SBS Mailbag: Is Syndicating Content Good or Bad?

Filed in Blogging, SEO by Matt McGee on March 10, 2009 7 Comments
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Dawn emailed recently with a question about syndicating blog content:

Based on your SEO expertise what is your opinion of the following: For the last two years I allowed a site to reprint one post a week onto their site as long as they changed the title and linked back to me.

Now I am wondering, as I understand SEO better if this is a bad idea? If it is a bad idea, should I have them stop and leave the articles or have them remove all articles that they reprinted?

(Dawn also sent me a couple sample URLs so I could see exactly what we’re dealing with here.)

There’s generally nothing wrong with syndicating content. The SEO risk is that, if you syndicate content to a more powerful, authoritative site, that site’s version of your content can outrank your original version. But SEO isn’t the only concern; syndicating content can be a great way to show your expertise to a larger audience. You can still gain exposure, but it would be new people finding you directly rather than from a Google search results page.

Dawn’s blog is on the blogspot.com domain and she’s been writing since this past October — about five months. She’s syndicating content to a multi-author blog that has its own domain and has been around since 2006. The multi-author blog has a lot more inbound links. All the typical signs of trust/authority are in the other blog’s favor.

The exception is PageRank; somehow, Dawn’s blog home page is a PR4 and the other blog is only PR3. Dawn is probably being pulled up by the strength of the blogspot.com domain; there are a variety of reasons why the other blog might have a low PR. Despite that, the other blog appears to be a more valuable, trusted resource. I would guess that its PR will be higher in the next update, so all signals would then show the other blog as more authoritative than Dawn’s.

So, should Dawn still syndicate her content there?

I would say it’s probably a good idea. As the other blog grows, it means more direct exposure to humans even at the expense of some SEO concerns. Plus, the other blog always links back to Dawn’s original posts, and it keeps any other links she uses in her articles intact. That helps Dawn’s blog. If the other blog isn’t sending traffic and/or stops linking back to Dawn’s blog, I’d strongly reconsider syndicating content there.

Dawn, in the example you shared, the other site re-published your article two days after you published the original. I might try to expand that lag time, and see if you can have the other site wait about five days before republishing. The delay might help solidify your article as the original source; you want spiders to find your version first.

Your turn: How would you answer Dawn’s question? Do you agree or disagree with me? Did I miss something?

(photo courtesy J. Scott 2 via Creative Commons)

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  1. Gennady says:

    That was a very good answer actually. As a rule of thumb, you want that site to link back to you making that link the main indicator of who the original author is…in theory. However, I have seen this work in the opposite way. I have even seen sites with less authority start ranking for content that they syndicate from a site with more authority.

    The main question is are the articles she is writing specifically targeted to ranking for keywords? If not, syndicate away with no harm. If you are trying to rank your content for certain terms, I would MAKE SURE that I start seeing results for those keywords before I syndicate to any site, much less one with greater authority.

    In the end, there are no rules set in stone as they are not always followed (even by the engines). I think engines will always try to deliver a result that is useful for the user and if that involves crediting a syndicating site with more authority (possibly a signal that it may contain other content the user might find useful), then that is what they will do.

  2. James says:

    I loved the answer you gave – it made a lot of sense from the writer/author perspective.

    I have a question from the other side of the fence I think. :)

    If I am publishing 10 or 15 different syndicated snippets onto a single page, where the title is linked to the original article and the snippet is essentially the first few sentences, am I hurting the author’s original work and am I hurting my own ability to rank because of duplicate content filters?

    Let’s say I have 3 or 4 unique paragraphs, a few pictures, then 10 or 15 syndicated snippets under that unique content.

    Lol, Does that make sense? Do I get penalized as the site owner…but more importantly, am I hurting the author in any way by syndicating content like that?

    Thanks!

  3. Gennady says:

    James – sounds like you are running Mahalo!

    I’d would not advise that method for your own SEO rankings, but then you have Mahalo.com that is making a serious business out of doing just that.

  4. James says:

    @Gennady – lol! No, not Mahalo. lol – it’s actually a crime stats site with zero ads at all. Just a hobby – but I like to find local news stories via RSS to display the latest crime stories in the last 24 hours in some of these cities…so I don’t know if there is really any seo benefit to it except for the ‘fresh’ content? I just didn’t want to hurt the local news sites that I’m syndicating – and I didn’t want to hurt my own site.

  5. Matt McGee says:

    James – that’s a great question, and I don’t have any direct experience with clients who produced anything similar. It’s more complicated, I think, than the original question raised in this post.

    Assuming that what you’re doing is part of your design template, my gut feeling is that, over time, search engines would eventually start to ignore all that syndicated content. It may do them no good to credit the outbound links from you, and no good to credit you for so-called fresh content.

    But I could be way off. That question should be brought to SMX Advanced and asked of the search engine reps.

  6. Gennady says:

    The search engine reps will provide the standard answer:

    - Make sure you provide a good experience to your users with content that is not duplicated.

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