Recently someone came to me with a question about this article I wrote on Canonical URLs:
This person told me he was re-publishing his blog articles on the following sites:
So what was the question?
The question was: is duplicating content around the web bad, and should I be using the Canonical rel link? If so, how? What’s the right set up?
You’d think this is something that deserves a flat, easy answer. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I had questions of my own.
Mainly: why did this person feel the NEED to re-publish his articles around the web?
Why not use the ‘snippet’ tool that shows a portion of the article, which is freely available on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. In other words, why not just post a link to the article, instead of the whole article itself. Don’t you want people coming to your website?
His answer was that he felt people are less likely to click to “read more” somewhere else, than to just read the whole article on the website that hooked them in the first place. It’s a valid assumption, but to know this for sure, I’d guess more testing would be needed to confirm the theory.
(But the idea that the content itself is what sells people is correct. It’s true that your credibility as an expert comes from knowledge that you can display in your published work. But that’s not the issue we’re solving here. Our issue is about WHERE to publish this writing, and whether to duplicate that writing on multiple sites.)
Then my follow up question was:
Have you ever attracted more leads with this method? Has someone, for example, read your blog post on LinkedIn’s blog, and then contacted you to do business with you?
That was not really answerable in his case. I’d like to know though, especially given the SEO implications of doing this, whether it is worth it in this aspect of lead generation. We’ll discuss this more below.
My other question was:
Have you been doing tracking to see how many hits you’re getting to your website from a specific link shared on a social network? (By the way, you can do this easily with a UTM URL builder to show the traffic in your Google Analytics account).
His answer was no. Most people I talk to would say no. It would be interesting if we could see this data though.
Ok, so here is where we are at: this person is sharing his content on multiple websites, so more people will find it and not have to click to load another webpage to do so.
Is that bad?
This is where things get interesting. As an SEO, I can not say that this is bad. But I also can’t advise that you do this UNLESS it is part of a concerted e-marketing strategy that does not have to do with SEO per se.
Content duplication is not a penalty, as some have described it in the past. But it can result in content ranking dilutions. That is explained in my original article on canonical rel links given above.
How do duplicate content ranking problems happen in search engines?
So here is how it works. Let’s type into Google “how to look smart in meetings.”
Note: this is a VERY specific long-tail search that most users would NOT use to find a generic product or service. And it’s also a search for a popular article that went viral a couple years ago, meaning that the search engine probably knows what I’m trying to find when I type that in, because of its popularity. So the results I’m going to get in the search engine results pages (SERPs) are not going to be typical. In other words, it won’t be the same as typing in something broad into the search engines. But for me to show you how this works, it can serve as a prime example.
Let’s have a look at the results:
The first result is the bang-on article I’m looking for. It’s the site of the author who wrote it originally at thecooperreview.com/10-tricks-appear-smart-meetings/
The next result is the place where I first saw this article, when it was shared on Facebook and showed up in my feed:
It’s a Medium article.
Let’s scroll down a bit. We have a few results of different articles with similar content. Then below those, do you see the Huffington Post link that has the same article again?
We also have a result from Fast Company that reports on Sarah Cooper’s original post, and includes her content in slides, or in an infographic.
Do the Huffington Post and Fast Company use the canonical rel link in their code for those pages? No, they both use their own internal domain canonical rel links. See below:
Huffington Post’s canonical rel link reference (using the url of the page on their internal domain):
Fast Company’s canonical rel link reference (also using the url of the page on their internal domain):
Why have they not used the cross-domain canonical rel link to point to Sarah’s original article? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing it’s just plain ignorance. Someone publishing the post probably didn’t know they should really do that. But notice how Google already figured it out, even without the canonical rel link; it ranked Sarah’s original article first in the results, even though I didn’t get the title exactly right when I was putting in the query.
We could keep looking at the other results, but the point to be made here is already clear with the above examples. None of these sites have lost their credibility or ranking in SERPs due to re-publishing content.
BUT – and I mean this – they did not STEAL content. Don’t ever do that. It’s bad. Don’t be that person. No one will like you.
It is very likely these reputable organizations reached out to the original author, Sarah Cooper, to ask permission to publish her post. This in turn gave Sarah an audience reach she would not otherwise have had. The popularity, and hilarious-ness of her article also landed her a TV spot, by the way.
Way to go for getting comedian exposure. All because of one blog post that was probably written on a whim, when she woke up one day and thought “hey, I should write about this.” Right? I don’t really know. You can ask Sarah Cooper though. She responds to comments on her YouTube videos. I’ve tried it, lol. (Staaaalker).
