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Why I don’t use Free Articles on my Blogs

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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Shane says:

    I don’t do this but you could rewrite the free articles in your own words.

  2. Christina says:

    I wouldn’t use them on my sites either, but what I have done on a couple of occasions is to do a little rewriting of an article that I previously wrote (so it wouldnt be duplicate content), and submitted them to ezine. I have gained a few links this way, nothing substantial, but I don’t “think” anything detrimental either. Also, a couple of them I have done for community service reasons rather than just SEO, so the important thing there was just to get the word out, detrimental or not.

  3. Eric Giguere says:

    Writing free articles can get you targeted traffic that search engines might not get you. Especially in a crowded field where getting a top 10 ranking for your keywords is nearly impossible, articles are a great way to spread the news about your site. Press releases are another outlet. That doesn’t mean that you have to use free articles on your own sites, of course, but I wouldn’t shy away from writing them, there are definite benefits.

  4. Victor says:

    Yeah, I’ve used free articles when I first started (like one or two), and I felt dirty afterwards…like I did something I wasn’t supposed to do.. ;)
    No more for me.

    Vic

  5. Dan Marques says:

    I don’t use free articles on my main blog (start-up guide) as its based on my personal experiences and knowledge on being an entrepreneur. However, on two of my other blogs I use free content regularly (2-5 posts/week). The results are mixed. My search engine rankings on Google on non-existent but pretty good on MSN and Yahoo!. Traffic has done very well overall (much faster than the time it took to generate that type of traffic on my main blog) but earnings are low.

    I think it depends on what the purpose of the blog is. I also agree with Darren that a lot of the articles are bland and general. I really have to dig through the free article sources to find articles of value…in that sense I feel I am doing something valuable by distilling through the crap to find the valuable articles….in the past I have also summarized articles with links to the main free article (that seems to have done well).

  6. MikeGR says:

    “I don’t do this but you could rewrite the free articles in your own words.”

    If you are going to put that much effort into it, why not write an original article?

  7. I use free articles all the time at http://PetLvr.com/blog/ and unless someone explains to me differently, I believe I am getting great success and search engine results from them. It’s the only blog that I do use the free articles though. On this blog, I don’t want to pretend that I’m an expert or anything like that, nor do I want to promote any particular ‘writer’ or wanna-be-experts .. but – if you’re looking for ways to stop your dog from jumping on houseguests .. well, I probably have 10-20 different viewpoints and techniques that might help you and your pet!

    Also – it should be noted, that I don’t always publish every free article that comes out. Currently, there are 5 people writing EXCELLENT articles, but I don’t support their site at all and refuse to use their articles to link back to their site. So, I do draw the line somewhat.

  8. Articles are generally an artifact left over from the days before such easy publishing tools as blogs became commonplace. Why should anyone bother with such a thing when we have categories and tags to group and filter blog content? (One thing that cracks me up is this outdated idea of online “magazines” that release content as though they were restricted by the physical limitations of print magazines when they are not.)

    At the very least, you can create permanent links on your blog to showcase some of your content over the long term. When your content is entered through some sort of CMS, stored in a database, and delivered through scripting, there’s no need to think in terms of “articles” or even “pages” anymore. All such things are virtual, anyway: a category archive is as good as a tag archive is as good as a chronological archive is as good as a page.

    One thing I’ve seen Tom Peters do at his blog is collect a bunch of posts into a downloadable digest. I can see how that might be a good and useful idea for someone who wants to “catch up” but isn’t online all the time, like during a flight or a commute.

  9. JPT says:

    On my http://moremerchant.com site I have some of these. I also quickly came to the same decision as you and have been glad that I did for the same reasons.

    Mainly I want my site to be my site.

  10. Alan says:

    I’ve started a free article section on one of my web sites where I just grab what I think are very good articles and use them for the benefit of my readers. I might reconsider after reading the discussion here though.

  11. Veridicus says:

    I’m very careful to only pick articles which are very specifically relevant to the rest of the content on my site. Plus I only use them occassionally when I’m slow at posting my own content. If I’m on a roll and post a lot of my own words I don’t bother with the free articles.

  12. Ignat says:

    I found muself frequently publishing SEO articles to sites such as ezines. One of the most signifficant positives that I’ve enjoyed was the credibility my articles helped establish for my blov. I noticed an increase in traffic from ezines and more RSS conversions.

    While you may not want to use duplicate content or unoriginal content, if you are an expert in any field, I think you should be encouraged to submit your articles to sites such as ezines.

    I also recently checked out my backlinks on Google and was happy to find out that links in the footer of every article were indexed by Googlebot and my SE rankings for certain high-traffic keywords increased.

  13. Joe says:

    Hey Darren,

    I have not used any free articles, and don’t intend to. I have a small but loyal readership, and I think I owe it to them to write the articles myself.

    Just my POV
    Joe

  14. Bill McRea says:

    I do a lot of writing of free articles to get traffic and the back links etc. But I have found that if I use my own article on my site…I end up cutting my own throat.

    I am writing 2 artcile per day, but I am not using the exact same content on my own sites (which I have been doing up until about 2 weeks ago). This way I get traffic from the lazy people (I am lazy too) and I am not getting delisted by google.

    Good topic.

