To totally misquote Barbie, “Writing original content is hard!” Well, if it was easy, anybody could rank, right? When you need to create something new on a daily basis for your blog, it’s tempting to find a great piece of work and just copy it. That’s illegal – but there is a legal way to do it.
Before I explain the right way to republish someone else’s work, let me give a tip of the hat to Mike Moran for explaining all the issues around it. I’m going to start with the biggest one: by law, you need to get permission from the copyright holder before you can republish something. That’s usually the author of the work. And yes, you need to get that permission even if you’re publishing it on the Internet – and even if you include the person’s name, copyright notice, and link back to them. I’m serious; contact them first and get that “yes.” If they say “no,” DON’T republish it. If they say “yes, but here are my conditions,” don’t republish without fulfilling those conditions.
If that sounds like a lot of effort, guess what? The copyright holder went through a lot of effort to create that article in the first place, and you’re going through a lot LESS effort to get it. You know you’re going through a lot less effort, because if you weren’t, you’d simply write something original yourself and put THAT up on your site, now wouldn’t you?
Besides, do you know what happens when you republish something? You’re competing in the search engines with the original item. Most web surfers find content online by searching for it. The search engines can tell the original from the republished item by checking a number of “hints;” judging by our SEO Chat forum comments over the years, they’re not perfect, but they’ve been getting better at it. Now these search engines assume that searchers want to see the original item, so they’ll rank that higher than republished items. So all that new traffic you may have been hoping to attract with an awesome piece of content you’re republishing? Yeah, that will end up at the site with the original item, not at yours with the republication.
So if you’re going to republish something, make sure it’ll be of benefit to your regular readers, who will certainly see it. This point brings up a side issue, though: your regular readers may be used to a certain “voice” from your blog. Part of the point of writing a blog in the first place is to establish not just your expertise, but yourself as a personality with which your audience wants to engage. It’s another form of branding, in a sense. And if you’re republishing someone else’s work, well, they don’t have your voice or your personality. So the content may be useful, but in at least in this one sense, republishing it is counterproductive.
But let us assume at this point that you’re not completely dissuaded from capturing some of the advantages of republishing. You’re completely out of ideas (which need never happen with an editorial calendar, by the way); you asked the copyright holder for permission to republish and they laughed in your face (which is just as well, since their writing style clashes with yours); and you know your readers want more on this topic. So what can you do?
Fortunately, there’s another form of “republishing” that isn’t really republishing at all. It’s legal, you don’t need permission from the author of the original item, and nearly every blogger does it. I’m doing it right now, in fact. You take the original article and write a few paragraphs about it, building up your own opinion on the topic – adding your own spin in your own voice to the issue. Courtesy demands that you link to the original, and that you have something substantial today. Granted, in some sense it’s not totally original content, but at least you’re not starting the piece by staring at a blank page with an exhausted and equally blank brain.
Moran notes that if you only write two or three paragraphs from your own perspective on someone else’s original work, you provide fodder for the search engines while satisfying your regular readership. “And if you can write five or ten paragraphs with a well-thought-out opinion,” he continues, “agreeing or disagreeing with the original, or adding and expanding on points in the original, you have likely created a nice article both for your readers and for search engines, without the heavy lifting of having to think up an idea on your own.” On top of this, if the site containing the original content supports trackbacks, a link to your article will show up in its comment section. You could get traffic from the original item to yours, then – which you wouldn’t get if you simply republished the original item!
So, to recap: writing original content is hard work, but the benefits are worth it. If you’ve temporarily run out of ideas for writing something original, you can consider republishing someone else’s work, if you do it right – but there are disadvantages. The more original you can make your work – the more work, and the more of yourself, you put into it – the more benefits you’ll get. I’ll leave Moran with the last word here: “In blogging, there is no substitute for originality.”