Is copying content ever a good idea? The pros and cons of content syndication12 min read
Once upon a time, copying someone else’s writing was always considered a bad thing. It’s impolite at best, and at worst, a crime. In the world of academia, publishing, and most workplaces, putting your name to someone else’s work is still a big no-no.
But then along came the Internet, and with it, content marketing. Suddenly, people needed content – high-quality, SEO friendly content, and lots of it. But, as we probably don’t need to remind you, consistently producing blog posts that an audience will actually click on requires resources many small businesses just don’t have. It takes time, money and most importantly, know-how in order to get results.
So, it’s not surprising that many people turn to content that already exists. After all, why go to all the trouble of creating original content when there is so much out there? Republishing work from other sites is as commonplace as it is easy; so much so that Google has estimated that as much as 30% of all online content is duplicated.
One of the questions we get asked here at Quuu is: ‘can I use Quuu’s content suggestions for my own website?’ While our curated content is only designed for social media, there are legitimate ways you can publish other peoples’ content on your own platform.
The big question is…should you?
Plagiarism vs. content syndication
Before we get into the pros and cons, it’s important to know the difference between ‘good’ copying and ‘bad’ copying. Or, to put it into marketing terms: plagiarism vs. content syndication.
Plagiarism involves stealing another person’s work and passing it off as your own, without giving any acknowledgement to the original creator. This applies even if the original creator gave consent for you to do this. The definition of plagiarism also covers presenting ideas and concepts as your own when they aren’t. It’s possible to plagiarise any kind of media, from articles to videos, and while it is usually not a criminal offence, it’s still illegal if it infringes on someone’s intellectual property (more on that here).
Plagiarism might have some short-term benefits, but it is a form of fraud. So, it’s not likely to win you any favours, especially not with other content creators.
Content syndication, on the other hand, does give credit to the original author. In fact, that’s the whole point.
What is content syndication?
Content syndication is a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ arrangement, where one website publishes someone else’s content, and the website it came from gets something in return. This usually means a backlink.
Unlike plagiarism, content syndication provides you with free content to publish without stepping on anyone’s toes, and can even become part of a fully-formed content syndication strategy.
Plagiarism might have some short-term benefits, but it is a form of fraud. So, it’s not likely to win you any favours, especially not with other content creators. Content syndication, though, carries the same benefits without stepping on anyone’s toes, and can even become part of a fully-formed content syndication strategy.
It’s also distinct from guest posting. A guest post is only published on someone else’s website, so it’s still a completely unique piece (or at least, it should be!). Publishing guest posts is a great way to add more content to your site without having to create it yourself, but unless you have volunteers happy to donate free content to your blog on a regular basis, it can be less reliable than syndication.
So, it is possible to publish someone else’s content guilt-free. In fact, newspapers have been doing it for years. But content syndication, just like guest posting, has its pros and cons as a content strategy.
Pros and cons of content syndication
First, let’s start with the pros:
- More content – one of the obvious benefits is simply that you’ll have more content on your site. This is especially useful if you’re just starting out, or are struggling to fill gaps in your content calendar. It also helps with SEO, as an empty website or blog is unlikely to start climbing the rankings. High-quality syndicated posts that are tuned for Google will bolster your site overall…even if there are some SEO-related downsides (see below).
- It’s tried and tested – if you syndicate content that is already performing well on other sites, you know it’s a winner with your target audience. Everything from the title to the conclusion is likely to be crafted to perfection. If you do start syndicating, look for content that not only generates traffic, but that inspires conversation and engagement too.
- Thought leadership – people like to buy products and services from companies they admire and trust. One of the easiest ways to create that kind of goodwill is to display expertise, even if that expertise isn’t (strictly speaking) your own. How you choose content to publish reflects on you, and your business’s image can only improve by association if you share high-quality, knowledgeable posts.
- Branding – similarly, your choice of content also reflects on your brand. Think about the book titles chosen for celebrity book clubs; they are intentionally chosen to build and reinforce the personal brand of that celebrity. It’s possible to use syndicated content in the same way, cherry-picking posts that chime with your own values. This is especially useful if your brand is relatively unknown – by aligning it with other brands, people can quickly get a sense of what you are all about.
- Networking – if you publish another site’s content (with permission), you’re doing them a favour. You’re increasing their content’s reach, providing them with a backlink, and helping them target new audiences. So, it’s a great way to establish connections with other businesses.
So far, so good.
