When you’re creating high-quality content for your blog, it makes sense that you would want to share it in as many places as possible. But how you share that content is key.

In essence, there are a number of really good reasons for syndicating your content. A wider audience means more people engage with you content—after all, it’s the core value of ToFU content. But duplicate content tanks your rankings and takes you further away from your readers. Google tells you to avoid duplicate content, but how does it actually affect your SEO? There’s a lot of discussion about this online, but we wanted to find out for ourselves.

Would Google penalize our blog, or only the offending articles? Would we lose backlinks or ranking keywords? We had so many questions. That’s why we put together an experiment using the SpyFu blog, to see what would happen if you duplicated content from your blog in the wrong way.

How We Built the Experiment

In March 2020, we took four blog posts, two from our old Nacho Analytics blog and two from the current SpyFu blog, and duplicated them directly on Medium. All four articles were performing relatively well at the time, and we wanted to see how copying the content over to another platform would affect their SEO strength.

Here are the articles we chose:

And here are the four duplicate articles on Medium:

While Medium does provide the option to create a canonical version of a post for syndication, we chose to do a one-to-one copy and paste. Ignoring canonical tags would help us see the real impact of duplicate content because Google and other search engines would see both posts as equals.

Once the posts were published on Medium, we pulled data from Ahrefs to create a baseline for the experiment. This gave us a reference point to track the overall impact of our test over the coming months.

The following data from March 23, 2020, is for each of the original posts; because we had just copied everything over to Medium, we had no useful metrics to review.

Airbnb vs. VRBO: Why A Massive Organic Search Advantage Doesn't Always Pay Off

Domain
Rating
Ahrefs
Rank
Domains Ref Domains
Dofollow
Linked
Domains
Total
Backlinks
Backlinks
Text
Backlinks
Nofollow
Backlinks
Educational
Total
Keywords
Total
Traffic
34 2,484,946 54 52 7 89 89 2 0 169 49

This article ranked 15 for the target keyword airbnb vs vrbo.

A Data-Driven Marketers’ Guide to Calculating Statistical Significance

Domain
Rating
Ahrefs
Rank
Domains Ref Domains
Dofollow
Linked
Domains
Total
Backlinks
Backlinks
Text
Backlinks
Nofollow
Backlinks
Educational
Total
Keywords
Total
Traffic
34 2,484,946 2 1 7 2 1 0 0 78 2

This article ranked 38 for the target keyword statistical significance calculator.

Competitor Analysis: 7 Ways to Track Competitors' Marketing Strategy

Domain
Rating
Ahrefs
Rank
Domains Ref Domains
Dofollow
Linked
Domains
Total
Backlinks
Backlinks
Text
Backlinks
Nofollow
Backlinks
Educational
Total
Keywords
Total
Traffic
79 14,591 4 3 9 4 4 1 0 208 114

This article ranked 1 for the target keyword competitors marketing strategies.

7 Best Practices to Improve Your Sitemaps for SEO

This article ranked 1 for the target keyword sitemap best practices.

Domain
Rating
Ahrefs
Rank
Domains Ref Domains
Dofollow
Linked
Domains
Total
Backlinks
Backlinks
Text
Backlinks
Nofollow
Backlinks
Educational
Total
Keywords
Total
Traffic
79 14,591 5 5 5 5 5 0 0 84 69

With our baseline set, all we had to do was wait and see how much of an effect duplicating the content had on each of these metrics.

The Results

While search engines crawl websites regularly, we wanted to wait a few months to ensure that our test had enough data to see any patterns. SEO is a long game, so it’s important to give your content time to mature and feel the effects of any changes to your website or its content.

We pulled the same data for each article about three months later, on June 18, 2020, to see what had changed:

Airbnb vs. VRBO: Why A Massive Organic Search Advantage Doesn't Always Pay Off

Domain
Rating
Ahrefs
Rank
Domains Ref Domains
Dofollow
Linked
Domains
Total
Backlinks
Backlinks
Text
Backlinks
Nofollow
Backlinks
Educational
Total
Keywords
Total
Traffic
36 2,264,259 57 55 7 134 134 2 0 240 26

This article ranked 18 for the target keyword airbnb vs vrbo.

A Data-Driven Marketers’ Guide to Calculating Statistical Significance

This article ranked 32 for the target keyword statistical significance calculator.

Domain
Rating
Ahrefs
Rank
Domains Ref Domains
Dofollow
Linked
Domains
Total
Backlinks
Backlinks
Text
Backlinks
Nofollow
Backlinks
Educational
Total
Keywords
Total
Traffic
36 2,264,259 2 1 7 3 3 0 0 80 5

Competitor Analysis: 7 Ways to Track Competitors' Marketing Strategy

This article ranked 1 for the target keyword competitors marketing strategies.

