Syndication is one of the most important pieces of the content marketing process. Writing and publishing the original article (or infographic, or video, or any piece of material, really) is only the first step. Even if you create something informative, entertaining, valuable, and shareable, it won’t mean much unless there are actual people around to read and consume it.
Syndication attempts to solve that problem by making the piece available to a wider audience. For brands just getting started with a content marketing program or those without a loyal readership, this is absolutely essential part of the puzzle.
Still, the term “syndication” is vague, and can refer to a host of techniques, processes, and strategies designed to make your work available to a greater number of people. With so many options available, it can be hard to decide the best route forward for your brand. Each brand has a unique target audience, a specific budget, and a specific set of resources to work with, so it’s virtually impossible to identify any one “best fit” for all brands.
What we can do, however, is establish a broader framework—one that doesn’t dig too deep into specific channels, but does help the majority of businesses understand the most important elements of a content syndication plan. Under this framework, I’ve identified three “tiers,” which dictate both an order and a degree of importance for the overall campaign. Within each tier are a number of different options for individual brands to choose, but as a general rule, all brands should focus on “tier 1” syndication, followed by “tier 2” syndication, and of course then “tier 3.”
For the remainder of this article, I’ll be diving deep into those tiers specifically, explaining what they are, why they’re important, and various options that marketers have when using them.
The first tier is all about getting published on platforms that people are already using to find and read material. For example, you could write a post and submit it to a leading industry online magazine, which could get it seen by several thousand active readers instead of the few that your blog currently naturally generates. As you might imagine, there are many options for this; emerging brands in the content scene will likely be limited to local publishers, small publishers, and niche blogs and forums for their work, while more experienced content marketers can move up to national outlets.
This external form of syndication isn’t limited to a singular external post, either. You don’t have to write a post and publish it offsite to gain offsite benefits. For instance, you can publish your article on your own blog and earn a link from an external publisher citing it; the more original research and unique claims you write about, the more likely you’ll be to naturally attract these kinds of links. There’s also the option of taking advantage of social bookmarking sites like Reddit and StumbleUpon, which accept user-submitted pieces of content to distribute to its readers.
Once your relationship with one or more offsite publishers has been established, the next tier of syndication is social media syndication. This tier is much simpler than getting published offsite; instead of trying to build relationships with external publishers or attract links naturally, you’ll have full control over your distribution. Most brands choose to do a big push of their content when it’s first published, posting an excerpt or the title and drawing people in with a link, then following up over the course of weeks and months with occasional varied redistributions of the same article (to attract more traffic for those who didn’t see it the first time around).
Most of this can be done organically, but most social platforms also offer paid boosts to extend the reach of posts. I should also mention that not all social media platforms are equal, and should not be used the same way; Facebook has the largest user base, but what attracts a user to share an article on Facebook isn’t the same as what attracts them to share one on LinkedIn. Know your platforms, and know your audience.
Finally, social influencers should only be broached once you’ve established an offsite and traditional social syndication pattern. Since you’ll be dealing with individuals rather than platforms or networks, you’ll have to make individual pitches (albeit short ones), and work on maintaining ongoing relationships to solidify your chances of getting shared by them in the future. Influencers are social media users with large followings and a great deal of cumulative respect; getting one of your articles shared by them can open up your audience to thousands of new potential readers. If you’ve already got a dedicated social following and some extra visibility from offsite publishers, this will go even further to boost your authority.
This three-tiered system doesn’t cover every option available for content syndication; it leaves out a handful of noteworthy channels, such as paid traffic, email blasts, and subscriber feeds. But it does represent a critical opportunity to get ample traffic, visibility, links, and authority with a minimal amount of direction and effort. Adhere to this 3-tiered system as closely as possible when you establish a plan for your content syndication; after experimenting with different individual channels, you’ll soon find a rhythm that suits your brand and your audience perfectly.
Great content is the foundation for any content marketing or search engine optimization strategy. In an effort to achieve a wider reach for that content, smart marketers use methods like guest blogging or social media distribution, but not all methods of content distribution are equal. While most methods are valuable in creating more brand visibility, supporting a domain with more backlinks, and creating more opportunities for clicks and conversions, some distribution methods are actually counterproductive.
