How to Use Hosted Blog Platforms for SEO & Content Distribution

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Medium and LinkedIn? If you’re not yet thinking about the ramifications of using hosted blog platforms for your content versus your own site, now’s your chance to start. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explores the boons and pitfalls of using outside websites to distribute and share your content.

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat a little bit about blog platforms, places like Medium, Svbtle — that’s Svbtle with a V instead of a U — Tumblr, LinkedIn, places where essentially you’ve got a hosted blog platform, a hosted content platform. It’s someone else’s network. You don’t have to set up your own website, but at the same time you are contributing content to their site.

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This has become really popular, I think. Look, Medium and LinkedIn are really the two big ones where a lot of folks are contributing these days. LinkedIn very B2B focused, Medium very startup, and new media as well as new creative-focused.

So I think, because of the rise of these things, we’re seeing a lot of people ask themselves, “Should I create my own content platform? Do I need to build a WordPress hosted subfolder on my website? Or can I just use Medium because it has all these advantages, right?” Well, let me try and answer those questions for you today.

So, what do hosted platforms enable?

Well, it’s really simple to sign up and start creating on them. You plug in your name, email, a password. You don’t have to set up DNS. You don’t have to set up hosting. You can start publishing right away. That’s really easy and convenient.

It also means that, for a lot of marketers, they don’t have to involve their engineering or their web development teams. That’s pretty awesome, too.

There are also built in networks on a lot of these places, Medium in particular, but Svbtle as well. Tumblr quite obviously has a very, very big network. So as a result, you’ve got this ability to gain followers or subscribers to your content, someone that can say like, “Oh, I want to follow @randfish on Medium.” I haven’t published on Medium, but for some reason I seem to have thousands of followers there.

So I think this creates this idea like, “Hey, I could reach a lot more people that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to reach on my own platform, because it’s not like these people are all subscribed to my blog already, but they are signed up for Medium or LinkedIn, which has hundreds of millions of worldwide users.”

There’s also an SEO benefit here. You inherit domain authority. On Medium and on LinkedIn in particular, these can be really powerful. Medium is a domain authority 80. LinkedIn is a domain authority of 99, which is no surprise. Pretty much every website on the planet links to their LinkedIn page. So you can imagine that these pages have the potential to do really well in Google’s rankings, and you don’t necessarily have to point a lot of links at them in order for them to rank very well. We’ve seen this. Medium has been doing quite well in the rankings. LinkedIn articles are doing quite well in their niches.

This is a little different, a subtle but important difference for Svbtle itself, for Tumblr, and for WordPress. These are on subdomains. So it would be, yes, there are lots of people who are using WordPress, although that’s very customizable. But you could imagine that if I got randstshirts.wordpress.com or randstshirts.tumblr.com or randstshirt.svbtle.com, that doesn’t have the same ranking ability. That subdomain means that Google considers it separately from the main domain. So you’re not going to inherit the ranking benefit on those. It’s really Medium and LinkedIn where that happens. To be honest, Google+ as well, we’ve seen them ranking like a Medium or a LinkedIn too.

You also have this benefit of email digests and subscriptions, which can help grow your content’s reach. For those of you who aren’t subscribed to Medium, they send out a daily digest to all of the folks who are signed up. So if you are someone who is contributing Medium content, you can often expect that your subscribers through Medium may be getting your stuff through an email digest. It may even get broadcast to a much broader group, to people who aren’t following you but are following them. If they’ve “hearted” your content on Medium, they’ll see it. So you get all these network effects through email digests and email subscriptions too.

So what’s the downside?

This is pretty awesome. To me, these are compelling reasons to potentially consider using these. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about the downside as well. To my mind, these downsides prevent me from wanting to encourage certain types of views. I’ll talk about my best advice and my tactical advice for using these in a sec.

Links authority and ranking signals that are accrued. We recognize that you put a post on Medium, a lot of times posts there do very well. They get a lot of traction, a lot of attention. They make it into news feeds. Other sites link to them. Other pages around the web link to them. It’s great. Lots of social shares, lots of engagement. That is terrific.

