Syndicating Your Articles: Pros and Cons

Advantages and Problems in Article Syndication


Syndicating Your Articles: Pros and Cons

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

A few years back, I read an article about how beneficial it was to allow other websites to publish your articles. You supposedly got free promotion for your site and gained links pointing to your site. During that time, there seemed to be a proliferation of places that would publish your articles for free, and places where you could submit your articles for publication. I was caught up in that fever in those years, and actually ended up having some of my early articles syndicated across the web. I have since stopped that practice and have withdrawn the licences ("licenses" in US English) I issued, learning that it has its own problems as well as benefits. This article deals with some of the lessons I learnt from that period.

Benefits of Syndicating Your Articles

I do not deny that there are numerous benefits from syndicating your articles. The traditionally cited advantages are, in my experience, true.

  1. Brand-name Awareness

    When your articles are published by numerous websites and newsletters across the web, with your name or company's name displayed in the byline of those articles, one major benefit is that your (or your company's) name becomes well-known. So if visitors frequently come across your name when reading articles about (say) "mobile phones", in their minds, you will become an authority on that subject. The next time they encounter your recommendations, they are more likely to give it a higher regard.

  2. Attracting Visitors to Your Site

    In ages past, when I used to syndicate my articles, visitors would arrive at my site after having read those articles on other sites, hoping to find more articles relevant to them. Naturally, when you write articles, your byline should include your URL to take advantage of this.

    Needless to say, your article also needs to have some substance of use to the visitor. An article that is an advertisement in disguise will probably not fool many people.

  3. Increasing Your Page Rank on Google

    Google counts a site's importance by the number of links pointing to it. If your article is syndicated by many sites, the number of links pointing to your site will also increase (provided of course those sites publish your byline with a direct link to your site).

    For more information on how Google ranks a website, please read my article Google Search Engine Placement Tips.

Article Syndication Problems

If everything is as rosy as it seems above, why aren't more people syndicating their articles? There is, of course, a downside to syndicating your article.

  1. Obsolescence

    Unless your article deals with a topic that is static and never changes, you will face the problem of your article becoming out-of-date as the years go by. Unfortunately, when you syndicate your article to other sites, you usually lose control over your article since it is typically hosted on someone else's website. In fact, if you're particularly successful in getting other sites to publish your article, your article may be on hundreds of websites across the Internet. You no longer have the freedom to simply edit the article to update it.

    The problem with obsolescence is that instead of increasing brand-name awareness, those articles can damage your reputation, since when it becomes obsolete, knowledgeable people reading those old articles will get the impression that you don't know your stuff.

  2. Unauthorized Modifications

    Another problem that I've encountered when syndicating articles is that the webmasters that publish your article sometimes feel that they have a right to edit your article, even if you have explicitly forbidden this in the licence that you issued them.

    They may edit this to divide your article into many pages so that they can display more advertisements on your article; or they may change the links on your article to point to their affiliate links; or they may move your byline and URL to a common page for authors (negating the usefulness of your syndication in getting more visitors or links); and so on.

    The list of ways in which webmasters abuse the articles submitted to them is very long.

    In view of this, syndicating your articles is not a simple submit and forget process. You have to monitor what happens to your articles, deal with recalcitrant webmasters, and the like.

    A related problem is when you submit certain articles for republication, but reserve others to be published only on your site. Some webmasters, having obtained one of your licensed re-publishable articles, don't bother to read the copyright and licence statements on the rest of your site and grab your other articles for republishing on their site. It seems that the moment you allow any of your articles to be republished, you have to be vigilant in policing the sites you submit to for infractions of this nature.

  3. Revenue

    If your articles are the main content of your site, ie, your site exists for the sole purpose of publishing those articles, like thesitewizard.com does, then it is likely that your site derives its income directly or indirectly from those articles (such as from the advertising that is displayed on the same pages as the articles). By allowing other sites to publish those articles, you have in effect, worked for free to allow the other sites to earn their income.

    Notice how I have qualified my statements above. I referred only to sites whose sole purpose are the articles they publish. Some sites publish articles to promote their main business, a product or service. For example, I have read numerous articles published by various web hosts about web hosting. Their main business is web hosting. The articles they write, whether they recommend their own company or not, are designed to ultimately promote their business of web hosting (even if it's just to increase brand-awareness). Such sites do not suffer from the disadvantage listed here.

  4. Duplicate Content Problems

    Putting the same article at multiple locations creates the issue of duplicate content, where the same content (with or without some differences) appears at different web addresses. Since they all have the same content, some search engines try to only list one site that has the article.

    You will obviously hope that, as the originator of the article, the search engine will list your site instead of the others. But there is no guarantee of this. You're assuming that the engineers at (say) Google have so perfected their algorithms that they can accurately detect which site is the true creator of the article and which site holds the copy.

