Decentralized Content: Why writing is moving away from the website

In the beginning, there were blogs.

Ok, that’s not entirely accurate. In the beginning there was the printing press. Then about 500 years passed and there were blogs … but let’s cut to the recent stuff, shall we?

The very existence of content marketing was predicated on the ability of any company, anywhere to start a blog. When companies, organizations, and individuals began to blog, the whole structure of power regarding how information gets distributed began to shift from a centralized channel — largely established media companies — to something that resembled more of a meritocracy.

Create good content and people will come — it was the golden rule that introduced a whole new type of marketing.

And so marketing strategies changed. Websites changed. Titles even changed. Teams that had previously acted like advertising firms started acting like journalism shops. Job boards began to list jobs for editors in chief and multimedia journalists.

The goal of all of this? Eyes on your website. Build as big of an audience as you can to center their attention on your website and your blog, and the conversions will come.

It was a strategy that worked and continues to be a major business driver. My company, HubSpot, has more than 2 million visitors come every month to its blog, and content generates more leads for our company than any other source by a long shot.

But something is changing in the world of content marketing. It used to be that the goal of content was to bring people to your website, which meant that all content needed to be consumed on your website. The website-based blog was the alpha and omega of content strategy. In recent years, however, content has started to become more decentralized.

The Emergence of Medium and LinkedIn Influencers

In 2012, Twitter Cofounder Ev Williams launched Medium. The point was simple, “prompt an ‘evolutionary leap’ in online sharing.” The platform didn’t look revolutionary on the surface — when it launched, it was little more than a nicely designed publishing platform.

But they did something very smart. They started with an invite-only model for publishing. You had to be recognized as a quality writer before gaining access to the site. That same year, LinkedIn launched their Influencers program, which tapped well-respected influencers to publish on the LinkedIn publishing platform.

Guest blogging had long been a tactic in content marketing, but the quality reputation that both Medium and LinkedIn Influencers baked in gave weight to publishing on these platforms. And with credibility, came traffic. A year after its launch the average Influencer post received almost 30,000 views. By the time Medium and LinkedIn publishing became open to all, they were veritable media channels.

And then suddenly, there was a new question to consider when coming up with a great blog topic: Where the heck do I post this?

You could post it to your company blog, where the traffic may not be as great but the objective of getting people to your site is more directly achieved.

You could also submit it as a guest blog or post it to a publishing platform like Medium, where the general traffic could be greater but then you have the added challenge of how to get people back to your site.

Which is better?

This will be interesting, I remember thinking as companies started to dip their toes in the water of publishing outside their home sites.

Finding a Happy Medium

In interim years, publishing content outside your core blog has grown in practice. It’s been a bit of a stumbling start in places, but tactics for getting the best of both worlds have emerged.

Syndicating Content

The easiest answer to how to choose between posting your content externally or on your website is to not choose. Some companies have had success with content syndication as a way to solve for both needs.

That being said, you need to use content syndication sparingly, and be careful and intentional with how you do it. Google’s search algorithm is not a fan of duplicate content and you could inadvertently dilute your search traffic. If you plan on re-posting a piece of content on your blog that you’ve previously published externally, you should follow a few guidelines.

First, if it’s a guest post, make sure the host blog is okay with you reposting the content, and build in enough of a timing gap so that the lion’s share of the traffic goes to the original post. When you do go to repost, add in a clause that explains it is a syndication and link back to the original post. Here’s an example of how you can do that:

This post originally appeared on (NAME OF BLOG). To read more content like this, subscribe to (NAME OF BLOG).

The words “originally appeared” should link to the original post’s URL, and the second URL should link to the blog’s individual subscribe page.

Next, you have two options.

1) If you can set your syndicated post’s rel=”canonical” tag, set it to the URL of where the post originally appeared.

So if you’re syndicating a post that originally appeared on Medium, you should set your rel=”canonical” link to that Medium post. If you can do this, you should ignore the next option.

2) If you can’t set your rel=”canonical” tag, you can add a “no index” clause to your robots.txt file.

You can learn more about creating a robots.txt file here in Google’s step-by-step guide. Kathleen Celmins, content strategist for LeadG2 also wrote a helpful post on the topic.

By using either of the above options, you’ll still be able to republish a post without getting dinged by search engines.

Creating a Social Thread

Another way to connect disparate content is to create a thread back to your website through social shares.

I recently started using Start a Fire, an app (currently free) that allows you to pin hand-selected recommendations to the base of any article you share via social media. The app integrates with HubSpot and Buffer social media tools so that regardless of where the content you’ve shared is published, there will always be a path back to your company’s site, your personal writing, or other articles and pages you personally find important. Below is an example of how Start a Fire attaches to a shared article to show other content I recommend.

You can then see results of those recommendations in a dashboard. In the example below, I’ve managed to connect the free-radical content I’m sharing to three things I care about: attracting talented people to my company’s job site, writing on my own personal blog, and a post I wrote for the HubSpot blog. While the numbers are small to begin with, the click rate has been strong. Readers are finding their way from my far-flung content back to my site.

Letting Go

Sometimes the happiest resolution is to recognize that if your content is good enough, people will find their way back to you regardless of where it’s published. One of the great realizations of modern marketing is that the company doesn’t own the brand — its consumers do. Trying to confine your content to your site alone is the equivalent of trying to control how your audience consumes it. Don’t be afraid to go where the audience is, even if that means sacrificing the direct route to your website.

Note: This article originally appeared on HubSpot’s blog. That’s about the most meta move I can muster for a post about decentralized content, don’t you think? You can find more of my writing plus the utterly fascinating posts of my colleagues there.