Sustainable Growth

Syndication is key to audience growth. Here’s how it’s done.

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Smart partnerships, great content, and Organic publisher tech ensure publishers boost referral traffic from syndication partners like Apple News and MSN.

Smart publishers give time and attention to growing their traffic from organic search; savvier publishers make efforts to grow traffic across multiple sources. Search traffic is vital for any healthy site, but over-reliance on this audience source can spell trouble for publishers when search engine algorithms change. Referrals from publishing partners comprise another important source of traffic—one that too many publishers leave to chance. 

Actively positioning content for this audience helps brands diversify their traffic streams to build resilience against algorithmic counterwinds, not to mention drive revenue and, yes, generate positive momentum with search engines. 

Google Analytics (GA4) defines referral traffic as traffic originating from a link from another website, including syndication outlets and social media sites. Historically, both Google and digital strategists have conceived of referral and social as distinct traffic sources. Though they each represent important areas for growth, this article will focus on driving traffic through strategic publishing partnerships beyond social media. 

Working with content syndication partners is a powerful method to drive referral traffic. This approach involves publishers allowing partners to republish their content. In this case, sharing helps publishers reach new readers who might otherwise not read their content, and it can actually drive traffic back to the website through in-text links, “read more” cues, related content blocks, newsletter sign-up forms, and more. 

Syndication can also provide a stream of off-site revenue in two ways: First, some syndication partners like MSN offer publishers a share of ad revenue on impressions served on their content. Second, publishers with affiliate marketing content can preserve the revenue-generating links in their content, serving them to a new readership and greatly expanding their opportunity for sales. 

Here’s how to get started.

Find partners and build relationships

The first step to building reliable referral traffic is to seek out and build relationships with the big players in content syndication, including MSN, Yahoo, SmartNews, Google News, Newsbreak, Flipboard, and Apple News. It can take time to establish relationships and contracts with some syndication partners, so it’s wise for publishers to start the process as early as possible. 

Syndication partners have requirements for working with publishers, including receiving content via RSS feeds, WordPress plugins, and/or API calls. Some syndication partners prohibit certain types of content, such as paid custom content, and may require publishers to remove this content from the RSS feed in order to keep the working relationship on good terms. In addition, some publishers may have content that syndication partners consider unsuitable, such as hunting content on an outdoor website or accident coverage on a car website.

This is where it pays to make it easy to send the right articles to the right partners. Organic can simplify this experience for publishers.

Automate syndication

Screen Shot 2023-09-14 at 9.57.06 AMOrganic offers a built-in Syndication Control panel that helps publishers put their syndication feeding on autopilot, while also allowing them the flexibility to customize settings at the individual post level. Brands can generate unique feeds for major syndication partners like MSN, Yahoo, Newsbreak, SmartNews, Flipboard, and Google News to allow editors to customize where each piece of content is sent. When a post is published, content is automatically sent to the custom syndication feeds, just as it would be with any typical RSS feed. Organic also integrates with the Apple News plugin to enable brands to send free or paid content to that outlet via API.

As an added benefit, publishers can take advantage of Organic’s tag and category feeds. These are RSS feeds that include each piece of content from within a specific taxonomy item. These feeds can be beneficial for automating feeding to partners like Flipboard and Pinterest, which allow brands to provide not just one feed but several feeds to populate distinct content streams. This means the right content reaches the right audience automatically, all without zapping editorial teams’ precious time.

Exclude unsuitable content from syndication

Another place where Organic’s Syndication Controls can help is in enabling brands to exclude content from certain syndication outlets. Global site settings allow brands to set automatic content exclusions by category or tag for some of the strictest syndication partners. This allows brands to keep partners happy while reducing the need for editors to manage the feeds.

While global default settings help automate syndication, there’s plenty of room for customization. At the post level, editors can toggle syndication partners off or on as needed to customize their feeds and ensure content reaches the intended destination. 

Signal ownership

When it comes to syndication, one concern that publishers and SEO experts often raise is the question of duplicate content. Google has long discouraged sites from publishing duplicate content but there’s no penalty for partnering with syndication outlets, when done correctly. Another concern is that by sharing content with large sites, brands may risk competing with them in search results pages. Luckily, others have navigated this path before and Organic can help publishers successfully syndicate content without damage to their reputation or search rankings. 

The trick to preserving the integrity of a brand’s content and search rankings is to signal ownership to Google by adding a rel=canonical tag to each piece of content. This tag should link to the original source of that content, which is the post URL itself. After that, brands can ask syndication partners to also add a rel=canonical tag pointing to the original post. Most syndication partners will already do this, using the links provided in the custom RSS feeds.

Another approach some brands take when working with syndication partners is to ask them to tag a syndicated post as noindex to exclude it from Google search results. Because a post marked with a noindex tag discourages Google to crawl it, the article likely can’t compete with the original post for visibility in search results pages.

Court on-site traffic

When syndicating content, the primary way publishers drive traffic back to their site is through text links embedded within the post. Text links can be contextual and relevant to the particular topic at hand, or they may take the form of an editorially curated list of related links added to the bottom of an article. 

Whichever approach a brand uses when adding inbound links, it’s important that links offer relevant information to readers and avoid the appearance of spamming readers with unnecessary visual noise. Interested readers will click through, and publishers that drive interest naturally are most likely to reap rewards in the form of on-site traffic.

Another way that some brands court on-site visits is by inviting off-site readers to subscribe to email newsletters or follow them on social media channels. Often these appeals are made via text links. Some syndication partners allow brands to take a more product-based approach. For instance, some brands using SmartNews choose to take advantage of a module on that site to encourage users to sign up for the publisher’s email newsletters. Syndication control settings in the Organic platform allow brands to manage this process easily from the WordPress editor backend.

Track success

There are multiple ways to measure the success of a syndication partnership program. For partners that provide ad share revenue for off-site pageviews, revenue is an obvious metric to gauge success. Tracking referral traffic measurements in Google Analytics, and breaking out numbers by syndication partner, is another method. 

Something that’s a bit harder to quantify, because effects are often indirect, is to monitor changes to organic search traffic. Using SEO tools like Ahrefs, brands can track changes to the number of inbound links, which may grow due to syndication partnerships, and which can positively impact search traffic. 

Read more: How Organic improves SEO for publishers.

Brands may also keep an eye on changes to direct traffic. As brand visibility increases due to reaching new audiences off-site, brands may see direct traffic increase as new readers seek out publications that create content they love.

Expand horizons

In order to boost referral traffic, publishers must look beyond their site and owned channels. This growth process need not be a burden on editorial teams. It’s not only possible to grow referral traffic without employing high touch content marketing strategies like courting backlinks, or sinking time into guest posts, but it’s highly effective for publishers to do so by automating their syndication partnerships. Whether establishing new partnerships or maintaining existing ones, Organic can help publishers win by managing much of the process from within our editor backend. 

Interested in learning more about how Organic can help you grow your referral traffic? Send us an email.