  15. Darren Rowse says:

    Good tip Bill – I was going to make this suggestion in the main post but as I’ve never used articles to promote my work it was a bit of an untested theory.

    Good to know though.

  16. Eric Giguere says:

    Alan: Keep the articles, just adjust your robots.txt file to exclude them from being indexed. If they’re useful, they’re still good to have around for your readers.

  17. Empress says:

    Through my experiences in creating blogs and trying out different methods of income – I thought I’d try my hand at creating a blog about a topic that I knew something about – but the indepth stuff… umm… not so much. I found that the article directories were pretty useful when looking for content – and I’ve got one blog that I use these articles almost exclusively. Has it hurt me – not really. Has it made me rich – not really. I think an occassional article isn’t so bad, but from my experiences (so far) it would be far wiser to pick a subject you like/know a bit about/or are willing to research to create your own articles…. because people come back to those types of sites.

  18. Andy Wibbels says:

    What you might also consider is using the free articles as you would other sources and instead of republishing the whole thing, quoting to is and pointing to it in the article directory. This way you still are squeezing the keyword usefulness of the article, citing the author and keeping it clear that you are ‘posting’ stuff that other people have written.

  19. Hendry Lee says:

    I suggest if you want to publish the article on your blog to directories, at least modify it to certain extent so you are not penalized.

    While free articles can be posted on many sites including blog, they may be useful for ezine publishers (hence the name ezine articles). This method is still effective to build your brand and drive traffic.

    Bloggers can quote or post in full and add their own spin. Republishing for the sake of quantity won’t get you far. There are ways to leverage other people’s content but still a bit of work will boost your credibility too.

    Free articles usually include a link back in the resource box. Make sure if you use the article, the site you are linking to is legitimate, or you may jeopardize not only your reputation, but also penalize by Google.

  20. Elle says:

    What about if a site is moved to a new location? (Should have had those intro-blogging posts when I started all this. I moved some sub-domains to their own domains a couple of months ago.) How might the search engines treat the duplicate sites (databases restoring the old in the new spot)? When should the old files be removed (not right away, for I fear losing traffic and income)?

    My new domains don’t have all the links built back yet, although they are doing well with traffic and ad clicks, they are doing poorly in search engines. Does this mean I should wait to remove the old blogs (all links on blogs point to new homes, and pages have clear labels, etc.) until the new sites are on track, or does this mean having the old content up is hurting with SEO?

  21. Elle says:

    Oh, I just remembered that I created a robots.txt file and uploaded it. (The sites were also on sub folders, not sub-domains, I didn’t want to get too into it, before.)

    I wasn’t sure how to do it, but I think it’s worked. I can’t really find the old locations in search results, except for a search term that lead to the URL with no description. I did put in the title and subtitle as my search terms, so maybe that’s what they show. But I thought they then put in the meta description? I’m not sure if it’s working, or if it’s just working poorly.

    *So my question from that last paragraph is: ***Should they acknowledge this sub-directory at all?*** * Has it not worked? I noticed I repeated the disallow part for that folder twice, so maybe that worked against me, or I mistyped something. I will hope my fixes of it will fix it.

    I did notice that the other new domains seem to be showing up in my searches, now! But oddly, there’s a lot of crosses, like I intend to find one blog and find another one of mine, linking to that blog. I can’t find an example right now. I know this is not optimal, but perhaps it’s a step toward good.

    ** What’s your good word on that? **

    I should check my Referrer Stats more closely, right now. But with all this information, my mind’s a bit bogged, and I’m not feeling well. I need to figure out exactly how to analyze, since I still have the Sitemeter codes up on the old sites (I can’t admit to lesser traffic, if people are still seeing this content. I don’t know, it’s an insecurity thing. Maybe it wouldn’t matter with the people moving to the new location. At least I have a way to check if they do that.) I’ve figured out ways to check in my stats, but like I said, my mind’s in a fog and weighed down.

    So that has caused this comment to be long and probably confusing, and perhaps seemingly unnecessary. But it’s helping me (other than me getting too deep in thoughts). I also re-read it and tried to make it clear, and star my actual questions, hopefully I’ve helped YOUR confusion, readers. (If you care :-P.)

    Anyway, back to more important things, I think. I’m looking more in to the robots.txt and now I know more, like I can disallow all search bots, and I don’t need to repeat “User-agent.”

    Anyway, quite helpful. It’s all a big process of improvement!

    I don’t mean to be asking for a lot of free help on something that you have no obligation to give support for. I’m just typing all this, because the article and the one you linked to caused a lot of thinking. Just that and the action (taking steps) and thinking I’ve done while writing this comment, even, has helped.

    But if anyone does know more about these search engines and can easily have answers for me, thanks!!

    /end stupid comment :-P

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Darren Rowse over at Problogger has a great piece today on why it is he doesn’t use free articles for his blog posts. This is something that has been asked of me often by clients wanting to know if there is an easy way out of having to put good quality content on their sites each day, and  question “why can’t we just put any old content on the site?” Darren makes for some excellent points about the use of just “any” content from other sources: • Poor Quality of Articles [...]

  2. [...] There is a great post at Problogger that you should read on this topic as well.  I’m not a good writer and make a lot of typos. But at this point I’d rather have people laugh at my typos then be killed by my own content. [...]