplication.
Strategy #1: Use rel=“canonical” on syndicated articles
In 2009, Yahoo, Bing, and Google partnered to resolve content duplication issues. They provided webmasters a method to tell that the content on the page isn’t original and reference search engines to the source. In technical SEO terms, you use the rel=“canonical” attribute in the duplicate page’s HTML header.
Here’s an example of a canonical tag.
If you’ve syndication partners, then request them to use canonical tags in the header, and it points to the original article on your site. If you’re syndicating content, then ensure that you use the tag.
What if you’re syndicating your content and your partner isn’t using canonicals? Worse, they don’t accept using the tags even on your request. Chad Pollitt has had success with reporting the article as spam.
Strategy #2: Use noindex tag on the syndicated version of the article
Another technical SEO strategy to direct search engines to ignore a page is the noindex tag. You can use the meta robots tag with the values “meta noindex, follow” to the HTML header of the syndicated page. Hence, search engine bots will crawl the page, but won’t index it.
Technically, here is how you implement noindex meta tag.
If you’re on WordPress and use a plugin like the Yoast, then you’ll find the option to noindex inside the advanced tab as shown below.
Note: Preferably you should implement rel=canonical over noindex as Google is better at understanding it. Also, don’t implement both the tags together on a page. John Mueller (Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google) recommends it.
Strategy #3: Link back from the syndicated article to the original piece as an attribution
If you’re practicing self-service syndication (using platforms like Medium and LinkedIn), then you don’t have the option to add the above two tags. The way out to pass the ranking authority to the original article is by placing a link at the top (preferably) or the bottom of the article.
If possible, try to use your target keyword(s) or related keywords as the anchor text of these links. It’s because anchor text provides context to search engines and still influences top search placements.
Additionally, when syndicating content, you should leave the internal links to other pieces on your website intact. They help search engines understand your site’s structure. You also gain visibility for deeper pages on your website. Here are the internal links to Inc. articles from the syndicated article at Small Biz Trends.
Such attribution links are especially helpful when the other two technical tagging options we discussed aren’t available.
A special case of the attribution link: Content Curation
Occasionally, websites that “curate” content might pick your piece (when it’s awesome and already performing well). In such cases, they tend to rewrite parts of the article and link to the original. While it isn’t syndication, it’s similar, and you won’t run into duplication issues because of it.
If you want to become a content curator yourself, then a great post format you can leverage is “weekly roundups.” For example, Vertical Measures regularly post “The Weekly Measure,” and they listed my same SEMRush piece above with a two-line description among other amazing articles from the web.
Curation achieves similar results as syndication in the following two ways:
When you curate content, you build relationships with the authorities in your niche while serving high-quality content to your audience.
When your content gets curated, it gains additional exposure.
Hence, content curation is a nifty strategy you can experiment with alongside syndication.
Strategy #4: Before syndicating your content, guest post at high-authority websites
When practicing syndication, a major reason your articles at other sites might get outrun by the syndicated versions is your lesser authority. In technical terms, it equates to building a healthy link profile and getting accepted as a niche expert. Guest posting is a terrific strategy to achieve the same.
For example - Buffer was able to achieve stellar media syndication results because they started with extensive guest posting. Once they had a portfolio if high-quality writing and relationships with influencers, they managed to pivot towards syndication.
Buffer describe the strategy in more detail here.
Strategy #5: Adopt a “branding” mindset like Ana Hoffman
Ana Hoffman, the founder of Traffic Generation Cafe, saw an article on her blog get outranked by Slideshare.
Though the case study dates back to 2014, she concluded with a timeless marketing takeaway that you should ponder over.
Doesn’t that make sense?
From a branding perspective, you want to reach as many people as possible. It doesn’t matter where you catch them online, but serving them useful content is the key to be remembered.
Dharmesh Shah (Founder and CTO at HubSpot) had a similar motivation for syndicating his content on Medium. He wanted to help as many people as possible, and thereby, it would build his personal brand.
Content syndication is a terrific growth strategy for content creators. However, you want to ensure that you don’t run into duplication issues. I have shared five simple strategies that will help you avoid them while you reap the benefits of syndication.
What’s your experience with content syndication? If you haven’t experimented with it, then which strategy do you plan to implement? Share your thoughts in the comments below.