I’ve been exploring a syndication model posting on my own sites and syndicating broadly. Cory Doctorow uses this model to control his work. His ad- and tracker-free blog publishes long, excellent essays. These articles are syndicated to online hangouts where people already spend time.
I love this approach. I’ve been using it for a while, publishing first on one of two websites, my own and Push ROI’s. My best articles are near the level of Doctorow’s average. Still, I take pride in my writing, and I try to create something worth reading.
Publishing Hither And Yon
I’ve published all over the net, some outlets paid me, some didn’t, and some operate primarily or entirely with content from unpaid contributors. I’ve had bad experiences with every single blog built on an unpaid contributor model. What’s more, I was working for free, screwing up the entire industry.
I’ve written about topics including police body cameras, user experience, marketing tips, how Google search works, and more. Those links are to articles on SiliconANGLE, VentureBeat, TechCrunch, and Push ROI (an ad agency’s site).
None of those links are strictly necessary in this article. However, on most unpaid contributor blogs, only the link to the Push ROI site would be removed by an editor. The above-linked articles do not substantially differ in editorial quality. In fact, I spent more time researching and fact-checking the Push ROI article than the other three.
It’s nice to work with a good, involved editor; at VentureBeat and SiliconANGLE I had that. At TechCrunch, I sent a finished manuscript, and editors changed fewer than ten words. At Push ROI, I had no editor but I asked three friends to review the article before publishing.
On most unpaid contributor blogs, I submit a finished article, and they mangle it. Often editors miss or even add typos, and sometimes incorrect information gets added. Most of the time, any links to perceived commercial websites are cut, regardless of value. These articles would be published without my review, as if submitting gave them carte blanche to publish a degenerate version of an article plagiarized from the original.
Linking Is Beautiful
Links are the internet’s native inline citations. Links offer attribution and context. Not every link is a necessary inline citation. Yet, the ability to link changes the way we write.
Offline referencing all but the most generally well-known necessitates a brief summary. Online, you can simply link. In a 2018 article for VentureBeat on expanding Twitter verification, I wrote, “Twitter paused verification after verifying the known piece of crap Jason Kessler.”
The editor added a link to an article about Kessler on the Southern Poverty Law Center. For print, I would have likely gotten a note to explain in a sentence why Kessler is a piece of crap. Many such edits can bloat an article quickly, distracting from a central point.
Linking provides necessary citation and contextualization. Removing or changing links can meaningfully change the content. I’m uncomfortable with unpaid work being meaningfully changed by editors with whom I’ve never exchanged so much as an email.
That’s why I stopped writing original content for those sorts of websites opting to syndicate full articles. The default state of articles for publications shouldn’t be free with exposure.
Syndication And Distribution
To avoid issues with editing, I syndicate my writing and don’t really guest post anymore. I don’t post everything everywhere, I’ll pick a few places based on appropriateness. Substack, LinkedIn, and TealFeed have served well as places that garner a few extra views, and leave me with full control over the content. On these sites I have an audience or they bring one.
I’ve had to stop using Medium because, at least for me, I get little to no traffic on the site. But the site is so large with so many automated pages creating internal links that it competes, often beating pages with the same content in Google search results.
The above screenshot showing 35 lifetime views for an article published to Medium only got 17 from Medium the rest were external. Between all other sites it was syndicated the post was viewed a few thousand times. Honestly, most of the external traffic to the Medium post seemed to come from people Googling for it.
I don’t care very much where people read my articles, as long as they do read them. But Medium appears to be cannibalizing traffic from the other sites. At best Medium added 35 views, at worst it added 17 and those other 18 would have found the content on another site.
Where Syndication Fails
Writing takes time, and if people are doing it for free some will try to get paid somehow. So every contributor blog is flooded with submissions of unreadable articles, containing self promotion, and often links someone else paid to have placed. Leaving editors without trust of contributors.
The volume of contributions and the lack of trust means editors end up being less editors and more babysitters. Even a great editor would struggle under that situation, and if you talk to long time columnist and journalists most consider only a handful of their editors truly great.
I used to syndicate appropriate content to Hackernoon. I’ve long had a soft spot for that blog. Push ROI even offered to (and to a limited extent provided) SEO and audience development consulting when the site first moved off Medium.
Over the years, as the site has changed, with more contributors and editors, I’ve run into the issues plaguing all editorial sites filled with contributor content. I won’t go over all of the issues, but I’ve deleted syndicated articles because an editor unknown to me changed the meaning.
Changing the word “increase” to the word “decreasing” will impact the meaning of a sentence.
— Mason Pelt (@masonpelt) March 5, 2022
I had a post rejected for syndication because of the site it came from. That was changed and called an “error” when I sent a note to the editor that six of my last seven published Hackernoon stories were syndicated from Push ROI’s site.
Most recently I deleted a syndicated story immediately after publication, because and editor substantially changed it. The edits, of the syndicated article first published here, included a multiple paragraph change to the lede, and removing a link to an article I wrote on Push ROI’s site that I felt was necessary for context, and a link to Nieman Lab.
Presumably the link removal was that the editor believed these were commercial pages. That I think it likely an editor believed The Nieman Journalism Lab, by The Nieman Foundation for Journalism, is a commercial page so spammy it required removal was the last straw for me. So I’m dropping Hackernoon from my syndication list.
What’s In A Number
On my fairly new Substack without an imported email list, a post I wrote about Andrew Tate passed 5,000 views. If we trust Twitter’s analytics, I generated over 8 million impressions in January of 2023. But I made no money from it.
Views are just a number. I know, I said I syndicate to reach more people, and that I cut Medium for not driving traffic, but the big traffic number makes no real difference in my life. Very few things I’ve written have generated a lot of qualified leads for Push ROI or inquiries for paid writing gigs.
If an outlet wants editorial input before an article is written, they will have to pay for it. If an outlet wants to syndicate a post, they will have to actually syndicate it not rewrite it. If the outlet expects most of the traffic to the syndicated post to come when I promote it, they can pay Push ROI for audience development.
Article by Mason Pelt of Push ROI. First published in PushROI.com on February 9, 2023. Photo by Moritz Kindler on Unsplash