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Web Syndication

Web syndication is a form of Broadcast syndication in which website material is made available to multiple other sites. Most commonly, web syndication refers to making web feeds available from a site in order to provide other people with a summary or update of the website’s recently added content (for example, the latest news or forum posts). The term can also be used to describe other kinds of licensing website content so that other websites can use it.


Syndication refers to the websites providing information and the websites displaying it. For the receiving site, content syndication is an effective way of adding greater depth and immediacy of information to its pages, making it more attractive to users. For the transmitting site, syndication drives exposure across numerous online platforms. This generates new traffic for the transmitting site — making syndication an easy and relatively cheap, or even free, form of advertisement. As Search Engine Optimization has become an increasingly important topic among website owners and online marketers, however, content syndication has become a highly effective strategy for link building.

Links embedded within the syndicated content are typically optimized around anchor terms that will point an optimized link back to the website that the content author is trying to promote. These links tell the algorithms of the search engines that the website being linked to is an authority for the keyword that is being used as the anchor text. However the recent rollout of Google Panda’s algorithm may not reflect this authority in its SERP rankings based on quality scores generated by the sites linking to the authority.

The prevalence of web syndication is also of note to online marketers, since web surfers are becoming increasingly wary of providing personal information for marketing materials (such as signing up for a newsletter) and expect the ability to subscribe to a feed instead. Although the format could be anything transported over HTTP, such as HTML or JavaScript, it is more commonly XML. The two main families of web syndication formats are RSS and Atom.

History of Web Syndication Technology

The basic idea of restructuring information about web sites goes back to as early as 1995, when Ramanathan V. Guha and others in Apple Computer’s Advanced Technology Group developed the Meta Content Framework (MCF).

Nowadays, many different types of content are syndicated on the Internet. Millions of online publishers, including newspapers, commercial websites, and blogs, now publish their latest news headlines, product offers, or blog postings in standard format news feed.

Web Syndication as a Commercial Model

In addition to freely distributed material, some broadcasters and others use similar methods for the controlled placement of proprietary content on multiple partnering Internet destinations. In addition to web feeds, such commercial syndicators may use other methods to distribute their content such as Reuters, Associated Press, All Headline News, and PreviewNetworks.

Such commercial web syndication borrows its business models from syndication in other media, such as Print, radio, and television. Primarily, syndication arose in those other media so that content creators could reach a wider audience. In the case of radio, the United States Federal government proposed a syndicate in 1924 so that the nation’s executives could quickly and efficiently reach the entire population. In the case of television, it is often said that “Syndication is where the real money is.” Additionally, syndication accounts for the bulk of TV programming.

Commercial web syndication can be categorized in three ways:

  • by business models
  • by types of content
  • by methods for selecting distribution partners
Commercial web syndication involves partnerships between content producers and distribution outlets. There are different structures of partnership agreements. One such structure is licensing content, in which distribution partners pay a fee to the content creators for the right to publish the content. Another structure is ad-supported content, in which publishers share revenues derived from advertising on syndicated content with that content’s producer. A third structure is free, or barter syndication, in which no currency changes hands between publishers and content producers. This requires the content producers to generate revenue from another source, such as embedded advertising or subscriptions. Alternatively, they could distribute content without remuneration. Typically, those who create and distribute content for free are promotional entities, vanity publishers, or government entities.

Types of content syndicated include RSS or Atom Feeds and full content. With RSS feeds, headlines, summaries, and sometimes a modified version of the original full content is displayed on users’ feed readers. With full content, the entire content — which might be text, audio, video, applications/widgets or user-generated content — appears unaltered on the publisher’s site.

There are two methods for selecting distribution partners. The content creator can hand-pick syndication partners based on specific criteria, such as the size or quality of their audiences. Alternatively, the content creator can allow publisher sites or users to “opt in” to carrying the content through an automated system. Some of these automated “content marketplace” systems involve careful screening of potential publishers by the content creator to ensure that the material does not end up in an inappropriate environment.

Just as syndication is a source of profit for TV producers and radio producers, it also functions to maximize profit for Internet content producers. As the Internet has increased in size it has become increasingly difficult for content producers to aggregate a sufficiently large audience to support the creation of high-quality content. Syndication enables content creators to amortize the cost of producing content by licensing it across multiple publishers or by maximizing distribution of advertising-supported content. A potential drawback for content creators, however, is that they can lose control over the presentation of their content when they syndicate it to other parties.

Distribution partners benefit by receiving content either at a discounted price, or for free. One potential drawback for publishers, however, is that because the content is duplicated at other publisher sites, they cannot have an “exclusive” on the content.

For users, the fact that syndication enables the production and maintenance of content allows them to find and consume content on the Internet. One potential drawback for them is that they may run into duplicate content, which could be an annoyance.

Web Syndication and e-Commerce

Similar to syndication of proprietary content, web syndication has been used to distribute product content (feature descriptions, images, specifications, etc.). Given that manufacturers are regarded as authorities and that most sales do not happen on manufacturer Web sites, best-in-class manufacturers take their best content and enable other retailers or dealers to publish the information on their sites. By syndicating content, a manufacturer is more likely to pass consistent and often comprehensive information to channel partners. Such web syndication has been shown to generate an increase in sales.

Web syndication has been increasingly used as a way to syndicate online news content to websites, too as part of Search Engine Optimization techniques. Adding news content lets websites target specific keywords that could cost a fortune in PPC campaigns absolutely free. Also, by the very nature of writing about a topic — for example the UK housing market — you naturally cover other keyword variations in the same page, e.g. house prices, mortgages, first-time buyers — all in one page: all keywords that someone interested in the UK housing market could type into a search engine also. Done on a daily basis, over time, news content will improve your search engine ranking considerably.

There are several companies that specialize in providing the infrastructure for this type of content syndication. These include TIE Kinetix, Zift Solutions and Webcollage.

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