Domain
Rating
Ahrefs
Rank
Domains Ref Domains
Dofollow
Linked
Domains
Total
Backlinks
Backlinks
Text
Backlinks
Nofollow
Backlinks
Educational
Total
Keywords
Total
Traffic
80 13,450 6 4 10 6 6 2 0 499 241

7 Best Practices to Improve Your Sitemaps for SEO

Domain
Rating
Ahrefs
Rank
Domains Ref Domains
Dofollow
Linked
Domains
Total
Backlinks
Backlinks
Text
Backlinks
Nofollow
Backlinks
Educational
Total
Keywords
Total
Traffic
80 13,450 5 4 5 6 6 1 0 71 71

This article ranked 1 for the target keyword sitemap best practices.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start by breaking down some of the most surprising results:

  • Domain Rating for each article actually increased. The Nacho Analytics domain jumped two points, from 34 to 36, and the SpyFu domain stepped up by one, from 79 to 80.
  • All articles gained additional backlinks and total keywords. Each article gained several additional backlinks and started ranking for more total keywords as well. These results are reflected in both domains, which also impacts their Ahref’s rank.
  • Target keyword rankings increased for one Nacho Analytics article. While the SpyFu blog was already ranking in the first position for their respective target keywords, the article on statistical significance saw a four-position increase to our target keyword rank.
  • Medium articles saw little to no engagement. We didn’t have any baseline metrics for Medium, so we gauged success based on how much interaction we saw with each post in the months after it was published.

It’s really interesting to see the backlink profiles grow for each of these posts, especially when you consider that we’ve basically put another piece of content out there for people to link to instead of the existing post. The Airbnb vs. VRBO article on Nacho Analytics was the clear winner in this regard, jumping from 89 total backlinks to 134. That’s 45 new backlinks over the course of three months, which is impressive for any piece of content. In comparison, the competitor marketing strategy article on SpyFu’s blog only went from four to six backlinks in the same period.Generally, these results lead us to a pretty big question: is there really an impact on the original blog articles after duplicating them on Medium?

What Does It All Mean?

To be honest, we didn’t expect these results. Based on the existing writing on duplicate content, we should have seen significant downturns to the overall SEO strength of our existing content. But the experiment didn’t show that at all. Duplicating our blog content on Medium without the use of canonical tags had seemingly no negative effect on the overall quality of our content across both domains.

In general, each of the posts we duplicated is in a better place today than it was three months ago. While that isn’t what we expected out of this test, we can attribute this to two main factors:

  • The existing articles were all in a good place before our experiment.
  • The Medium account we duplicated the content on was brand-new.

When we take a look at both Competitor Analysis: 7 Ways to Track Competitors' Marketing Strategy and 7 Best Practices to Improve Your Sitemaps for SEO, traffic actually improved over the past three months.

Weekly pageview growth for Competitor Analysis: 7 Ways to Track Competitors' Marketing Strategy via Google Analytics
Weekly pageview growth for 7 Best Practices to Improve Your Sitemaps for SEO via Google Analytics

Both articles we duplicated saw a slight bump in weekly pageviews, followed by a positive growth trend in the following weeks. Prior to our experiment, the article on competitor analysis was seeing just under 100 weekly page views. Afterward, it saw approximately 150 and continued to grow to a peak in early June, at 237 for the week of June 14 to June 20.

The article on sitemaps was generally trending around 100 page views per week, and while those pageviews did increase, the peak in late April hit only 176 total pageviews at most. These differences likely weren’t a result of how we duplicated the content to Medium, but were more a function of each respective target keyword’s monthly search volume and how we matched the search intent.

As both articles had already capturing the first SERP rank for their target keyword, we can also tie these differences to the total number of ranking keywords for each article. Where the article on competitor analysis more than doubled the ranking keywords, from 208 to 499, through the duration of our test, the sitemaps piece actually decreased from 84 to 71. It’s important to consider that, while ranking well for your target keyword is a great goal, boosting the total number of keywords your article ranks for is an equally powerful strategy.

Because the Medium account we used had no followers either, there really wasn’t any opportunity to pull traffic away from our blog content too quickly. Combine that with the existing strength of the posts we chose and it’s not hard to see why the existing articles won out.

That said, we don’t want this experiment to tell you that duplicating content is a good idea. Google still penalizes websites for this all the time. If you want to try content syndication, just don’t skip the canonical tags like we did for our test. Those tags make sure that whenever anyone shares your content, it always points back to the URL you want. It’s important to follow SEO best practices when you publish content on other platforms.

Duplicate Content Might Not Be All Bad

While we’re not recommending you duplicate all of your content to Medium or other publications, if you’re looking for a way to increase awareness of your content, it can be a useful tactic. Just remember that you do run the risk of penalties if anything is done incorrectly.