Guess what? Those benefits accrue only to Medium.com. So every time you publish something there and it gets lots of links and ranking signals and engagement and social and all these wonderful things, that helps Medium.com rank better in the future. It doesn’t help yoursite.com rank better in the future.

You might say, “But Rand, I’ve got a link here, and that link points right back to my site.” Yes, wonderful. You now have the equivalent of one link from Medium. Good for you. It’s not a bad thing. But this is nowhere near the kind of help that you would get if this piece of content had been hosted on your site to begin with. If this is hosted over here, all these links point in there, and all those ranking benefits accrue to your site and page.

In some ways, from an SEO perspective, especially if you’re trying to build up that SEO flywheel of growing domain authority and growing links and being able to rank for more competitive stuff, if you’re trying to build that flywheel, you’d almost say, “Hey, you know what, I’d take half the links and ranking signals if it were on my own site. That would still be worth more to me than more on Medium.”

Okay. But that being said, there are all the distribution advantages, so maybe we’re still at a wash here.

Also on these blogging platforms, these hosted platforms, there’s no ownership of or ability to influence the UI and UX. That is a tough one too. So one of the wonderful things about blogging is — and we’ve seen this over the years many times at Moz. People come to Moz to read the content, they remember Moz, and they have a positive association and they say, “Yeah, you know, Moz made me feel like they were authorities, like they knew what they were talking about. So now I want to go check out Moz Local, their product, or Moz Analytics, or Open Site Explorer, or whatever it is.”

That’s great. But if you are on Medium or if you are on Svbtle or if you are on WordPress — well, WordPress is more customizable — but if you’re on Google+, the experience is, “Oh, I had a really good experience with Medium.” That’s very, very different. They will not remember who you are and how you made them feel, at least certainly not to the extent that they would if you owned and controlled that UI and UX.

So you’re really reducing brandability and any messaging opportunities that you might have had there. That’s dramatically, dramatically reduced. I think that’s very, very tough for a lot of folks.

Next up — and this speaks to the UI and UX elements — but it’s impossible to add or to customize calls to action, which really inhibits using your blog as part of your funnel. Essentially, I can’t say, “Hey, you know what I’d like to do? I’d like to add a button right below here, below all my blog posts that says, ‘Hey, sign up to try our product for free,’ or, ‘Get on our new mailing list,’ or, ‘Subscribe to this particular piece of content.’ Or I want to put something in the sidebar, or I’d like to have it in the header. Or I want to have it as a drop over when someone scrolls halfway down the page.” You can’t do any of those things. That sort of messaging is controlled by the platform. You’re not allowed to add custom code here, and thus your ability to impact your funnel with your blog or with your content platform on these sites is severely limited. You can add a link, and yes, people can still follow you on these networks, but that is definitely not the same.

There’s also, frustratingly, for a lot of paid marketers and a lot of marketers who know that they can do this, you can’t put a retargeting pixel on Svbtle or on Medium. Actually, you may be able to on Svbtle now. I’m not sure if you can. But Medium for sure, LinkedIn for sure, Google+, you can’t say, “Hey, all the people who come to my posts on Medium, I’d like to retarget them and remarket to them as they go around the web later, and I’ll follow them around the Internet like a lost puppy dog.” Well, too bad, not possible. You can’t place that pixel. No custom code, that’s out.

The last thing, and I think one of the most salient points, is there have been many, many platforms like this over the years. Many people use the example of GeoCities where a lot of people hosted their content and then it went away. In the early days of the web, it was very big, and a few years ago it fell apart.

It’s not just that, though. The uncertain future could mean that in some time frame, in the months or years to come, Medium, or Svbtle, or LinkedIn, or Google+ could become more like Facebook, where instead of 100% of the people seeing the content that they subscribe to, maybe they only see 10% or the Facebook averages today, which are under 1%. So this means that you don’t really know what might happen to your content in the future in terms of its potential visibility to the audience there. If that’s the sole place you’re building up your audience, that is a high amount of risk depending on what happens as the platform evolves.

