When you’re creating content, especially when you’re a smaller shop without much inherent authority, it’s often a good idea to publish that content on a different site — one that does have authority and can help you rank by linking back to the original version on your site. What types of platforms should you approach, though, and should you publish it on your own site first? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand answers those questions and dispels a rumor about whether this approach could lead to duplicate content penalties (hint: nope!).
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to talk a little bit about being strategic with your guest posting and licensing of content without incurring any duplicate content issues
The first part of this pretty is important, and then the second part we’ll tackle a little bit later. But I want to use an example.
So let’s say I’m Lightboard. Lightboard is a Techstars company here in Seattle. Full disclosure, Geraldine and I are like teeny, teeny, tiny investors in Techstars Seattle, so we might have some sort of conflict of interest FYI. But Lightboard, they’ve done some cool work for some folks in the SEO world. They’re basically a design as a service platform. They have a bunch of designers who’ll do work, I think, for $75 dollars an hour or something. Some folks have been liking their service.
So let’s say Lightboarding.com has got some fantastic content out there. They put together an excellent survey of designers that talks about the standard pricing and hours you can expect and quality of work as it differs across lots and lots of different designers out there.
So they’ve got a bunch of options now.
They can take that content and they can put it on their own site and reach their current audience, which might be relatively limited. Especially as an early-stage company, they may not have a huge audience yet.
They can reach popular niche sites. So potentially, if they have a bunch of data about designers and this kind of thing, they can reach sites like Smashing Magazine, or HubSpot’s designer’s blog at Designers.HubSpot.com, or Webdesigner Depot, or Penelope Trunk who targets mostly small business audiences but sometimes writes about design.
They could look at user-generated content platforms, potential audiences there. So places like YouTube, which anyone can post content to and potentially then they have the opportunity to be in front of YouTube search audience and browsing audience. They could target a site like Medium, which it is user generated content, although there’s obviously an editorial process, kind of like there is for YouMoz.
They could look at something like American Express’ OPEN Forum, which targets small businesses.
Then there are obviously like major media sites. So they could try and get a guest column or article in something like an Inc. or Forbes or Entrepreneur.com.
This is a lot to choose from, and it’s actually challenging to know which of these audiences to approach and when. But…
Here’s my process for figuring this out
If I’m Lightboard, I’m going to ask, “Can I rank for it on my own site first?” Reason being I’m asking if I can rank for it is, typically, when you’re creating content, one of the most important forms of value that you’re going to get from it is people searching directly for it in the long tail. So yes, up front that first social push and the amplification, maybe that’s meant to bring a bunch of press to your site, maybe in some circumstances you don’t even care that much about the rankings, in which case you ignore this part and skip to down here. But in most of the cases, if I’m putting out a piece of content, I want to be able to rank for that content long term so I can keep earning valuable visitors for months and years to come.
If I have a large enough audience and the ability to earn the necessary signals, then if that is the case, I almost always want to put that content in its largest and most robust form on my own site first. The only caveat to this would be unless there’s some sort of massive amplification impact that I could get from going elsewhere. For example, you might have seen on Moz’s blog a little while ago a similar web that has a blog and an audience and reach of their own put some big content, some studies that they did on our site, on Moz’s site, knowing that they would reach an even larger audience with more amplification than they would putting it on their own site, and so they made that choice. Moz has done the same. I have done the same. Several times I wrote a guest blog post for example for ProBlogger last year, which did very well on their site, kind of reaching a different, unique audience.
So unless that is the case, I’d put it on your site first. Now if it’s not the case, where you don’t believe you can get those ranking signals, you can’t get that amplification, choose a site whose audience is likely to provide you with that and whose platform is likely to provide you with that.
If you say to yourself, “Gosh, Medium has a great chance of ranking really well for this. I’m almost positive I can get through their editorial system,” great. If Smashing Magazine is an even better platform, well that might be even more wonderful because Medium will do a little bit of amplification for you. Smashing Magazine potentially does a ton of amplification for you. So you’re making these trade-offs and doing that intelligently based on the sites that you’ve targeted in these various spheres.
