Splogging and search

I’ve been experimenting with the WordPress plugin WP-o-Matic on another blog of late. In combination with the SimplePie plugin, it allows you to automatically post to blogs using RSS feeds. 

The plugin allows you to create campaigns, into which you can place multiple RSS feeds – or just a single one if you prefer. For each campaign, you allocate a category, and the plug-in will post items from the feed as individual blog posts categorised accordingly. 

You can control how often each campaign checks the feed for new items, although I’ve had some teething problems getting this to work exactly as I would like. Ideally, you would want to organise this so that it published stories on a drip-feed basis pretty close to their publication dates, so you want to set the check time at about the same frequency as new items are published.

Incidentally, I’ve also had some difficulty getting the campaigns to refresh. I think it is something to do with being a bit new to cron jobs. More on that later.

So, why would you want to republish someone else’s RSS feeds as if they were your own blog posts? Isn’t this (a) a rather unethical theft of content and (b) unlikely to do you any good for search optimisation, as it will all be duplicate content?

I’ll leave the ethical questions for another time – for now, let’s just remember that the second S in RSS stands for “syndication”.

So, what possible benefits, including SEO benefits, could flow from republishing this material? The idea of each item in an RSS feed being reproduced as a new, individual post is definitely just dupe content spam, right?

Not really. There are all kinds of possible legitimate uses for this. For example, you might want to do some judicious selection of RSS feeds, perhaps filtered automatically as well, and combine them so that your particular blog carried every story that you thought was going to be of interest to your audience. Provided that the posts have links to the original story, your users could be reading the truncated RSS summary in your blog and then deciding whether to go to the full post.

Another possibility is that you effectively own the RSS feed – for example, it could be something like your del.icio.us feed, which you wanted to turn into a linkblog without doing any more work, but creating a post for each one.

However, from an SEO point of view there are some further uses.

First, although the posts themselves will not be unique, the permutation of them may well be, so that your main page – and in particular your category pages – can contain themed content in a combination that is not to be found elsewhere on the web. If reasonably well-linked, these pages could have a chance of ranking for those terms.

Second, there is a very nice feature in the plug-in that allows you to process the feeds as they come in using a search and replace function.

This is separated into two functions for ease of use: the first is a simple word-swap. The example that the author gives is that you could have the plugin search for “ass” and replace it with “butt”. Incidentally, this kind of auto-bowdlerisation is a risky business – witness the embarrassment of the right-wing Christian site that decided that “gay” was too euphemistic (and happy-sounding) for them, and then ended up publishing a number of stories about the Olypmic sprinter “Tyson Homosexual”.

The second element enables you to automatically place links behind certain specified words/phrases. This is obviously pretty powerful for building lots of links with the right anchor text, quite quickly.

I’m not sure whether the two would work together – I will give it a go – but on the assumption that they do, it would be possible to pick a news feed filtered on say, Barack Obama, and republish all of those stories with the words “digital cameras” automatically replacing “Barack Obama”, and linking to your digital cameras site. You might even avoid some of the duplicate-spotting in this way…

Warning: very much of any of this kind of stuff is pretty likely to get your site banned by Google.

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