By Randy Apuzzo published October 6, 2016

How to Keep Google From Penalizing Your Syndicated Content

google-penalizing-syndicated-content

Duplicate content has been an issue since Google started cracking down on it years ago (almost 10, holy cow!). If you’re an internet veteran like me, you are extremely careful about having sites being penalized in search rank for anything.

Duplicate content is the easiest penalty to explain: Do not copy content from others; do not create multiple sites with the same copy. If you do, Google will penalize you in search rank. Simple, right?

Recently, content syndication has come into play for both sales and our own public-relations efforts. The old developer in me instantly was like, “RED FLAG, RED FLAG, DO NOT REPOST THAT ARTICLE ON OUR BLOG!!! I’m surefire confident this will hurt our search rank.”

Then I started to think how common it must be for marketers to apply this kind of oversimplified “strategic” thinking — ironically, ensuring that they miss out on SEO opportunities. My own PR folks were shouting, “How will we be visible if we don’t syndicate?”

Since we need to be found through search, and we need to syndicate for visibility, I came up with a few regimens backed by research. Let’s start with the basics.

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What is duplicate content?

Blocks of content that are similar or match each other across domains or on the same domain qualify as duplicate content. Let’s call it dupcon, for short, as I’ve been fancying the cons lately.

Blocks of content that are similar across domains or on same domain qualify as duplicate says @RandyApuzzo. Click To Tweet

Dupcon can be flagged as deceptive and non-malicious. Deception comes from people hijacking content back in the day to rank higher on search to sell whatever they could. Years back, you could take advantage of the Google search algorithm to quickly rank on search keywords; people did this (I’m guilty), and Google started to crack down. Non-malicious duplicate content was basically syndication or pull quotes. This content came heavily from marketing and press releases.

What is syndicated content?

The process of pushing out your article, site, or video content to third-party sites is known as content syndication. This kind of content can be published as a full article, snippet, link, or thumbnail. Since I call duplicate content dupcon, I’ll call syndicated content syncon (dang, that sounds cool). I’m not going to explain how to syndicate content, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out Eric Enge’s article on why, when, and how to syndicate.

The big questions are these: Can syncon be considered dupcon? And, how do search engines know which is which? That’s where the research comes into play, and I am going directly to the search authority, Google, which states “SYNDICATE CAREFULLY.” This reminds me of the “drink responsibly” campaigns. We know you’re going to do it, but be safe guys; it’s the internet after all. When you syndicate content, attribution is your designated driver.

When you syndicate #content, attribution is your designated driver says @RandyApuzzo. #SEO Click To Tweet

Here’s advice directly from Google’s support page on duplicate content:

If you syndicate your content on other sites, Google will always show the version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer. However, it is helpful to ensure that each site on which your content is syndicated includes a link back to your original article. You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to use the noindex meta tag to prevent search engines from indexing their version of the content.

Notice that I copied Google’s content exactly and attributed it to them. Google says to always link back to the original article. When your PR team lands an article on a particular site and the grace period for its sole use ends, it’s time to syndicate and always link back to the original article. That is how you make great syncon, not dupcon.

Diving a little deeper

Exceptions

There are exceptions. Three types of content will not get flagged as dupcon even in the absence of attribution: store items (products), discussion forums, and printer-only versions of web pages — product pages being the most important. Google says, “Store items shown or linked via multiple distinct URLs” are seen as non-malicious. Forums are a given since they flow like a natural discussion.

Internationalization

Always a hot topic for big, multisite implementations, localized content is clearly addressed by Google. For example, if you are creating a German-based site (“de” is the country abbreviation), do not use https://mysite.com/de or https://de.mysite.com. Use country top-level domains like https://mysite.de. Doing so allows individual localization of languages. Say you have a Canadian site and a French site. The Canada site can have https://mysite.ca/en/ and https://mysite.ca/fr/, and the French site can just have https://mysite.fr.

Quick tips for technical folk

Canonical attribute

Use the `rel=”canonical”` attribute on the anchor tag that links back to the original article, internal or external. Example <a href=”https://blog.zesty.io” rel=”canonical”>Link to orginal</a>. This marks the content as duplicate, telling Google and other search engines not to flag it.

Note: Some WordPress plug-ins and other web administration tools offer a simple field to enter the canonical link without having to go into the code.

301 redirects

Don’t let the same page resolve content from different URLs. If you have two URLs for the same page, like https://www.zesty.io/about/ and https://www.zesty.io/about (one with the trailing slash and one without it), pick the format you want to resolve, and have the others 301 redirect to it.

JavaScript calls

One way to syndicate content automatically across AJAX calls is to populate feeds after the page resolves. This can be done using a JSON, XML, or RSS feed. After the page loads, JavaScript can be used to make the request load in content on the page. That content can be wrapped in an iframe to continuously show the current page navigation without sending the user to a new site.

Attribution to the mothership

In a multisite setup, use one site as the base for all global content. Post the new content there first. When syndicating content across the child sites, use canonical links to the original posted article (as described above). This is great in a franchise or sub-brand scenario.