Take, for instance, the process of content syndication. While the word “syndication” can be used to describe any process of reposting a piece of content, in the context of this article we will consider web content syndication to mean the reposting of a given article on your site, word for word, on another site. It seems like a great strategy on the surface, but there are several reasons why direct content syndication on external sites can be harmful:
Repeating your content word-for-word on a different page is considered “duplicate content,” and it’s something Google considers negative when used as a deceptive practice. Google does admit that some duplicate content can be beneficial, because it provides users with the information they need in multiple locations, but when dealing with a potential penalty, safer is the smarter strategy. Instead of trying to skirt around Google’s ruling on repeated content, focus on guest posting or creating more unique posts for your own site.
Syndicating your content usually involves several links pointing back to your site in an effort to increase your page rank and attract more direct web traffic. However, backlinking too excessively or using similar content to link to your site from multiple external sources can be seen as a manipulative practice, and can be penalized by Google. It’s far better to build backlinks through natural means, such as relevant blog and forum comments, than it is through syndicated content.
Depending on where you try to syndicate your content, you’ll probably earn a few lines of recognition—a short blurb at the top or bottom of the article that says “this post was written by ___.” Some people will take the time to read this, learn more about you, and discover that you’re a reliable source for similarly great content. But unfortunately, most people will only read your piece at face value. And since the first place they saw it was an external site, they may associate your content exclusively with that external site.
It’s possible to syndicate content on your own, and many people pursue this option by tracking down individual external sites in their industry and specifically requesting a guest spot. This is a time-intensive process that requires individual submissions, reducing the efficiency of the syndication process and limiting the quality of links pointing back to your site. Instead, many people prefer to syndicate using a larger, higher-quality syndication channel that submits to hundreds or thousands of sources simultaneously. While this will get you some links from higher authorities, it doesn’t solve the “duplicate content” problem, and more importantly—this kind of syndication is expensive. Over time, those costs add up.
Your onsite content marketing strategy is designed to get users familiar and interested in your business. Your job is to give them a unique experience they can’t get anywhere else. If you give them that exact same experience, but on a different site, then what reason do they have to stick around on your site? In some ways, syndicating your content on other sites undermines your authority as an expert in your niche. A user who stumbles upon an identical article of yours on an external site may lose faith in the idea that you are an individual thought leader.
This is a serious danger, especially for new or low-authority sites. Imagine you create a blog post called “How to Make a Strawberry Milkshake” and syndicate that on several sites that have a higher authority than yours. True, their larger audience volume means you’ll get an instantly wider reach and a huge opportunity for new readers, but if someone searches for “how to make a strawberry milkshake,” your syndication hosts could show up at the top of the SERP, with your site buried at the bottom. There’s a chance you’ll still get some of their traffic, but why give them that top spot when you don’t have to?
These detriments illustrate content syndication as a purely harmful process, but there are efforts you can take to turn it into something positive. Take these strategies, for example:
Posting on external sites is a great strategy. But you cannot do it with duplicated content and hope to be successful. Instead, write a series of guest posts for those external sites. You can maintain your same voice, style, topic focus, and expertise, but you can take a different angle or explore new ideas on those external sites. You’ll be able to build your authority and get some additional traffic without the danger of alerting Google to a piece of repeated content.
To make up for the potential heavy backlinking problem, use “rel=nofollow” tags on your links to ensure that Google doesn’t read them. This will allow your links to function normally for each user, thereby generating referral traffic, but will prevent the possibility of getting noticed for a black hat backlinking process. Even so, it’s still a good idea to make sure each instance of your content is unique.
You don’t always have full control over this, but do what you can to get your brand visible whenever you post a guest blog or syndicate your content. Most sites offer a blurb or a couple of lines to show that a post was provided by an outside source, but ask if it’s possible to feature a stronger brand callout, such as a logo or a more prominent author bio.
This is the key takeaway here. Syndication, whether you try to repeat a post multiple times or use guest posting, should be a secondary strategy to your primary content goals. A solid marketing strategy needs a firm base in great written content, and that content should be on your site with your name and your brand. Any other posts you make should complement and enhance this strategy, not compete with it.
When tempered correctly and carefully monitored, content syndication can work as a part of your overall marketing strategy. But in general, guest blogging, social media posting, and social bookmarking are all far superior, safer strategies that achieve the same goals of increased visibility and greater backlink opportunities. If you’re interested in growing your search engine rankings and achieving higher web traffic, the more consistent, long-term strategies are your best option.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here.