One of the most powerful link building tactics is to create great content to give to third party web sites and requiring an attribution link back to your site. Many web site publishers are constantly looking for quality content. For example, bloggers have a continual need to publish to maintain their relevance. This need is not limited to blogs either, as many web sites hunger for more valuable content to provide to their visitors. The content can help make their site more sticky, increase repeat traffic and help the web site obtain links.
The problem with all this is duplicate content. If you write an article, place it on your site, and someone comes along and wants to put a copy of the article on their site, how can you safely do it? If a search engine crawler finds the same article in two different locations, the search engines are going to realize that they have a duplicate content situation.
The search engine will then choose which one to show in the search results for particular search queries. Unfortunately, it is not clear which one they will pick. They will try to show the original author, but it does not always work out that way, and there is a real risk that the original author will not show in the search results for their own article.
Four solutions for pain-free syndication
Syndicate a synopsis. Major news sources, such as Business Week, do a nice job of syndicating content. For example, their December 27th headline was “Retailers Shift Focus to Post-Holiday Bargains.” You can see that this story was picked up by many sources, including Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal in this screen shot of search results from Bing:
This shows the search engine returning the many different results for this one article. To see why Bing would do this (the other search engines do it as well), we need to look at one of the results. Here is a screen shot of the Wall Street Journal page covering the article:
As you can see, only the first sentence of the article is shown here. The Wall Street Journal does not want to replicate the entire article, and instead shows only a snippet with a link back to the original article. The added value from the Journal comes from links to related news stories that it includes. It is because of this deeper context provided by the Journal that this synopsis of the article is allowed in the search results. This type of syndication is a huge win for Business Week because they get scads of high quality links by allowing other sites to publish these synopses.
Use the NoIndex meta tag. If you want to syndicate a full copy of the article, The NoIndex meta tag might be the ticket for you. By requiring the publisher who is republishing your content to place a NoIndex meta tag on each of the pages they take from you, you also avoid the duplicate content problem. The search engines see the NoIndex and interpret that as an instruction to not return that page in their search results. Note that NoIndex pages can still accumulate and pass PageRank.
Why would a site want to publish web pages and then NoIndex them? If the content is valuable enough it may be compelling to their site visitors, so the publisher may feel that they need to have the content and developing it themselves might be too costly. I have seen some very powerful sites (such as ESPN.com) do this in the past.
Divide your content development efforts. This is also an interesting option. Simply allocate part of your content development efforts toward creating content for your site, and part toward developing content for other web sites (for syndication). The idea is to create new original articles that you don’t publish on your own site. The articles are designed and created solely for publication elsewhere .
The key here is to create new original content that has unique value. For example, the article you are reading right now is an example where I am authoring an article that I won’t publish on my own web site, but instead am publishing in the Industrial Strength column at Search Engine Land. Be sure not to just do warmed over rewrites of existing articles with little change in actual content, as these types of rewrites won’t really get you that far.
Use the cross domain canonical tag. Just two weeks ago, Google announced support for the cross domain canonical tag. Basically, this allows you to have the exact same content in two different places and tell Google which one you consider the master copy. So if you have two different pages with the same article, one on http://www.yourdomain.com/original-article.html, and one on http://www.theirdomain.com/copy-of-article.html, you would take the latter article and add this statement in the head section of the page:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.yourdomain.com/original-article.html” />
Note that Google has not stated whether pages using this tag can accumulate and pass PageRank, but I suspect that they will, as a web site that is republishing your article is in fact endorsing it quite strongly. If my assumption is correct, the impact of this approach would be similar to the NoIndex tag, but the information provided is a bit more precise and useful to Google.
Each of these methods can be used for syndicating content. Do make sure to obtain links back to the most relevant page on your web site, and if you are syndicating exact copies of an article you have already published on your site, make sure you get a link back to the page containing the original article. Also, since this type of link building requires a fair amount of effort, focus the effort on higher value links to make sure you get a good return.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.