Syndication: A Necessary Evil of Doing Business on the Web and an SEO’s Worst Nightmare
In all my experience with SEO, I know one thing for certain…Search Engines, and in particular Google, hate duplicate content. However, I have worked with many companies that have made syndicating their content part of their business model. The unfortunate result of this syndication is that their content is diluted across the web and, in some cases, outranked by those sites that they syndicate to. So, how do you retain the SEO benefits of the amazing content that you produce, but still enjoy the financial rewards of syndicating it out to other websites desperate for amazing content?
In cases where opting out of your agreement to syndicate your beautiful original content is not an option, here are a few things you can do that will at least lessen the blow to your site. I cannot take full credit for coming up with all of these. As part of its penance, the SEO Lamp guided me through the terrors of syndicating content and SEO when I first started, so I would have to say that most of these solutions are its brainchild.
Best Case Scenario – Ideally, you would provide different content to the sites that you syndicate to than you put on your site, but most of the time that’s impractical because of the sheer volume that might be required or the agreement that you have with the other sites. The best case scenario then would be to provide a snippet of content to the sites, like the Title and first paragraph of the article, with a keyword rich link back to the article on your site (a link that is followed, not “nofollowed” of course). You could also negotiate for dedicated links on the partner’s website (on higher-level pages)that allow you to drive valuable links from their site to yours.
Next Best Case Scenario – The sites that you syndicate to get only 1 out of every 5 articles you create for your site. The articles they do get have keyword focused anchor text that links back to your site both for the original article and to a page that you are trying to rank. These links would obviously have to be followed.
Another option would be to ask for a keyword-focused link somewhere on the site outside of your articles, in addition to the option to promote link bait articles on their site that contain keyword-focused links back to your site. You could also ask that your content live on a subdomain of your site that is branded for the other company, which is then canonicalized to the parent article off the main domain.
If All Else Fails – Try to give yourself at least a week lead time between when your article is published on your site and when it appears on the sites you syndicate to. Hopefully, the search engines will recognize you as the originator of the content and take pity on you.
THIS JUST IN!!! The Cross-Domain Canonical Tag and Content Syndication
The announcement of the canonical tag working across domains is a great thing when it comes to syndicating content. In all cases mentioned above, the final kicker would be to have the sites you’re syndicating your content to put the appropriate canonical tag on the individual pages that have your syndicated content on. What this new function of the canonical tag does is tell the search engines that although this content resides on another website, the original owners of this content is site X. Originally the canonical tag was introduced to help reduce duplicate content confusion within a site. With the usage of parameters and less-than-optimized content management systems, creating duplicate content within a site can be part of every-day life for a website. But this problem can also occur across domains, and Google recognizes this issue. So, as a result, the canonical tag now works across domains and is a definite “must have” for syndicating content.
Here are some specific quotes from the Google Webmaster Central blog that will help you figure out the best way to utilize the canonical tag in content syndication situations:
Q: I’m offering my content / product descriptions for syndication. Do my publishers need to use rel=”canonical”?
A: We leave this up to you and your publishers. If the content is similar enough, it might make sense to use rel=”canonical”, if both parties agree.
Q: Do the pages have to be identical?
A: No, but they should be similar. Slight differences are fine.
Google also offers some great advice on how to create the canonical tag.
NOTE: The Google Webmaster Central blog also states that they treat the “rel=”canonical” as a hint, and other search engines may handle it differently.“ So there’s no guarantee that just having the canonical tag on the other website will maintain your authority over the content. Solution: don’t rely on it alone. Use it in combination with other methods mentioned above. Also, the SEO-savvy webmaster will probably challenge your request to put the canonical tag on their site as well as other options mentioned above, so when it comes to syndicating content, even with all these options, you may have a lot of haggling to do.