But syndication is not without its downsides. It’s a bit like taking a shortcut, and shortcuts have their disadvantages:
- Penalisation – perhaps the biggest concern for people syndicating content is the effect it has on SEO. Google can penalise websites that publish duplicate content. However, they usually only do this if the duplication is clearly an attempt to ‘manipulate search engine results’.
- Being outranked – while penalisation does happen, it’s actually far more likely that your site will simply not rank as highly as the original version. If you’re republishing content from a site that is more popular or well-known than yours, their copy will invariably come first, which prevents your site from getting as many hits and from standing out.
- Lack of originality – if you rely too heavily on third-party content, you’re not likely to have a unique take on things. Similarly, the writing won’t have a distinctive brand voice that customers associate with your company. Wordstream recommends that only around 10% of your content is syndicated – that’s not a lot! So, publishing large amounts of third party content may not be the best idea. You’ll still need to create or publish original content somehow in order to make a mark.
- Referral traffic – for the author of the original post, referral traffic is great. But for you, it’s a potential hazard. If readers like the content you’ve found elsewhere, they may go elsewhere, via the URL you use to credit your source. While they’d have to be pretty blown away to want to chase down the source of your article, it can happen.
Despite all of this, syndication still a popular and widely used content marketing tactic. And, if you’ve made it this far, you might be interested to know there are ways around these disadvantages – if you know your stuff!
Using content syndication as part of your content marketing strategy
When used properly, syndicated content can be a boon to your wider digital marketing strategy. But it is very easy to get wrong. So, here’s how to republish already-amazing content on your own site.
Know your target audience
Publishing quality content is one thing – but it won’t be effective unless it’s aimed at the same kind of audience you want to attract. Before you start finding specific articles, videos or infographics you want to share, identify your target audience and the kind of publications they already read.
Know your brand voice
Every piece of content, whether original or not, will tell your site visitors who you are. So, it’s important that the syndicated content you publish is complementary to your own brand voice. The style of writing, tone of voice and message shouldn’t be too dissimilar from your own.
Choose your sources
Once you’ve decided who you’re publishing for, and how it should look and sound, it’s time to figure out where you’ll find syndication partners. There are a few ways to source content, including:
- Directly approaching bloggers and publications – this has the benefit of building direct connections with other brands and gives you complete control. It’s also more time-consuming, though.
- Paid content syndication platforms like Taboola or Outbrain (though, these platforms are a bit controversial).
- Automated WordPress plugins, like WP Syndicate or for news stories, NewsPlugin.
- Social media groups – if you’re involved in any groups on Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere, see if other members would be open to content syndication or content swaps, in exchange for backlinks and mentions.
- Content discovery tools like Feedly and RSS can also be useful, as they give you easy access to a stream of the latest content – but this method is missing the potential for networking.
When, where and how
Decide how much of your content will be syndicated, compared to your own original work. Will it be 10%, 20%? Remember – much like Quuu’s social media content, syndication should boost your own content strategy, rather than replace it entirely.
Next, figure out when and how frequently you’ll publish syndicated content. Once you’ve done that, you can map it out in a content calendar – it’s the best way to stay organised. If you don’t have one already, here’s a free template and guide to get started!
Address SEO concerns
You know those pesky duplicate content issues we mentioned earlier? Well, by working some SEO magic, you can make your publishing partners feel a lot happier about them.
There are two ways to do this. One is to ask the creator of the original piece of content to add a rel=canonical tag to their post, if they haven’t already. This shows Google that it was the first copy, and so avoids your source being penalised.
Another option is to add a noindex tag to your own version of the content, which means Google won’t index that particular URL. This means your version won’t show up in search results, but it also means that Google won’t take action against your site.
Think about links
If the article you’re going to syndicate has a lot of embedded links to external sites, or the creator’s website, you may want to think about optimising these. You could start by setting them all to open in a new tab, so that visitors aren’t taken directly away from your site. Or, if they are too frequent, you could ask about changing some of them. It’s also worth checking any embedded links are still working, and keeping an eye out for opportunities to link internally, back to your own website or blog. For example, if you publish pasta recipes and an article mentions one you already have on your site – embed a link! It’s good for SEO.
Credit the creator
As you’ve probably realised by now, every post needs to acknowledge the content creator, the place it was published and provide at least one link to the original article. This is usually done at the beginning or at the end of the post.
Distribute and promote!
Just because it came from another source does not mean you can’t have a winning content promotion strategy to go with it. It’s great content, after all – it deserves some attention!
If you are looking for a new content promotion platform to try out, it’s worth having a look at Quuu Promote, our content promotion platform that shares your posts organically across Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
So, will you be using syndicated content on your site? Have you gotten results from it? Let us know in the comments!