The battle: original vs aggregated content

As a brand moving into online publishing what strategy should you adopt?

Jonathan Wade is head of digital, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick
Jonathan Wade is head of digital, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick

When it comes to producing content for online publishing to capture audience attention and traffic, there are definitely two schools of thought.

On the one hand there is a viewpoint that by creating original content you will attract links to your site from interested parties, boosting your search rankings and driving increased traffic over time. Let’s call this the traditional media model.

An alternative viewpoint is that practiced by the content aggregators of this world, most famously by the Mail Online. This approach involves taking content produced elsewhere, tweaking it (or adding value to it, depending on where you stand on the ethics of this approach), and then republishing it under a different headline, with an appropriate credit to the originator. Let’s call this the new media model.

So, as a brand publisher moving online, do you adopt the traditional media model, the new media model, or a combination of both?

The benefits and ethics of the traditional media model are easy to understand and agree with. The benefit of the new media model is that although you’re linking out to the original article, for a given investment in editorial staff, you can produce and publish many more articles than the traditional media model allows. That in turn boosts traffic, because more content means more relevance to more searches and therefore more traffic (all other things being equal).

If that republished content is also topical, as a savvy aggregator’s audience grows and with a judicious use of social media channels, the chances of them snagging the traffic away from the original source increase yet further. So, economically the new media model wins.

But what of the ethics of this approach? Businesses built on the traditional media model complain bitterly that this practice undermines their economic viability and brings the profession of journalism into disrepute and it is hard to argue that that isn’t the case on the face of it.

At the same time, The Guardian in the UK, a very traditional media company, makes the point that traditional media businesses have been ripping each other off since the beginning of time.

And the question remains whether or not an aggregator approach will continue to yield results into the future. Search and social algorithms constantly try to filter out duplicate, non-original content for the supposed benefit of their users and yet, to date, the new media model continues to go from strength to strength as its practitioners evolve and refine their tactics to stay one step ahead of the search engines. Google’s Panda update history and Facebook’s recent click-bait removal change are symptomatic of the new media model arms race.

So, in conclusion and to answer the dilemma I posed earlier, my recommendation to clients is to do both. A successful online publishing strategy is going to combine original content creation with an editorial process of curating and value-adding to topically relevant content published elsewhere (properly attributed), both methods requiring a strong social media content syndication process to capture as much traffic as possible.

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