The Downside to Licensed Content

Post by Cara Hebert, SEO Analyst

Licensed content is a reoccurring buzzword, as brands continue to discover this “amazing way to get more traffic!” Licensed content is an established paid relationship with a news agency or publication, which enables articles to be republished in full on your website. You still have to indicate that the article was written by another publication, but readers and search engines alike see the full content on your site without having to click to another site. This relationship has long been common practice for newspapers and publications in sharing articles; however brands have since adapted it as a way to easily and quickly generate new content.

But Have You Considered the SEO Implications?

To leverage licensed content, you’re typically required to republish the original in full with no modifications or edits, so that the views of the original writer aren’t misrepresented or distorted. However, because the content is an exact match, the reposted article becomes duplicate content that creates a few issues:

  1. Search engines don’t know which version(s) to include/exclude from their indices
  2. Search engines don’t know whether to direct the link metrics to one page, or keep it separated between multiple versions
  3. Search engines don’t know which version(s) to rank for query results

Because most websites will likely have a lower domain authority than the original publisher, and because your website won’t be the main source for the original content, search engines are more likely to rank the original content and disregard your duplicate. Too much duplicate content over time may cause search engines to take notice and penalize your site. That being said, there are solutions for skirting duplicate content penalties, however, none will result in SEO value.

But if News Outlets do It, Why Won’t It Work for my Brand?

“Licensing works for big media companies, but not for brands.”

Rand Fishkin, Co-Founder & Wizard of Moz

For news outlets, the primary reason to use licensed content is to maintain and slowly expand their current audience. Large news outlets already have large audiences, so it’s beneficial for them to license content from smaller publications. This is especially true when the larger outlet is able to post the same article within mere minutes of it going up on the smaller site. However, for brands, licensed content is seen as a way to gain a new audience by appearing in a wider variety of search results and to position themselves as thought leaders in the industry. Because the duplicate content on a branded site will most likely not be ranked, rarely are brands able to expand their audience. Instead, they simply provide more content depth for an audience they’ve already achieved.

Won’t Growing my Brand as a Thought Leader Still Help?

Short answer: Yes. It’s always good to provide content to your loyal customers to keep them engaged and returning to your site. However, while creating original content is usually free or already built into your budget, licensed content carries fees that can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars a year depending on the breadth of content.

Are there ANY Benefits to Licensed Content?

Of course! Licensed content helps to build brand loyalty and can be a great way to drive traffic through social shares. Rather than the same old salesy, humdrum articles you might normally post, licensed content can help your company share articles that are relevant, trending and interesting in a timely manner. Because licensed content articles rarely pass through legal review, your social media team will be ecstatic with the new edge your company will have on current topics.

Overall, if your main goals are SEO driven, licensed content just isn’t worth the cost. You won’t increase rankings, you won’t increase organic traffic and you may even be penalized by the engines at the end of the day. Sure, it has its benefits, but those tend to be far outweighed by the costs.

Richard Kirk
Richard Kirk
Richard Kirk is a comms planner at ZenithOptimedia. He previously worked as head of SEO for Performics EMEA.

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