Syndication: Dos, Don'ts and How to Improve

Apr 19, 2018

Recently, we’ve been exploring how Core Publisher stations can use digital syndication of stories between member stations and NPR as part of their digital strategies. This common practice can be a useful tool to improve your website experience and create value for your users. But it can can also lead to bloated, confusing, and unhelpful website experiences. Whether it is helpful or hurtful comes down to how much you syndicate, what you syndicate, and why you’re syndicating.

The best type of syndicated content are stories that are relevant, meaningful, and related to the mission of your organization and can not be readily found on other websites. For example, if you are a local station serving the communities of Idaho, you should only syndicate stories that pertain to news, events, or concerns in the Idaho area. Anything else is not serving your primary audience, and can be seen as either superfluous or confusing to that audience.

When our analytics team looked further into the power of local site content as compared to national content, they found strong and telling correlation: local content on station sites was much more popular than national content, with over ten times the pageviews for local content over nationally syndicated stories. Further, publishing more national content then you create may be actively harmful to your site’s digital success.

When content doesn’t align with your organization’s mission or can be found on other news websites, it is less valuable to your audience. The major negative impacts of unthoughtful syndication are:

  • Reduced engagement due to negative user experience
  • Diminished SEO-friendliness of your site

Below is homepage of a station serving communities in Oregon. When a user first navigates to the homepage, they only see are national content that can be found on NPR.org, other member station sites, and other media organizations. This experience is not an local experience, and provides little unique value to a station.

Too much syndicated content can also have an impact on Search Engine Optimization.Search engines, primarily Google, prioritizes sites in search engine rankings that feature unique, native content. Sites that consist of predominantly syndicated content are penalized by Google for not providing unique value to users. This is particularly pronounced among member station sites where the same Morning Edition and All Things Considered content is syndicated across 200 sites. Essentially, Google views these sites as cookie-cutter content aggregators instead of what they really are - local journalism and market-specific content creators!

A recent review of member stations showed that stations published, on average over the course of a year, 1,307 native stories by syndicated 13,837 stories. The majority of these syndicated stories are national stories shared across the community. Thus, because the majority of your site’s content is likely content that 1) is national content coming from NPR.org and 2) content that is not natively created, your site could be underperforming.

The reason for this could be that your website is set to automatically publish content created from NPR. This in itself is not a problem, but choosing to syndicate and publish all stories or top stories by NPR is very harmful to your website experience; the good news is that it is also the easiest way to improve the experience of your site.

Among the member station community, it is easy to see the effects of strategic syndication. Among a selected group of ten stations with similar number of local stories created (1,000-2,000) as well as market size, there was one station that demonstrated intelligent content syndication (for privacy purposes, let’s call them Station A). Eighty-one percent of the stories on Station A are local stories. With that, they see significantly better statistics than their counterparts - even over some stations with over double their market size:

  • From December 2015-December 2016, their site recorded 2,716,765 sessions, while the remainder of the group averaged 1,246,561 sessions for that timeframe
  • From December 2015-December 2016, 70% of visits were to a story page
  • Sessions per person was the highest in the group at 1.52 (average was .52).
  • They have the second-highest Total Station Revenue out of the group/li>

In another group of high-content producers, only Station B and Station C syndicate intelligently (each only syndicating around 50 stories for 2016). Within this group, they have the highest two number of sessions in the group for 2016 and sessions per person.

From an SEO perspective, Station A, Station B, and Station C perform extremely well compared to other groups with similar number of stories created and market size in terms of organic traffic:

  • Station A recorded 900,339 sessions from Organic Search from December 2015-December 2016. The rest of the group averaged 470,667 sessions for that time period.
    • This is exceptionally high for a station that has created relatively amounts of content
  • Station B public radio totaled 1,297,467 organic sessions and Station C totaled 2,272,642 organic search sessions
    • Station C represents the highest amount of search traffic for a solely CP site.

From a digital perspective, the number one thing your site can do to improve overall performance is to strategically focus on syndication. The first step is to significantly reduce the number of stories syndicating to your site. In later posts, we’ll share specific strategies on thoughtful syndication and discuss the tools at your disposal to enable more thoughtful and targeted syndication.