Syndicating content is an important business development initiative for publishers; it generates revenue, increases exposure, drives traffic and helps facilitate inbound links. However from an SEO perspective there is a downside as syndication creates duplicate content issues.
Search engines don’t want to show users multiple versions of the same content so when an article has been syndicated it is likely that one version will be given prominence – and that may or may not be the original.
One of the most common concerns I hear from publishers is the fact that syndication partners are outranking them for their own content. This happens fairly often, especially when the partners are strong, authoritative domains and their syndicated versions attract a lot of links or social signals.
To some extent publishers have to accept that they can’t have their cake and eat it too. If you are going to license your content to other sites there is always a chance that those sites might outrank you for that content.
The only way to completely eliminate the issue is to require syndication partners to block their versions from the engines. Partners typically refuse such an arrangement, but it is becoming a more common request in contract negotiations.
Beyond that, there are steps that publishers can take to help reduce the risk of being outranked for their own content:
- Require partners to link back to the original on every syndicated article, for example: This article originally appeared on Example.com: [direct link, ideally with the headline as the link text]. It is important for the link to point directly to the original URL
- Publish the content on your site and allow it to be indexed prior to releasing it to partners
- Limit the amount of the text that is syndicated – instead of giving partners the full content, allow them to publish a reduced snippet of the article
- Require partners to use generic title tags (e.g. their site name) on their versions
In its tips for dealing with duplicate content, Google specifically refers to the attribution link but with a caveat:
Syndicate carefully: If you syndicate your content on other sites, make sure they include a link back to the original article on each syndicated article. Even with that, note that we’ll always show the (unblocked) version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer.
You can see that the attribution link is recommended but it is not guaranteed to resolve the issue. So it is important to build in as many protective steps as possible into any syndication contract.
In December 2009 Google began supporting the rel=”canonical” tag across different domains, giving publishers another tool to use in mitigating duplicate content issues caused by syndication. Check out Will Publishers Add Cross-Domain Rel=Canonical to Syndication Deals? for more information.