Conclusion

Even if you don’t handle the tech side of things (in which case, please share this post with your tech folks), you need to understand how syndicated content can work without causing Google and other search engines to penalize it as duplicate content.

Biggest lesson: Always attribute by linking to original source.

With the awareness and knowledge described in this article, you no longer have to raise the red flag when your sales, PR, or other teams shout that they want the benefits of syndicated content.

For more strategies that can help your content be structured for good results, sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers weekly email newsletter, which features exclusive insights from Robert Rose, CMI’s chief content adviser. If you’re like many other marketers we meet, you’ll come to look forward to his thoughts every Saturday.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Randy Apuzzo

Randy Apuzzo is founder and CEO of Zesty.io, the SaaS CMS company. A digital strategist with a computer science and branding background, Randy is a visionary in architecting solutions that help companies accelerate and scale their global digital content strategies. He is revered for empowering businesses with technology that grants agility, cost savings, security and increased market share. Follow Zesty.io on Facebook, LinkedIn, and on Twitter @Zestyio.

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  • Beth Carter

    Great article. Should marketers do anything differently when syndicating content on sites like Medium? Or does the same advice hold?

  • Kevin Petersen

    Google’s anti-syndication slant has always baffled me. What is the Associated Press after all and how is Google different. When someone turns on the news on TV (archaic, I know) every channel is running the same stories in almost exactly the same way and almost exactly the same order. Same goes for news publishers that are still in print. Why do we pretend the online experience is different?

    • randyapuzzo

      It’s not so much about the moment, but months later when someone searches a topic. Google wants to show you the most relevant content, with variety, they do not want to show you 10 of the same search results. So it’s important not to get your site (and networks you work with) penalized as duplicate content, because it will overall hurt them in search results.

      In the end, syndication is not very different as the archaic channels, but what is different is access. People may only have access to local newspapers and TV channel, whereas on the internet, where everyone has access to the same data. So it becomes a race to publish info first to get the search rankings.

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  • Outtanames999

    So apparently what you want us to believe is that Google after all this time can’t tell the difference between original content and a syndicated copy of the original content. Google in all its infinite wisdom, all its talent, all its combined human and artificial intelligence, all its indexes, algorithms, and programming still today can’t tell the difference between original content and syndicated copies of the content – that’s what you’re saying, apparently. I say duplicate content is Google’s problem, not yours. And I believe they are perfectly capable of figuring it out. Consider that Google is much like a librarian. A library is a collection of books and the librarian builds a card catalog which is simply an index of the book collection. A librarian indexes books, not the pages of the books. The publisher generally indexes the pages, at least for nonfiction. Google on the other hand indexes each web page. If you published a book on the web, Google would index each page separately. Not so the librarian who would simply index the site of the book as a whole. So granted there are differences of scope, but nevertheless, with respect to duplicate content, a library could just as easily have duplicate copies of a book in the same way that there might be duplicate copies of web pages. The duplicate book problem is the librarian’s problem not the author’s or the publisher’s. Duplicate copies of books do not appear to be a problem for the librarian why then should duplicate content be a problem for Google, the internet librarian? Fortunately it isn’t.

  • Dave Hultin

    This is a thought-provoking article, and I’m numbing my mind trying to think through how to apply it to the service my company provides. We help printers with their marketing efforts, and one of the ways we do that is by providing websites for them, and providing the content for those websites.

    Most of that content is editable and customizable by our customer (the printer) so they can tell their unique story, but some isn’t … and that’s what’s concerning me when I look at that content through the lens of your article.

    Here’s an example from one of our public demo websites: http://designrudiment.websitesforprinters.com/resources/the-ideas-collection/spot-heal-clone-the-perfect-combination/

    The exact same content appears on hundreds of our customers’ websites. To honor our privacy policy I won’t provide a link to the content on a customer website, but here’s the same page on a different public demo website: http://designcleanstylel3.websitesforprinters.com/resources/the-ideas-collection/spot-heal-clone-the-perfect-combination/

    Now here’s the dilemma I’m trying to resolve. We want to remain behind-the-scenes and position our customers as the expert, the authority. But when we give them all the exact same content, then our customers become an easy target for Google’s penalty. (right?)

    So … how do we position our customers as THE authority when they all get the exact same content? I suspect just altering the content with a few database-drive insertions of the unique business name (or other similar uniquely identifying information) won’t be enough to tip the scales, will it?

    I’m reading your post with lots of interest, and scratching my head with an intensity equal to that interest. 🙂 I’m looking forward to your response!

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  • Dave Hultin

    Thanks Randy, I appreciate the feedback!

    One of your suggestions:
    > Make the individual website modify the original content to match their own.

    …matches up with one of my previous thoughts:
    > altering the content with a few database-drive insertions of the unique business name (or other similar uniquely identifying information)

    Looks like there’s no easy answer to this dilemma. Seems like the best next step is to see how much customization is enough to make a difference. Let the experimenting begin!