    However, if you were to scrutinise ("scrutinize") the search engine results for different search terms carefully, you will notice the search engine results are far from perfect. There have been times where even spam sites that scrape their content from legitimate sites without permission rank higher than the genuine sites. (And this is in spite of the fact that engines like Google actively seek out and penalise spam sites.)

    While it's true that the search engine results are improving all the time, with the software developers at Google and Microsoft finding new ways of separating the wheat from the chaff, are you sure the day has arrived where you can reliably expect the results to show your site instead of the clones?

  5. Association with Spam

    You should also beware of simply allowing anyone to re-publish your articles in their email newsletter. The problem is that if you do not know the person, and issue a licence to him/her, and that person publishes your article in a newsletter that later becomes the target of a spam complaint, your site might become associated with spam.

Who Benefits Most from Syndicating Articles?

In spite of the long list of disadvantages listed above, certain sites benefit more from syndicating their articles than others.

As I have already mentioned above, if you are actually selling something on your site, be it goods or services, writing an article related to your product or service and syndicating it might bring more benefit to your business than harm. Since your primary product is not your article, but the stuff you're selling, letting others publish a copy of your article is equivalent to getting free publicity.

For example, if you're a bicycle manufacturer, you might want to write an article on the features of a good bicycle. If you don't write your article as a blatant advertisement for your product, some hobby sites may be willing to republish your article as a general article with tips on choosing bicycles. Visitors reading it might like it so much that they click your website's address to check out your products. (Obviously, for this to work, you must have your website's address somewhere in either your byline or the article itself.)

Avoiding the Problem of Obsolescence

One way to avoid the problem of obsolescence when you syndicate your articles is to embed it in a JavaScript and give other webmasters the URL (ie, web address) of that JavaScript. Since the JavaScript is hosted on your own site, you will be able to update the article any time you wish, and the article that appears on other sites will be instantly updated.

For example, let's say that you wish to syndicate a few lines from one of John Donne's poems. Normally you would have to write the following HTML fragment:

<h1>Death Be Not Proud</h1>
John Donne<br />
 
<p>
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee<br />
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not soe,<br />
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,<br />
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.<br />
(...etc...)
</p>

To convert that fragment into JavaScript, you would place every line above inside a JavaScript "document.write" instruction. For ease of understanding, I have placed each line in a separate "document.write" below.

document.write( "<h2>Death Be Not Proud</h2>\n" );
document.write( "John Donne<br />\n" );
document.write( "\n" );
document.write( "<p>\n" );
document.write( "Death be not proud, though some have called thee<br />\n" );
document.write( "Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not soe,<br />\n" );
document.write( "For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,<br />\n");
document.write( "Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.<br />\n" );
document.write( "(...etc...)\n" );
document.write( "</p>\n" );

Others syndicating that article would simply include the following lines in their web pages to have your entire article appear when it is loaded. I'll assume (for the sake of this example) that you've saved the script above as "donne.js" and that your website is at http://your.domain.example.com.

<script language="JavaScript" type="text/javascript"
src="http://your.domain.example.com/donne.js"></script>

If the article you write contains inverted commas (ie, double quotes), you will need to precede each inverted comma (quotation mark) in your document.write statements with a backslash. For example, write the JavaScript code for

He said, "Hi!"

as

document.write( "He said, \"Hi!\"" );

The advantages of using a JavaScript to syndicate your articles are:

  1. The article is hosted on your own web space. You can thus update it any time you wish.

  2. You avoid the problem of the other websites modifying your article without your consent.

The disadvantages are:

  1. If you syndicate your article to 100 websites, and 1000 visitors visit each of those 100 websites, your web server would have served your JavaScript 1000 X 100 times. In other words, you will be paying for the bandwidth for the display of your article on the other sites.

  2. Few webmasters will allow you to submit a JavaScript of your article. Most of them prefer to host the actual article. Furthermore, it's possible that not all search engines will actually execute your JavaScript in order to get the actual content. (I think Google does, but I'm not sure about Bing.) Thus if you want to use this method, you should probably keep a normal HTML version that you use on your own site, so that at least your version is indexed by the search engines. In a sense, this is also an advantage, since the search engines would not consider your page a mirror of any other page as it would not be able to index the JavaScript-generated version on the other sites.

  3. If visitors disable JavaScript in their browser, the page will not display your article.

Should You Syndicate Your Articles?

As you have probably realised by now, there's more than meets the eye to syndicating your articles than pure promotion of your website. I have attempted to give you an overview of the things I have discovered when I syndicated my articles some years back. However, ultimately, whether or not you wish to syndicate your articles and the method you use to do it would depend on what you consider more important and the nature of your site.

Copyright 2002-2014 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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