This is true for all social platforms. It’s not just true for these hosted blog content platforms. Many folks have talked about how Twitter in the future may not show 100% of the content there. I don’t know how real that is or whether it’s just a rumor, but it’s one of those things to consider and keep in mind.

My best advice:

So my best advice here is, use platforms like these for reaching their audiences. I think it can be great to say, “Hey, 1 out of every 10 or 20 posts I want to put something up on Medium, or I want to test it on Google+, or I want to test it on LinkedIn because I think that those audiences have a lot of affinity with what I’m doing. I want to be able to reach out to them. I want to see how those perform. Maybe I want to contribute there once a month or once a quarter.” Great. Wonderful. That can be a fine way to draw distribution there.

I think it’s great for building connections. If you know that there are people on those networks who have big, powerful followings and they’re very engaged there, I think using those networks like you would use a Twitter or a Facebook or like you already use LinkedIn to try and build up those connections makes total sense.

Amplifying the reach of existing content or messages. If you have a great piece of content or a really exciting message, something exciting you want to share and you’ve already put some content around that on your own site and now you’re trying to find other channels to amplify, well, you might want to think about treating Medium just like you would treat a post on Twitter or a post on Facebook or a post on LinkedIn. You could instead create a whole piece of content around that, sort of like you would with a guest post, and use it to amplify that reach.

I think guest post-style contribution, in general, is a great way to think about these networks. So you might imagine saying, “Hey, I’d love to contribute to YouMoz,” which is Moz’s own guest blogging platform. That could be wonderful, but you would never make that your home. You wouldn’t host all your content there. Likewise you might contribute to Forbes or Business Insider or to The Next Web or any of these sites. But you wouldn’t say that’s where all my content is going to be placed. It’s one chance to get in front of that audience.

Last one, I think it’s great to try and use these for SERP domination. So if you say, “Hey, I own one or two of the top listings of the first page of results in Google for this particular keyword, term, or phrase. I want to use Medium and LinkedIn, and I’m going to write two separate pieces targeting similar keywords or those same keywords and see if I can’t own 4 slots or 5 slots out of the top 10.” That’s a great use of these types of platforms, just like it is with guest posting.

Don’t try to use these for…

Don’t try to use these as your content’s primary or, God forbid, only home on the web. Like I said, uncertain future, inability to target, inability of using the funnel, just too many limitations for what I think modern marketers need to do.

I don’t think it is wise, either, to put content on there that’s what I’d call your money keywords, essentially stuff that is very close to the conversion funnel, where you know people are going to search for these things, and then when they find this content, they’re very likely to make their next step a sign-up, a conversion. I would urge you to keep that on your site, because you can’t own the experience. I think it’s much wiser if you say, “Hey, let’s look way up in the funnel when people are just getting associated with us, or when we’re trying to bring in press and PR, or we’re trying to bring in broad awareness.” I think those are better uses.

I think it’s also very unwise to make these types of platforms the home of your big content pieces, big content pieces meaning like unique research or giant visuals or interactive content. You probably won’t even be able to host interactive content at most of these.

If you have content that you know is very likely to drive known, high-quality links, you’ve already got your outreach list, you’re pretty sure that those people are going to link to you, please put that content on your own site because you’ll get the maximum ranking benefits in that fashion. Then you could potentially put another piece of content, repurpose a little bit of the information or whatever it is that you’ve put together that’s wonderful in terms of big content as another piece that you separately broadcast and amplify to these audiences.

What I’m really saying is treat these guys — Medium, Svbtle, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Google+ — treat them like these guys, like you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and guest hosts in general. It’s a place to put a little bit of content to reach a new audience. It’s a way to amplify a message you already have. It’s not the home of content. I think that’s really what I urge for modern marketers today.

All right, everyone. Look forward to the comments, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

 

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