Content 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 an 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 difficult to decide the best route forward for your brand.
In this guide, we want to help you establish a broader framework for content syndication – one that helps you understand what it is, why it matters, and how you can execute in order to experience the benefits that larger online brands have enjoyed for years.
If you’re ready to dive in, we’ll get started!
Content syndication is a term used to describe the re-publishing of content by third-party websites. Any type of digital content can be syndicated. This includes traditional blog posts and news articles, videos, images, infographics, and press releases.
The type of content being syndicated in today’s online world might look a little different than it did 25 years ago, but syndication has been around for as long as there’s been mass media. Prior to the Worldwide Web, newspapers and magazines often syndicated content from freelance writers, local publications, and smaller papers with fractional readership.
The purpose of content syndication, both then and now, is to provide a mutually beneficial outcome for both parties. The individual/company who offers up the content for syndication gains access to a much wider audience. The publication that publishes the syndicated content gets access to free and/or on-demand content without having to invest internal resources.
In this guide, we’re focusing primarily on content syndication from the perspective of the business providing the content to the syndicated partner. In other words, we want to explore how syndicating your content can impact your website and brand.
With this in mind, here are some of the top benefits (other than higher visibility):
The first benefit is direct referral traffic. Whenever you have a post syndicated, there’s usually some sort of referral link back to your site. And they’re generally pretty prominent.
At the top and/or bottom of the post, you’ll typically see something like: “This post originally appeared on…” or This content was first published on…” with a hyperlink back to your website. A percentage of people will click the link and become a visitor on your site.
As you may know, backlinks play a prominent role in search engine optimization and are one of the top few ranking factors for Google and other search engines. Getting a link from a syndicated content partner provides an authoritative backlink and visible inroad into your site.
Depending on how your content is syndicated and the type of call-to-action or link that you use back to your site, you may be able to pick up email subscribers and leads.
Entrepreneur Sara Peterson recently published one of her articles on EliteDaily. At the end of the post, she got permission from the editors to include a bio that read:
“Sarah Peterson is the author of Unsettle.org, where she encourages people to never settle for careers they don’t love. Sign up for her free course to find the perfect idea for a lifestyle business so you can gain flexibility and freedom and do work you live.”
This simple link to download a lead magnet allowed Sarah to accumulate 1,000 new subscribers within a matter of days. She’s since gone on to show people how you can repeat the process.
From a branding perspective, getting more visibility and exposure for your company is a great thing. Every time you syndicate a post, you can/should include your logo and brand name as a way of building trust with readers. (Even if they never click the original link or visit your website, there’s still some exposure there that could spark trust in a future exchange.)
Finally, content syndication is a sustainable method of content creation. It helps you maximize the resources that you have on hand and prevents the need to constantly publish new content over and over again.
There are a lot of different phrases and terms people use when discussing content. Let’s explore three of the top terms and explain how they’re similar yet different.
As you can see, these three concepts are pretty closely related. However, the execution and application is slightly different. Understanding this will allow you to make smart and intentional decisions about your content strategy.
There are plenty of different ways to think about content syndication. But one way is to look at it in a series of three “tiers,” which dictate both an order and a degree of importance for the overall campaign.
Within each tier, there 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.”
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 type of content strategy. 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).
Much of this can be done organically, but most social platforms also offer paid boosts to extend the reach of posts. We 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.
Want to get the most out of your content syndication strategy? Following these tips and best practices will ensure you generate maximum value with minimal resources:
For many years, people were intimidated by the thought of syndicating digital content. They feared that they would get slapped with a costly Google penalty. And there’s certainly reason to be conscientious. As Google explains:
In some cases, content is deliberately duplicated across domains in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings or win more traffic. Deceptive practices like this can result in a poor user experience, when a visitor sees substantially the same content repeated within a set of search results.
However, Google has gotten smarter over the years. And they now understand that content can be syndicated for legitimate reasons. As such, they no longer have a duplicate penalty.
With that being said, there are some genuine concerns associated with syndication. For example, Google could rank the syndicate over your original website content. (Which steals SEO prominence.) This rarely happens these days, but if it does, you simply provide a canonical link back to the original and everything gets worked out over time.
It doesn’t matter if you’re syndicating content or focusing 100 percent of your energy and effort on your onsite content, quality reigns supreme. The emphasis should always be on creating exceptional content.
When you develop high-quality content that satisfies readers and provides tangible value, you won’t have any trouble syndicating. Syndicate partners are looking for content that will serve their readers well, and quality is universally recognized.
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.
Content syndication doesn’t happen by chance. Rarely (if ever) will someone approach you and ask you for permission to syndicate your content. You’ll almost always have to be the one doing the outreach. And this makes networking a very important investment.
Networking for the purpose of content syndication is much like networking for guest blogging and influencer marketing. You have to find the right sources and build a healthy relationship before making the ask.
Once you do make the ask, be prepared for negotiations. Whether it’s for a fee, or you’re fleshing out the details for how the post will be displayed, linked, or credited, be prepared to give some in order to get some.
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.
As discussed earlier in this article, syndication is just one way to maximize your content resources. If you’re uncomfortable syndicating and/or believe you can get better value elsewhere, you might try reformatting or splintering.
We already discussed reformatting/re-purposing, but splintering is another unique idea. This is where you take one big piece of content, like a 3,000-word blog post, and then split it up into tiny bits that get shared across different platforms and mediums.
For example, a blog post could get splintered into 15 social media posts, an infographic, a couple of audiograms, and even an animated video.
While content syndication is highly effective, it must be used with a grain or two of salt. Haphazardly copy and pasting your content around the web could do more harm than good. You need to have a clear strategy and execute with precision.
While we’re certainly proponents of good syndication, here are some reasons to use caution:
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 via link building services for SEO 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 guest blogging and manual link building, 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.
Likewise, your onsite visitors could lose interest in your website and brand if they constantly see your content published elsewhere.
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?
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 for SEO. 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.
At SEO.co, we’re not just an SEO company. We believe in helping brands develop well-rounded, content-centric strategies that improve branding, generate visibility, drive traffic, and ultimately produce conversions. We do that on-site work, including blog writing, link building and technical SEO.