In a recent video, Google’s SEO expert Matt Cutts answers the question “Is it useful to have a section of my site that re-posts articles from other sites?” In the course of answering that question, Cutts describes, perhaps unknowingly, the distinction between content curation and content aggregation within the context of content marketing. In fact, his explanation does more to confuse than it does to clarify.
Matt mistakenly refers to content creation as content curation, and refers to aggregated content as auto-generated content. In the course of his explanation, he wholly ignores curated content. Below I have attempted to clarify his explanation along with clear distinctions between aggregated content, curated content and created content.
Three Types of Content
Basically Matt described a spectrum of content types ranging with aggregated content on one end (e.g., press section of an individual company’s web site using auto-generation to repost existing articles), and original created content all the way on the other (e.g., New York Times). However his description was confusing because he referred to original content such as from the New Times as curation, when in fact such content is actually the output of creation.
At the left end of the spectrum is aggregation. An example of aggregated content would be Google News search results for a term rendered in a widget on a site via an RSS feed. While such widget does provide some informational value, in the grand scheme of things it does not really help the visitor much. All the content in the widget can easily be found on another site. Also because the content is generated automatically, there’s a high likelihood that the content may be irrelevant. Cutts argues that aggregated content like this can even hurt the search engine ranking of your site as a whole.
At the right end of the spectrum is original created content, which is of high informational value to the end reader. Such content is typically exclusive and can’t be found on another site, and therefore serves as great bait for Inbound links. The downside of created content is that producing it is a lot of work and can be quite resource and time intensive. For organizations like the New York Times, its possible to continually create high quality, original created content day in and day out; however, for resource-constrained marketers, producing great created content every single day is simply out of the question. While Matt Cutts erroneously refers to this content as an act of “curation” on his video, he is really talking about creation.
The third method of content publishing is “curation” which lies in the middle of the spectrum. Similar to aggregated content, curated content can be published on a very regular basis without much effort. Yet similar to created content, curated content can be very relevant and informing for the end reader if its done properly. Each piece of created content can serve as link bait to increase your search engine ranking. On the other hand for curated content, an individual piece of content may not attract a lot of inbound links, but a curated site as a whole may be viewed as a go-to resource and may attract links. (examples of content curation: Charmin, The Huffington Post)
Here are my takeaways from Matt’s short video:
- Be cautious with aggregated content. As Matt says, aggregated content can hurt your search engine ranking because it may be irrelevant and is duplicative without any original value add. If you want to post aggregated content on your site, then you may want to consider using a “nofollow” link so search engines don’t really consider this as a real link.
- Don’t repost full articles. If you want to aggregate content, don’t repost the entire third party in full. Just take a small portion both for fair use consideration and so you don’t get flagged by Google as having duplicate content.
- Create content as much as possible. Created content is highly lucrative from a search engine ranking perspective but it’s also very time and resource consuming to produce.
- Consider content curation. Do leverage content curation as part of your content marketing strategy. It lets you get the best of both worlds, with high frequency and high relevance, yet relatively low effort. (e.g., LinkedIn is just one example of the growing trend of curation as it continues to invest in this market as well as the broader content marketing movement; another includes the new Authorship feature in Google+)
- Add value to your curated content. Curation involves not only finding content to post, but also carefully selecting which content you want to share and adding editorial commentary and perspective as well. If you are not performing the latter two steps, then your curation efforts may closely resemble those of someone who has been aggregating content. You can easily avoid this by being selective about what you are posting to ensure that only relevant high quality content is being curated. In addition, it is also a good idea to only take a small amount of content as an excerpt from the original third party source, retitle the content, and provide commentary (so you don’t get flagged as a duplicate article).
For a comprehensive look at best practices in combining content creation with curation, check out Curata’s eBook entitled How to Feed the Content Beast (without getting eaten alive).