Content Aggregation: Strategic or Smarmy?

Posted by Amy Hatfield on June 4, 2014 in Business & Marketing Practices
Aggregation marketing small business With online aggregators snatching content like crazy, it seems our websites are leaky. Should we plug the hole?
If your company produces engaging online content, other websites will likely aggregate it. Inside, we consider questions about aggregation. Some, even the likes of media mavin Rubert Murdoch, have called those who aggregate "parasites" and "content kleptomaniacs." Others suggest that aggregating content is a legit practice in the age of new media. There's also data that suggests the content originator wins and the content aggregator wins bigger.

If you have decent content on your website, have you noticed it tends to leak out and end up on other sites? It's happening on this website, most notably when "The Huffington Post" — one of the most successful and well-known curators of online information — grabbed a blog excerpt.  

ATA CEO/President Jay McAninch wrote about Congressman Paul Ryan in June 2012, two months before the lawmaker became the vice presidential candidate for Mitt Romney. When Romney announced Ryan’s selection, journalists scoured the Web for relevant information that could describe Ryan to the country, beyond calling him a talking Washington suit who hails from Wisconsin. Who is Paul Ryan and what’s his story? McAninch shed light on those questions by posting thoughts on how Ryan wore the bowhunter label with pride and authenticity.    

Many wouldn’t call this type of journalism, “journalism.” You might recognize it as “aggregation” or “curation.” Others call it piracy or theft. Those who aggregate the news have become, in the words of "The Wall Street Journal" owner Rupert Murdoch and his team, “parasites” and “content kleptomaniacs.”

Huffington’s founder, Arianna Huffington, fired back in a speech at a journalism conference sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission, which was posted on the site in 2009:

“In his speech this morning, Rupert Murdoch confused aggregation with wholesale misappropriation. Wholesale misappropriation is against the law – and he has legal redress against that already. Aggregation, on the other hand, within the fair use exceptions to copyright law, is part of the Web’s DNA. Period. At HuffPost, aggregation goes along with a tremendous amount of original content, including original reporting and over 250 original blog posts a day. And we love it when someone links to one of our posts, or excerpts a small amount and links back to us.”

The truth is, I’m flattered the Huffington Post wanted anything of ours, and hope they will be just as flattered that the ATA just aggregated something of theirs. Aggregation suggests “the stuff you’re putting out there counts and has value.” But aggregation is also a lightning rod. When an upstart website takes your stuff, it doesn’t feel as flattering. The knee-jerk reaction is, “Hey you little punk, come up with your own stuff.”    

But aggregation isn’t about feelings.

It’s about business, and business comes down to numbers. Columbia University looked at the numbers as they relate to aggregation and came up with some interesting stuff that suggests this: In aggregation, the originator wins and the aggregator wins bigger.    

The abstract examined an original blog post at "New York Magazine’s" online platform, nymag.com, which was aggregated by "The Huffington Post." The original blog post drew nearly 53,000 readers, of which 17,500 came from Huffington’s aggregated piece of the original content. (Important note: Legit aggregation never curates the original piece in its entirety, and always links back to the original.) All told, 75 percent of the traffic came from other sites, including Huffington.    

The original post also drew more than 130 reader comments, which is far higher than what "New York Magazine’s" typical blog posts get. Meanwhile, at HuffingtonPost.com, the aggregated blog drew more than 2,000 reader comments. Granted, comment posts aren’t a perfect proxy for traffic, but it appears "The Huffington Post" won without taking the “win” from nymag.com.    

As for the ATA and McAninch’s blog post on Paul Ryan, its aggregation pulled new visitors into archerytrade.org and landed HuffingtonPost.com among the top 10 sites for referring users to archerytrade.org during that time period. Other referral sites were search engines such as Google, the ATA’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and industry-related archery and bowhunting sites.    

All told, one can make a legit argument that content originators reap value if and when other sites aggregate their content. Many marketers perpetuate aggregation by creating content that’s easily shared and lends itself to excerpts. If you’re among those who see value in the leaky nature of online content, the next step is making sure more engaging content complements the item that’s picked up and shared. That ensures new visitors stick around and learn more about your brand.