Ranking As The Original Source For Content You Syndicate
When you write content on your site, whether it’s a blog post, product description, or an article, you likely want to rank well for it. I’m often asked how best to ensure this when you’re also syndicating that content.
There are good reasons for syndicating content. Syndication can bring traffic, exposure, and sales.
If you’re a blogger, you might syndicate your posts to get wider distribution. If your posts are seen by a bigger audience, you might gain some of those readers for yourself. If your site provides authoritative resources, you might have a partnership with other sites that want to include that content. And if you sell products, you might provide affiliates with content feeds, which in turn brings in additional revenue.
But What Should Rank?
But from a search engine perspective, syndication can cause a bit of a conundrum. If what you wrote is a relevant result for a search, the search engine wants to show it to the searcher. But not show it twice (or three times, or maybe even a thousand times in the case of an affiliate feed). And that makes sense. If you’re searching for something, you don’t want multiple results that all lead to the same content even if that content is on different sites.
So what’s a search engine to do?
Search engines generally identify duplicate results and filter out all but one. They have lots of ways to decide which version to show. They try to figure out which one is the “original” by looking at things like which version was published first and which has the most links pointing to it.
Your content may appear on other sites at times other than when you syndicated it (such as when your RSS feed has been scraped), and search engines try to account for that too by looking at things like which site is more authoritative.
What If Search Engines Get It Wrong?
Generally, search engine algorithms work pretty well and your original version shows up. However, the system isn’t perfect. Michael Gray recently noted that sometimes Google gets it wrong and shows the version from a more authoritative site, even when that is not the original version. He suggested some ways for making sure that the original version shows up first. And he linked to the Search Illustrated column on Search Engine Land that shows a great illustration of how search engines determine the version to show.
How Can You Make Sure Your Site Ranks First?
So what do I suggest you do if you’re syndicating content but want your original version to rank about the syndicated ones?
- Create a different version of the content to syndicate than what you write for your own site. This method works best for things like product affiliate feeds. I don’t think it works as well for things like blog posts or other types of articles. Instead, you could do something like write a high level summary article for syndication and a blog post with details about that topic for your own site.
- Always include absolute links back to your own site in the body of the article. This is particularly helpful when your content is scraped.
- Ask your syndication partners to block their version of your article (via robots.txt or a robots meta tag). Whenever I suggest this, people laugh and tell me that the sites they are syndicating to would never agree to this as they want the content so they can rank for it. I can completely understand this. But as someone who’s providing your content for syndication, you should then just realize you’re in a competition with your syndication partners for ranking and it’s quite possible they can outrank you. If you are able to, put together a syndication agreement that states they get your content as a benefit for their readers, not as a way to acquire search traffic for that content, then you can keep control of ranking for what you’ve written and they can provide a benefit to their audience.
But Make Sure Duplication Is the Issue
In Michael’s case, he explained that he has an agreement with Web Pro News that enables them to syndicate any blog post of his that they’d like for their own site. And in the case he describes, the article on the Web Pro News site is ranking above the version on his blog. He speculates that’s because Web Pro News is a more authoritative site. I am sure that what he describes can happen (particularly since in this case, his Web Pro News version of the article doesn’t have a link back to his original article; at the very least, he should negotiate an introductory paragraph at the beginning of his syndicated posts that explain where the original is located with a link to it, not only for search engine ranking purposes, but to give readers better content), but in his particular case, I’m not so sure that’s the cause.
I can’t find his original post indexed at all. Obviously, if a page isn’t indexed, it has no chance of ranking. I’m not sure why that particular page isn’t indexed. It’s not blocked with robots.txt or a robots meta tag. It sounds like he can see it indexed, so maybe I’m hitting a different data center. If that’s the case, I don’t know if the one I’m hitting was refreshed more recently than the one he’s hitting or if his is.
Don’t Give Away Your Control
His point that syndicating content can be tricky if you want to rank for that content remains, even if the root cause of his particular case is a bit hazy. If search is not yet a large acquisition channel for your site, then you may not mind if another site ranks for your material as you may get more traffic from the syndicated site (so make sure you at least have a link back to your site!). But as you site starts to stand on its own and search traffic starts growing, you will want to have more control. So think of your longer term strategy when you negotiate syndication partnerships and don’t give up all of the control of the content you work so hard to create to others.