When ecommerce companies think about content syndication, they typically consider acquiring content that others have written to beef up their own sites. Depending on the goal, placing content from other sites onto your own can be beneficial from a branding, partnership, or reference point of view, but rarely for search engine optimization.
By its nature, content syndication tends to create duplicate content — I addressed that topic here previously, at “SEO: There Is No Duplicate Content Penalty” — because one site creates content and one or more sites post that content to their own sites. But it doesn’t have to be duplicate content.
Creating Content to Syndicate for SEO Value
Creating unique content for syndication can be a big win for SEO. It may sound counterintuitive, but a well-controlled content syndication strategy can drive links back to your site and still allow you to rank for the content you’ve worked hard to create.
Eric Enge, president of Stone Temple Consulting, an Internet marketing firm, offered three scenarios to make content creation and syndication work for SEO — at the recent Search Engine Strategies show in Chicago. In each scenario, the content will be posted on your site for your SEO benefit as well as syndicated to other sites for their use.
Index Only Your Content. If the syndicating sites will be posting exact copies of the content on their sites, take steps to ensure that the original version on your site is the only version indexed in the search engines, or is at least noted as the canonical — original — version of the content. To accomplish this, the syndicating sites must agree to place a meta robots “noindex” tag in the head of the content pages. The noindex directive will prevent search engines from indexing the duplicate syndicated content, but will still allow the passage of link popularity through the links that naturally lead back to your site.
Establish the Original Source of the Content. Alternately, the syndicating sites can use a “rel=canonical” attribute indicating your pages as the canonical or original sources of the content. Unfortunately, the canonical tag is seen by search engines as a suggestion rather than the directive that the noindex attribute represents, and as such may be less effective in protecting your site’s authority and ability to rank for that content.
Make sure to write either the noindex or the canonical method into the content syndication contract to ensure that the syndicating site will honor these conditions. It’s also a good idea to spot check pages of content on the syndicators’ sites to check for the presence of the required tags. Just go to “view source” of the page and search the HTML for either “noindex” or “rel=canonical.”
Rewrite the Content. An option that requires less policing is to employ two separate copywriters or teams to generate content on the same topics. This method is obviously more resource intensive, but it also ensures that the syndicated content is unique from the content posted on your own site despite being of similar topic.
Can Ecommerce Companies Really Syndicate Content?
Yes, ecommerce companies can syndicate content. The first step is to provide information that has value not only for your customers, but could be useful to visitors on other sites. For example, FootSmart.com, as retailer for footwear products, has worked with The Podiatry Institute to create a large reference section on foot and leg ailments for the benefit of FootSmart’s customers with merchandising modules to drive sales to related products. For example, this FootSmart page on fallen arches contains a wealth of information from The Podiatry Institute that would be appealing to sports sites and health sites. Whether or not FootSmart is allowed to syndicate this content based on the terms of its agreement with The Podiatry Institute is another matter. But the example shows that it’s entirely possible to create useful and syndicatable content on even unsexy subjects like foot ailments.
The key to creating useful content is to look for issues your customers are already telling you about. For example, retailer Bare Necessities has a great bra fit guide that likely addresses many of the questions that customers would write or call into customer service about. Not only does the guide provide customer service personnel a place to direct customers for help, but also it is good for SEO and imminently syndicatable if Bare Necessities’ chooses.
Acquiring Syndicated Content for SEO Value?
On the flip side, publishing exact copies of other sites’ content is not effective for SEO. Purely slapping a new navigational template around the same piece of syndicated content will not make the content unique. Therefore, to ensure that your site receives SEO benefit from content received from another site, one of two things needs to happen.
Either the originating site and all other syndicators need to place a robots.txt disallow, or meta robots noindex tag on their versions of content, which is highly unlikely and difficult to police. Or your site needs to have more authority, better usability and be better optimized than the originating site and all other syndicators. This doesn’t stop your content — which was originally published on another site — from being duplicate content, but if your copy is the one that wins the ranking, it hardly matters if other sites are hosting it as well.
Frankly, the search engines don’t really care which site has the original source of content, except for the news and blog search-engine verticals. What search engines care about is getting the searcher to the web page that they’ve algorithmically determined to best match the searcher’s query. If that best web page isn’t yours and you’re going up against stronger sites with the same syndicated content, that content will not help your site rank better or drive transactions.
Benefits Other than SEO
So why would a site host syndicated content if there’s no SEO value to be had? Great content has more value than SEO alone. Valuable content can plug holes the syndicating site has in its own content, create the perception that the site is a greater reference or authority, and even create a new partnership between the two sites that could extend to other forms of cross marketing like guest blogging or offering specials to each others’ customer base.
For example, perhaps a runner’s blog wants to create a new section on ailments that affect runners but doesn’t have the resources to create educational materials themselves. The blog is focused on filling a content need for its readers, not on SEO value. FootSmart could offer the content, stripped of the merchandised modules but still containing embedded links from the text back to FootSmart.com. Perhaps the FootSmart could even sweeten the deal by offering the syndicating blog a special coupon to further benefit the blog readers and drive new customers to their site.
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