And, by the way, Yoast (an SEO guru) released this video of a person who asked a similar question about a Tumblr post being re-published 9000 times. In this particular Tumblr case, it was a good thing! (You don’t want to do this outside the realm of where it’s supposed to happen like that, such as on Tumblr. I.e. don’t mass publish a dumb article for backlinks only!).
What have we learned from the Sarah Cooper experience of re-publishing an article on high quality sites?
Let’s make a list of what we’ve learned about the Sarah Cooper example, and the way she re-published her work on multiple high quality websites.
Her effort did not seem to be primarily SEO related. She was writing something genuinely funny, without trying to rank. The community that saw it loved it, and shared it. This is another way to generate traffic to your website that doesn’t require mere SEO, but rather, a more holistic internet marketing strategy.
Re-publishing the work did not cause ranking problems for her original post.
She did not spam her article by spinning it or sending it out through an automated wire service. The places it was re-published seem to have done this with thought and purpose.
Her purpose for re-publishing the work on Medium was likely to gain attraction to the audience that is ALREADY on the Medium platform. Meaning, Medium has an audience, and if you show up on Medium, you show up to their audience. That can provide an avenue for more exposure. But again, it’s not an SEO effort. It’s about more visibility.
After it went viral, the article was picked up by news outlets. This means the people at large (or whatever you want to call it), were the ones that vetted the article to say “hey this is good stuff.” First it was good, then it got picked up by media. Not the other way around. You’ve gotta be writing things that will get attention.
When the reputable, high quality sites re-published Sarah’s original article, they likely got permission to do so, and even interviewed her for it. Why did she say yes? For more exposure. Why did they want to do this? Because it services their INTERNAL audience. News mediums make money off advertising revenue. Advertisers pay for audiences. Content brings in audiences. News sites therefore sell an audience through their content to advertisers. Having funny, shareable, valuable content like Sarah’s article works in their favour by having more pageviews and readers, thus increasing their ad revenue. I know I sound repetitive here but it’s important to know that it is not likely that the Huffington Post and Fast Company were considering trying to rank for Sarah’s original article in the SERPs. The intent of re-publishing was to provide more value to their own audience, where they saw it was relevant to do so.
And, what was the result of all this buzz around Sarah’s funny article? Well, she eventually wrote a book and now can earn off the royalties from that work. Plus, now more people know she’s funny and she can work on launching her career as a comedian if she wants to.
All because of re-publishing her article on multiple high quality websites.
So can I say that re-publishing articles is bad?
No, I can’t. Because look what it did for Sarah, right?
BUT, here is what WOULD be bad:
- Republishing work because you think it will help you rank better. Remember, that was never the point or intent of the re-publishing efforts in the example given above.
- Republishing work you stole or didn’t ask for explicit permission to republish. Don’t ever do this. I’ll say it a hundred times. Tumblr re-posts excluded from this comment.
- Republishing work aimlessly on any site that will take it. Choose your audiences carefully.
- Republishing work without a clear purpose, reason or strategy.
All of the above could come back to bite you. Why? Because consider the following:
If you are trying to rank better by re-publishing work, you can look like you’re spamming SERPs. And remember, Google is pretty good at recognizing the original source of an article, even without the canonical rel link.
If you steal other people’s articles, you can get flagged by search engines as providing no usefulness to any searcher for any query (see article I linked to at the beginning of this article on the whole purpose of canonical rel links). Plus, this is just unethical.
If you republish your work aimlessly, without carefully considering your audience, you can end up on low-quality sites, which would certainly NOT be good for your SEO efforts in the long run. I’ve had to put in a disavow request for a site that had a lot of bad links point to it before. You don’t want to be in this situation. You want to focus on the “high quality” part of what I’ve been writing about in this article.
If you republish your work without a clear strategy, my question here would be, but why? Are you trying to get more leads? What if this does a disservice to you? What if you could get more leads by only publishing a snippet of your article on places like LinkedIn and Facebook? Have you considered how you want people to act on your content after they read it? There is more to think about here, is what I’m saying.
To conclude: re-publishing your articles can work in your favour, if you know what you’re doing
If you are careful with where you re-publish your work, you may find it can get you more exposure. But don’t do it just for the sake of doing it. Know what you want – what’s your endgame? When you know that, you can decide what you want to do with your articles. Remember, I’ve given you ONE example of ONE person whose work was re-published on different sites. But there are plenty more examples I HAVEN’T given you of people who do not re-publish their work if it first appears on their own blog. There are reasons for both strategies. Choose yours wisely!