A common question that finds itself into my inbox from readers is with regards to the practice of using ‘Free Articles’ to put on your blog. I quite often talk about how building the quantity of content on your blog is one strategy for building traffic over time but the temptation for those unable to write large quantities of content is to look at other places for it.
Free Article sites like ezine articles (there are many many others) are places where writers submit articles to be used freely by other webmasters in return for the links usually contained in a footer at the end of the article. Such articles can be picked up by thousands of sites which can be good for the writer (see below for another take on this) as a result of the incoming links that the articles bring to their sites.
Long time readers of ProBlogger (and I mean LONG time) will remember that ‘free articles’ were actually something I once used on this blog on occasion. It was only on a handful of times but without really thinking of the implications of them I had posted a number of them.
It didn’t take me long however to realize that the lure of free content might have some costs.
• Quality of Articles – while it’s dangerous to make generalizations I found that the quality of the articles I was finding on the topics I was interested in were a little light on. ‘Free Articles’ tend to be fairly general in their focus and often give a brief overview of a topic rather than a deeper analysis. This is because they often use the tactic of linking to the author’s own page at the end with the invitation to click and get more in depth information at their site.
• Reader Confusion – I quickly saw the confusion that adding an article by someone else to your blog can bring. I had readers linking to these articles saying I’d written them when clearly I had not and found myself in the awkward situation of having to either correct their mistakes, make the authorship links even more obvious or just leave it and hope no one would notice.
• Cheap and Nasty? – After a week or so of using the articles, mixed in with my own posts, I began to realize that it was cheapening the feel of my site. I was trying to build a helpful site and lift my own profile in the area of blogging but was using substandard content written by other people. It just didn’t work and left me feeling like the site was no where near as relevant as it could have been.
• Duplicate Content – Probably my biggest fear was Duplicate Content. Search Engines don’t like seeing the same content in many places and penalize sites that excessively do this practice. At the very least it seems that they filter out duplicated content from their indexes. It makes sense really as free articles can be picked up by hundreds, if not thousands, of sites and if SE’s indexed them all it would be crazy.
Even if search engines don’t penalize sites who engage in duplicate content (and I doubt they do for a few free articles) it doesn’t make good sense to me to use content that might have appeared on thousands of other sites as you’re competing with so many other sites for SE ranking. Unless you have a very highly ranked site you’re unlikely to come out of top of the SE results.
I found an interesting experiment into duplicate content this morning that illustrates how futile using free articles can be. It found that while Google indexed everyone using the free article for a few days that shortly afterwards the vast majority of those who used it were filtered from search results – including the original source of the article.
In Short – I removed the free articles from ProBlogger fairly quickly after putting them up and decided that this blog would be a blog based a lot more upon original content.
I don’t believe quotes from other sites constitute duplicate content and use them from time to time here, but if you want to build the popularity of your site then original content will usually be far more successful over time. If you do feel you have to use free articles on your blog I would highly recommend that you only use them occasionally and do so knowing that they probably have a low chance of being successful in the search engines.