Then, once you’ve done either one of these, the cool thing about content licensing and guest blogging is that’s not the end. Let’s say you put it on your site. So Lightboard puts it on their blog. That content does okay, but it’s still not ranking. They rank on page two, page three. It’s doing all right, but it’s not doing that great.
That’s not the end. You can then choose how to repurpose and help spread that reach. So Lightboard could, for example, say, “Hey, let’s do a deep dive particularly on pricing and see if Smashing Magazine will accept that.” Or, “Hey, let’s do a deep dive on quality of work and see if we can get Webdesigner Depot to feature that along with a bunch of examples.” Or, “Gosh, I think that we could write an article about small businesses choosing design and ways to go through and select a designer, and we could get that on American Express OPEN Forum.”
Then with all of those, you can potentially link back to the original version. So I produce all these pieces of content across all of these different groups, and then I link back to my original one, which is really going to potentially help that rank phenomenally well. This is super cool.
I actually had an experience with this recently as well, where I posted something on my personal blog about creating great presentations. SlideShare reached out to me and asked if they could license that content and publish it on their blog as well. But that republished version linked back to mine, and I moved up, after they published it, from page three to page one, which is pretty sweet. I now rank for creating great presentations. Who knows for how long, but I thought that was a very, very cool impact of that content licensing decision. Obviously, I kind of cheated. I didn’t have to do much work. SlideShare just chose to help me out, which was awesome. Way to go SlideShare.
Questions to consider
If rankings are your primary goal, you want to ask: Can you host that big, in-depth version on your site and then link back to it from all these different versions? If that’s a possibility, even if you’re not sure if you can get the rankings initially, you might want to bias to your own site. I love being able to rank for content on my site, being able to host it, control the experience, get the potential conversions, drop that retargeting cookie onto my audience so that I can then follow them around the Internet like a lost puppy dog potentially. So there are lots of benefits to putting it on your site.
You also should be asking: Should you target the toughest, the very hardest keywords, like the hardest keywords to rank for, which are oftentimes the most popular ones, not necessarily the most valuable ones, but often the most popular ones in your version? Or should you save those keywords to target on kind of one of the bigger platforms that’s more likely to rank well for tough keywords and go for a more targeted approach on your own site? Especially if you’re starting out, that might actually be a smart choice.
Next up, if someone’s going to license your content, directly license, completely copy it, especially if they’re reaching out, ask if you can get a cross-domain rel=canonical put into that content. If the answer is no, which it often is, that’s okay. You can say, “Or a link to the original.” Rather than them linking to your homepage or your About page, try and get them to link to that original. That’s a great signal to the search engines that that’s the one they should be ranking ahead of the copy.
Then, the last question I ask: Is it better to expend energy producing this content, well, taking pieces of this content, repurposing it, and putting it on other sites, or should I just go and try and make more content for my own website? I think this is something that only you can strategically answer, and chances are, if you’re investing in SEO and in content marketing and those kinds of things, only you’ll have that answer, and you’ll probably have to test different ways of going about that.
Last thing I’m going to mention is bringing us back to duplicate content. Let me clarify for a sec that there is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty on this type of stuff. That’s not really an application.
Technically, there’s stuff like Panda, which can look at a website and say, “Gosh, a ton of this content is either entirely duplicate or entirely thin content, and therefore we’re going to hurt its rankings overall.” But if Lightboarding had a blog post and every single one of these sites, that I’ve written up here, repurposed it in its entirety, including YouTube posting the transcript, which happened to be a complete copy, it still would not cause a duplicate copy content penalty.
The risk here is not a penalty. The risk is your site.com might be outranked by Inc.com or Medium.com for those keywords, for that post. Google might say, “Wait a minute. It likes the Medium version is actually the original one, and we’re going to make that one the default. All these other ones we’re going to consider duplicate and hide.” But it’s not like it’s going to hurt the rest of your rankings on the rest of this website just because that one post was duplicated. If you start talking about hundreds or thousands of these, maybe we’d get into a different story.
But the way to think about this then is to try and get the links pointing to your site, try and get that rel=canonical, and think about whether you want to target different keywords and have a different title and focus for the content you put on your site versus what you put on other folks.
All right, everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we” see you next week. Take care.
Video transcription by Speechpad.com