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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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