This question comes to us via Twitter:
@gesher What’s your take on creating articles on your site for the purposes of syndication?
— Jesse Semchuck (@jessesem)
Magic SEO Ball says: my reply is no.
Content syndication as an audience development strategy
Creating articles specifically with the intent of having them syndicated on other sites can be a fine way to expose those sites’ different audiences to your product, service, ideas or own website. When doing so, you should take care of the following concerns.
Every website has a different audience. Some are huge and some are tiny; some are general and some are specific; some are overlapping and some are distinct. Take care to ensure that your articles are appearing in the right places online by taking the time to understand the audience profiles of the sites where they will be syndicated. Failing to do so may cause your content to be ignored at best, or resented and marked as spam at worst.
How much is too much? If your syndicated content overwhelms the unique content on your own site, you are syndicating too much. If your syndicated content overwhelms the original content of the sites on which it appears, you are syndicating too much.
Many people have a certain set of content websites that they visit on a regular basis, daily or weekly; or an RSS feed reader that they check on a regular schedule; or the expectation that they’ll be able to use Twitter and Facebook to find out what’s happening. Some people use all three methods. If they follow your site and another site that syndicates your site’s content, or multiple sites that syndicate your site’s content, they’re going to start seeing your articles repeatedly. While that may strike you as desirable, it may also backfire by bothering this extended audience, preventing people from ever becoming your customers or followers.
In summary, what many syndication issues – with audience, volume and repetition – have in common is that they are caused by a casual “If you build it, they will come” approach that discounts the users’ interests, wishes, and experience. This may result from a surfeit of technical ability to effect syndication (viz., by RSS) and a deficit of concern for other web denizens.
Consider, instead of a push method, a pull method by which you publish your own material on your own site, and allow it to be republished by request by other webmasters on an article by article basis.
Content syndication as an SEO strategy
In general, the main reason to be interested in content syndication as an SEO strategy is for link building: the idea being that you can create feeds with your articles, including followed links back to your own site, and allow other sites to use the articles with proper canonical tags.
While it would be a stretch to say that Google’s policies about link building have historically been clear, one trend that has emerged and that can be stated with clarity is that Google does not want to allow any link building strategy that can scale. In effect, this means that asking for links and giving them is fine, but that manipulation of the overall link graph is not fine.
Does content syndication for SEO purposes (i.e., for the purposes of increasing your articles’ link authority and your site’s domain authority) work? Yes, but you’d better assume that links added without any human effort by other sites’ webmasters can be devalued without any human effort by Google’s search quality engineers.
And that doesn’t even touch on the risks involved, which I outlined briefly in this Quora question: Can my search engine ranking be hurt if I post my blog articles on my own site and on several other blogging sites?
… if you publish the same article on your own site and on other sites, you’re running the risk that it will rank on the other sites but not on your own… employing this practice at scale may expose your site to Panda… Instead, consider creating original content for different sites that is useful to each site’s audience.
So if you’re thinking about audience development and want to do content syndication, I think it is ok but also that you should consult an SEO and seriously weigh the SEO concerns, along with the possibility that syndicating content in the wrong ways may do more harm than good. And if you’re thinking specifically about a content syndication strategy for SEO, there are much better ideas out there.