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Against my advice, we've started buying blog content from a syndicator. The content is not unique, and searching for quoted phrases shows this content in use on a few dozen other blogs. My initial hope was that I'd be able to edit this material enough to make it unique before posting it, but there's too much of it and I just don't have the time. Realistically, the choice is between running the posts as they are, with very few edits, or not using the material at all. So, two questions:

  1. Will using this content help us? It's unquestionably high-quality material that's informative, useful, and relevant to our line of business and prospective clients. We already have very good SEO, so it's hard for me to judge how helpful the syndicated posts are in bringing people to the site through a wider range of search queries. Obviously I wouldn't want to see our site show up in a list of results showing identical content (not to mention the dreaded "we have omitted some entries very similar..."), but that's hard to gauge too.

  2. Will using this content hurt us? The last thing I want is for Google's algorithm to perceive us as a content farm or a low-quality site. We run original posts as well as the syndicated ones, and I do still try to do some editing on the syndicated posts when I have time. I've put a lot of work into ethical, white-hat SEO over the past couple of years, and as a result we're consistently among the most highly-ranked sites in our local area for our (very competitive) line of business. I'd do anything to avoid incurring a Panda penalty that undoes all that hard work.

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It will hurt you because Google does not want to see the same content over and over again especially in their search results. Duplicated content is considered low quality content. The "Panda Algorithm" will definitely filter those pages out either immediately or in the near future as they continue to refine it so you will not get any visitors from Google from those pages. Additionally, if enough of your website's content is duplicated from other websites you may find your entire website being flagged as low quality and then all of your pages will suffer for it. If you're going to use that content, block it from Google using robots.txt. That way your users will still find it and hopefully appreciate the information but it won't hurt your website in Google's search results.

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It's too generic to say that syndicated content alone will hurt your search engine placement. For example, consider that almost all news sites use some syndicated news stories from AP, Reuters and other wire services. Another example are sites that publish lyrics and guitar tabs, all duplicate to some degree but many sites will rank for searches for specific song/lyrics. Joke sites, dictionary sites, classic book sites and many other reference sites still rank quite well for content that's duplicated across many sites.

Without knowing more about your site and the related business it's hard to say what the best choice is for you. My own preference is to use original content whenever possible for a brand name site that represents a business, especially one with an off-line component like a dentist or auto repair shop. Having a personal touch, even if you have less content, is better than a lot of generic content, even if it's relatively high quality. Unique, personal, content will help insure better placement for long tail searches, often a higher click-thru from search rate and improve user interaction with the site.

Another approach you might want to consider, if you think that the content is really valuable to your visitors, is placing the syndicated content into it's own subdomain like reference.yourdomain.com. In theory, this is supposed to 'insulate' against the Panda penalties.

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