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How Content Syndication Can Backfire

Written by David Harry   
Monday, 07 June 2010 13:17

Getting outranked for your own content

I wanted to highlight a little problem that might see you being outranked for your own content. I am not talking about scrapers either, legitimate situations. You may ultimately be screwed for all your hard work developing quality content. Actually, the better you do your job, the more likely it is.

In the present world of SEO (and internet marketing in general) we all know that the 'build it and they will come' approach just ain't going to cut it. One way to get the word out and even build some authority is the use of content syndication. This is generally in the form of RSS. And a LOT of us use this approach.

Did you know that this might just be a bad idea? Especially with a full feed?

Getting outranked with your own content

Talking to Googlers

Some 18 months back the folks at WebProNews asked me if they could syndicate my content, verbatim, on their family of IM news sites. Right away one has to start worrying about this as they might just out-rank me for my own content, (given that they have greater authority). Thus I decided to talk to a Googler pal to see what the advised approach for this is.

At the time I was told that as long as the secondary source had a link back to the original, things should work out fine. And this did seem to be the case 80% of the time. Occasionally I'd get outranked (oddly Google was showing BOTH identical posts 1-2 in the SERP), but that was the exception, not the rule.

Fast forward, early 2010. I was working on a project in the finance world which was syndicating content out to a variety of locales including heavy weights such as 'the Street'. We noticed that, even with linkage to the original, we were getting spanked in the reg SERPs and Google News.

Back to Google we go.

This time I was told that we should look to throttle the RSS by delaying it some to ensure it was the first version picked up. Ok, great, so it seems that authority sites most certainly can still kick yer ass if you're not careful.


The Case Study

I was chatting in the SEO Dojo chat room with my pal (and social media guru) Samir Balwani whom was having some issues with his blog and this very problem. As an example we can look at the post; 5 Things I Would Tell a Social Media Professor

How full RSS feeds can create duplicate nightmares

If we look at a search for some leader text we see this - Or a Google search via post TITLE such as this here; "5 things I would tell a social media professor".

RSS Hell - outranked by your own content


You can see he is getting outranked by not only SMT but FaceBook as well (where he had a full feed). This, as you might imagine is not an ideal situation. Interestingly it should be noted that both of those entries actually link to the original via redirects. As we know there is some link love loss from that which means our 20% just got even worse.

Ultimately these domains had more authority and are effectively stealing his thunder AND rankings. Sure, we all want the authority building that can come from being in these publications, but at what cost? At very least we should be controlling which content gets syndicated and which doesn't (I have a deal with WebProNews that they don't touch any pillar content for example).

The Fix

And so what can we do to have the best of both world? To get the name out there without having and adverse affect on our SEO efforts? A few things come to mind and have been shown to work in these situations.

  • Delay RSS – this was Google's advice although I have not found an option for this in (their own) Feedburner system. This means you need to do it via the RSS programming on your site and then hook that up to the feedburner system.
  • Only use partial feeds – this is certainly another option that will also help solve the problem, though in some cases they don't allow that. For example SMT says, “ We do not use partial feeds or content summaries or posts without a photo or avatar. We are a community, not a link referral service.”
  • Make sure article TITLE is linked up – while not huge, it can help to further strengthen the post itself for the core terms being targeted. Every little bit helps.
  • Don't let them link to RSS UTM – in the SMT instance, they linked back to the actual RSS feed link which get's parsed as a 301 and certainly loses some juice to the original. Where possible, avoid this.

As you may have figured out along the trail, this is certainly something that we need to be aware of. In Samir's case, he really wasn't paying attention and this has been going on for quite some time. I can only imagine the traffic losses he's suffered because of it. If you are syndicating your content via FULL FEED, you should be monitoring it to ensure that this isn't happening to you.

And Google? Guys, if you're aware of the problem in the search dept., why not give a head's up to the folks at FeedBurner while we're at it ( I tried to ) and get an option to be able to delay the feed, just for such situations. #justsayin'

If you have your own story or need help with this, please do leave it in the comments or get in touch.


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0 # Tola 2010-06-07 13:31
I've always been a little worried about things like this. But I actually related it more to social bookmarking sites like Digg and Stumbleupon which make a post go viral. Never had this problem before though.
I tried out the partial feed on facebook but most people said they were too lazy to actually click on the link and go to my website and hence would rather just read it off facebook, if they thought it interesting enough.

And funny enough, a lot of my feeds have been delayed. Especially my facebook feed. Takes a couple of days for a new post to appear on my fan page, so that's a good thing.

But your suggestions are definitely won't considering and yes it would be nice to have a delayed option with feedburner or a set time for it to be syndicated or something.

