Is Your Content Being Used For or Against You?

Could you be crowded out of search listings – and your readers’ attention – by your own content?

At first glance, that might seem like a silly question. After all, having lots of fresh, interesting content is the cornerstone of a healthy online marketing plan and your online strategy. And yet, it’s entirely possible that content aggregators can snag what you’ve created and use it in a way that actually hurts you.

Let’s Make a Distinction Between Scrapers and Aggregators / Syndicators

You probably already know how important it is to protect yourself against content scrapers. These are shifty people (or more commonly, shifty people using automated software) who take the content from your website and post it as their own. In some cases, they may or may not change a few words to make it appear unique, but it’s clear they are borrowing your content in an attempt to attract eye and clicks on ads surrounding it. ‘Most’ are not attempting to pass it off as their own.

While that’s not a particularly ethical practice, it’s not what I’m referring to in this post. Instead, I’m talking about the more credible – and numerous  – websites such as the Huffington Post, that aggregate articles from all over the web and share them via powerful online presences.

In a certain sense, this can seem like a great idea for everyone involved. For the aggregator, it’s a source of new content and ideas that can be shared with their subscribers. And, for the content creator, it’s a chance to have their ideas spread, shared, and implicitly endorsed. As an author, you get access to a substantially larger readership, and most likely a link back to your website.

A Challenge with Aggregators

Of course, just because those benefits are supposed to happen in an ideal world doesn’t mean they actually will when it comes to someone aggregating your content. In fact, there could be some issues you need to watch for.

One issue is that the content aggregator may actually outrank your own website. So even though you created a piece of content, your version (i.e., the original) could get buried in the search engine listings. Even worse, there’s a good chance Google won’t even credit you for that link  back to the original (it may be no-followed, or low quality).

Perhaps more importantly, aggregators are usually in the business of selling advertising. That means they will run ads next to your content, and perhaps put it behind a wall of even more advertising (Forbes, Inc, and other reputable publication sites commonly do so). So even though you could theoretically gain readers by being published on an aggregator site, the result might easily be a much lesser quality user experience for your reader.

And finally, someone who reads your work on an aggregator site, rather than your own blog, doesn’t have the same opportunities to connect or engage directly with you, click through to the next article you’ve written, or decide to connect with you on their favourite social platforms. So the value-per-reader is greatly decreased.

Aggregating and Syndication: To Participate or Not?

None of this is to suggest that content aggregators and syndicators are necessarily doing anything nefarious, or even that you don’t want to be published on sites like the Huffington Post – instead, the point as always is to know where your content is going, what it’s doing for you, and which options make the most sense.

If your content is being posted to an other site without your explicit permission, then you obviously have the option to ask that it be removed, or even to contact Google and request that you be recognized as the content creator. Case in point, my colleague Shelley Pringle recently experienced the repurposing of one of her syndicated articles to another site, where credit was given to the syndicator rather than to herself. Tricky stuff.

Regardless of whether you take these steps or not, it’s important to remember that content aggregation can be a double-edged sword… exposing you to bigger audiences, while at the same time, potentially separating you from them.

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