We like to tell ourselves that blogs are this breathtakingly new way of communicating with customers unlike anything we've ever seen before. And, to some extent, that's true. But if you are a veteran of electronic or even paper newsletters, I'll excuse you for not being so bowled over. You've been doing this for years and you know how it's done. One of the things you know is that coming up with fresh content takes work, and one of your secrets is re-publishing content originally published elsewhere. But should you do that on your blog?
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It's an interesting question, but first, let's get one thing out of the way. Never, in any environment, re-publish something that doesn't belong to you without the permission of the owner. You can't go Googling your way around the Internet swiping stuff you like and posting it in your own newsletter, blog, Web site, or any other form. And, no, you can't do it even if you put the original author's byline in. Or their copyright. I know that you see that done all the time. Copying and pasting is nearly effortless and it is a lot easier than writing your own stuff. But it's against the law.
Reputable newsletters were never doing that anyway. They found the content they wanted to re-publish, they got the proper permissions, they included bylines and copyright notices, and they re-published the content in a perfectly legal way. The advantage is that you can provide your readership with high quality content and it is easier than coming up with your own ideas every issue. It's the Reader's Digest approach, for those who remember that venerable magazine.
Many paper newsletters, and some e-mail newsletters, use the Reader's Digest approach effectively, but should you do the same for your blog?
Probably not. Blogs are somewhat different from newsletters in that they are more than informational--they are a more personal voice. So, if your goal for your blog is to establish yourself, than re-publishing others won't likely help.
And blogs differ from newsletters in another way--they typically attract more of their traffic from search than from subscribers. To understand why this matters, you need to know a bit about search engines. Search engines try to look at every page on the Web, so they eventually see every copy of the article you re-published--the original, your copy, and every other copy--but they want to show only the original, because they believe that is the one that searchers want. (And they can tell which one is the original by the dates on the pages, and other methods.)
So, if you re-publish content, even if it is to a far wider audience than the original reached, Google is still likely to show the original in search results. Search geeks call this the "duplicate content problem," and it is indeed a problem for the re-publisher, but it's not much of a problem for the originator. So, re-publishing content solves your problem of having material for your blog, but it will likely attract far fewer searchers than original content.
Some successful blogs do re-publish (they often use the word "syndicate") material from other blogs, but they don't do nearly as well as blogs with original content. I have a deal with a few places to syndicate my content, and they probably sell enough ads for it to be worthwhile, but when searchers look for articles on my subject, they find my Web site rather than the syndicated version.
So, original content is better, but then you're stuck coming up with ideas and writing your own stuff, which sounds hard (because it is). One way to have your cake and eat it, too, is to comment on the articles of other people. So, when you find an article you would have re-published in your paper newsletter (with permission, of course), instead of re-publishing it in your blog, you should write your own opinion about it and link to it. That way your readers get an original opinion from you, and they also are exposed to the original piece.
If you just write a sentence saying, "great post," that won't help you very much, but if you can consistently write two or three paragraphs with your take, that will provide some fodder for the search engines to find your site while also satisfying your loyal subscribers who depend on you for information in this area. And if you can write five or ten paragraphs with a well-thought-out opinion, agreeing or disagreeing with the original, or adding and expanding on points in the original, you have likely created a nice article both for your readers and for search engines, without the heavy lifting of having to think up an idea on your own.
If you're lucky, the originating blog supports trackbacks, which means your post will be linked from the original blog post in its comments section. That way, you also get traffic coming from the original post itself, which you'd never get by re-publishing.
Re-publishing, while a staple of the newsletter era, probably doesn't do enough for you to be part of your blog strategy in all but a few cases. In blogging, there is no substitute for originality.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, Web personalization, and Web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.
Mike also founded and writes for the Biznology newsletter and blog, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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