Nice read...
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+1 # Tim Nash 2010-06-07 13:48
The other option but one I suggest for clients with deeper pockets, rewrite the content for the RSS, with more links etc, so you end up with

Original version
Extract (short summary version)
alternate sydicated version (highlights) which misses the all important piece to get them to your site.

Indeed I have one client who has 2 alternate versions one for trusted syndicated sites and one general rss. Lot of work but great results
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0 # Samir Balwani 2010-06-07 14:57
Dave, thanks for writing this piece. I've just removed all of the places I was syndicating to and hopefully it will be better now haha. Definitely lost out on a lot of links and traffic for sure.
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0 # David Harry 2010-06-07 16:29
@Tola - yes, it can be a bit of an issue if one is not careful about it. I have fired of an email to see if we can get the attention of the FeedBurner folks (started a thread in Google Groups, to no avail.

@Tim - yes, an interesting option, but in some cases these authority sites (such as the Street) can actually pass a little value/authority so it might be better to have the original with attribution. And of course as we were discussing, that's a bit of an elaborate fix for many peeps that don't have the technical abilities/resources. Thanks for adding an alternate approach though, tis appreciated mate.

@Sam - no probs, sadly removing them isn't the option I prefer. I wish Google/FeedBurner could sort this out instead for those without the technical abilities to hack WP or whatever CMS they are on to delay it. When we seek to play by the rules (not buying/shilling for links) they shouldn't make things harder on us. Syndication is a great way to get content out there and because of the way this is handled, some like yourself, are limited.

@Sen - I am not as concerned about duplication as I am attribution. I am not an engineer, but I'd imagine that this isn't the hardest thing to do. When the syndicated version links back to the original, redirect or not, the original should be the one taken as the source.

@Wynne - sadly I'd advise going with the partial feed option until we find out something better from the folks at Google. Hopefully FeedBurner can give an option or Google search can find a better way of recognizing the source in these situations.
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0 # Uttoran Sen 2010-06-07 18:10
about a year back, i wrote an article on this issue, well not exactly this issue but a similar one. Having a full feed also creates too much of duplicate content issues along with the chance of outranking yourself on the serps.

I have considered the delaying of feeds, but us smaller publishers can't do/get-done such custom coding. Hope people at feedburner reads this, i guess they won't, so here is an advice, why not just contact wordpress, they might give this option in the next update. Or if any wordpress plugin coder reading this, well you have a plugin idea here :-)
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0 # Wynne 2010-06-07 20:45
This is crazy. I have noticed that my own facebook fan page out ranks my blog for the posts - lol. Jeez I might have to think about this one.
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0 # Glenn Friesen | San Luis Obisp 2010-06-08 00:22
I've frequently experienced this problem, particularly with (client) ranking beneath a syndicated version of the post on our blog -- in roughly the same percentage you noted (20%). Over time, though, many of these 20% later were corrected, without any added effort (I assume Google "became aware" of the problem).

I think there's just been a lag, awaiting the adoption of the rel="canonical" tag for syndicated posts. After all, that's tag's now accepted for external relationships, and not just internal (specifically for this sort of syndication problem, no?). But then again, why would any republishing house that's outranking their sources choose to lose the juice by giving credit per the rel="canonical" tag?
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0 # seo blog 2010-06-09 16:21
The best approach would be to offer two versions of the same content, a shorter or less optimised version for syndication, after all you just want the backlink, anda better optimised version for the original site.
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-1 # Brant 2010-06-10 05:07
I actually run a website that syndicates content on a pretty big scale. I'd love to tell you that I outrank the source articles that I collect from, but most of the time that's just not the case.

It's important to NEVER let someone syndicate your full article. Pay attention to your wordpress RSS settings, and look at the RSS raw code to make sure full content is not there.

Also, if you are getting outranked by a huge site, it's not that surprising. It happens to everyone.

It also could be that your site isn't optimized for SEO as good as the syndicator. I see this all the time and it's not a syndicators fault that you don't know how to present your own content, now is it?
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0 # Nevil Darukhanawala 2010-06-11 05:35
Good post, and makes a very important point for those creating quality content. (Which as we know is very hard work).
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0 # Briana 2010-06-14 05:26
I had a really popular post on Social Media Today. It got over 14k views, which blew my mind! I noticed that, unfortunately, all the traffic was on SMT and not going to my site. I was trying to find a way to get pass that but couldn't find one. Yes, I'm glad people are reading my content at all, but I really wish I could gain some link power and traffic to my actual site
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0 # Whitney Segura 2010-06-16 18:46
I used to have this problem a while back, but I figured out if I delayed RSS I could fix it. Thanks for the good intel, keep it up!
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