Self-hosting and cross-posting

How to increase search engine ranking while maintaining ownership of your content and reaching the maximum amount of viewers

Ownership vs Reach

When it comes to producing content for a personal blog or website there's often a debate between ownership and reach. I'm wagering most people don't have an established online platform that gets thousands or millions of page views and would like to gain better search engine ranking. This often forces content creators to choose between self-hosting and owning their content or publishing on an established platform like Medium or dev.to to gain more readers at the cost of ownership.

Cross-posting to the rescue

There's a concept called cross-posting where you publish content on your website and other domains. At first, you might be tempted to simply copy the contents of an article and create a duplicate post on another platform. However, this will not do you any favors when it comes to search engine ranking. To post "duplicate" content, you need to utilize a canonical link.

Canonical links

Cross-posting can be valuable but only if you're able to associate a canonical link with the duplicate posts. A canonical link allows search engines to

prevent duplicate content issues in search engine optimization by specifying the "canonical" or "preferred" version of a web page.

This tells search engines during indexing that your article may contain duplicate content but the original authoritative source can be found at the canonical link URL. This is generally your website when cross-posting on a website like Medium.

The dangers of duplicate content

Without a canonical link, search engines are forced to decide as to which article is the single source of truth and ultimate authority. Given that content on platforms like Medium are vast and highly ranked, posting duplicate content there without a canonical link will likely cannibalize your websites search engine ranking. This could result in down-ranking your website, duplicate articles or worse your website might be removed entirely from the Google index, in which case it will no longer appear in search results.

Own and share your content

Fortunately, you can own your content and cross-post for maximum reach by utilizing canonical links. By posting on your site first, you'll have a URL to point back to the original content through a canonical link.

Medium canonical links

Medium supports canonical links but only through their import tool. To use it you'll need to provide the original article URL to the import tool. It will then parse the content into a draft post. You can verify this worked by inspecting the HTML source code, finding the <head> tag and searching for a rel="canonical" <link>. You can test that out here with this Medium article that points back to the original on my website. It will look something like this.

<head>
  <link
    rel="canonical"    href="https://kevinschuchard.com/blog/2018-11-20-schematic-sandbox/"
    data-rh="true"
  />
</head>

When Medium's import tool can parse your content, you're all set. Unfortunately, I've found the import tool to be hit or miss. If Medium can't parse the content of your website there's no other way to manually add a canonical link on Medium.

dev.to canonical links

dev.to is another popular platform, similar to Medium, that allows you to post and share articles. However, you can set the canonical link URL manually for an article to whatever you like. Thank you dev.to.

Wrap up

I think there are many benefits to hosting your content and there's no reason you shouldn't try to reach audiences on different platforms. If you can leverage canonical links, they'll allow you to own your content and reap the search engine ranking rewards. If you're unable to do that, I'd suggest posting less content on the other sites with a link that points back to the original article. That way your original article will hopefully be seen as the authority with more indexable content than the smaller duplicate posts.

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