Google’s John Mueller answered a question about what happens to the signals associated with syndicated content when Google chooses the partner as the canonical instead of the original content publisher. John’s answer contained helpful information about the murky area of ranking and syndicated content.
The question was asked by Lily Ray (@lilyraynyc) on X (formerly Twitter).
“If an article is syndicated across partner websites, and Google chooses the partner as canonical (even if canonical on partner site ➡️to original source), does this mean all SEO value is consolidated to partner URL?
E.g. link signals, UX signals, social media signals etc. from the group would be consolidated into Google’s chosen canonical?
& each time this happens, does that represent an “opportunity cost” from the original site, in the sense that they lose out on that SEO value?”
Lily asked about cross-domain canonicals and this:
- Link signals
- UX signals
- Social media signals
John Mueller tweeted:
“Hi Lily! It’s complicated, and not all the things you’re asking about are things we necessarily even use.
In general, if we recognize a page as canonical, that’s going to be the page most likely rewarded by our ranking systems.”
John Mueller answered that Google didn’t use everything on her list but didn’t specify which items. Regarding the canonicals, Google does have a policy about the use of cross-domain canonicals on syndicated content.
Google announced last year that it no longer recommends cross-domain canonicals on syndicated content and instead it suggests using the meta noindex tag on the partner site to block Google from indexing the site entirely if the original publisher wants to be certain that link signals for the content accrue to them and not the syndication partner.
This is Google’s current guidance for cross-domain canonicals:
“Tip: If you want to avoid duplication by syndication partners, the canonical link element is not recommended because syndicated articles are often very different in overall content from original articles. Instead, partners should use meta tags to block the indexing of your content.”
John Mueller didn’t address what happens to the link signals but he did say that the site that is recognized as canonical is the one that’s rewarded Google’s ranking systems and that is ultimately the most important detail.
Google’s SearchLiaison responded on Twitter to clarify a misunderstanding caused by a report from another website. The website did not adequately explain the nuance in Google’s recommendation for original content publishers concerned about ranking signals. Google advises these publishers to ensure their syndication partners add a ‘no-index’ tag to syndicated articles, rather than relying solely on cross-domain canonicals.
“I would suggest this is more “Google may consolidate the ranking signals from a syndication partner’s URL *if you haven’t required them to use noindex as recommended* for people who are concerned about outranking syndication partners they voluntarily give the content to.
I know you mention our guidance in your story. But no one might fully understand this key point from the headline and the post.
Cross-domain canonicalization is hard for reasons why we explained last year (my thread is below). That’s why we recommend noindex. Does exactly what cross-domain canonicalization is trying to do — not let a syndicated page outrank the original. But it does it better, because there’s no potential confusion. The syndicated content can’t rank with noindex.
And anticipating “what if someone uses my content without permission,” it’s rare we’d actually consider something like that to be a canonical as shown in Search Console. Open to examples or people can report using indexing support.”
Andy Beard responded to SearchLiaison by pointing out that if the Cross-Domain Canonical did “what cross-domain canonicalization is trying to do” then the “credit” (meaning links) for the syndicated content would pass from the syndicated partner to the original publisher.
“Does exactly what cross-domain canonicalization is trying to do”
Cross-domain if it worked would allow an original article to gain some credit for content syndicated on a site like Yahoo.
Noindex wouldn’t and would eventually create a dangling node.
That observation opens up a new direction in the question about content syndication and link signals, content syndication as a link building tactic. The idea is to syndicate content to partners who then create cross-domain canonicals so that any links accrued by the syndicated partners are credited to the original publisher.
Google has apparently taken the position that links accrued to the syndication partners should not be credited to the original publisher when there’s a cross-domain canonicals.
Google hasn’t made the reason explicit but there is a valid reason for Google’s policy that I can think of.
A syndication partner like Yahoo enjoys a certain amount of audience reach because of its authoritativeness, trustworthiness and the popularity from being a consistent publisher for decades.
That’s a reason why articles published by Yahoo may be cited by other organizations, blogs and amplified by social sharing. That’s what a syndication partner brings to an article that an original publishing partner generally does not.
If Google allowed the ranking signals accrued by syndication partners to pass to the original publisher then the original publisher benefits from the authoritativeness, trustworthiness and propensity to accrue links that are signals inherent to the syndication partner.
That sets up the situation where a site that has less authoritativeness and trustworthiness would be able to piggyback on the authoritativeness, reach and goodwill that the syndication partner enjoys.
SearchLiaison responded with the statement that allowing cross-domain canonicals to pass signals from syndication partners would come close to violating Google’s spam policies.
“If someone is syndicating content with the purpose of gaining links, they’re likely getting close to another policy we have”
The Example Of Non-Syndicated Scraped Content Ranking
It’s notable that SearchLiaison (Danny Sullivan) discussed a hypothetical scenario where a publisher could be outranked by another site republishing their content without a syndication agreement, confirming that such instances are rare.” He’s correct that it is rare for outright plagiarized content to outrank the original article.
But it’s not rare for content that is rewritten to outrank the original publisher.
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