Using rel="canonical" Tag on Medium for SEO-friendly Cross-posts
Jan 29, 2016 • Take advantage of Medium’s little known publishing API feature that lets you set a canonical link tag and avoid duplicate content.
While Medium is a fantastic platform for readers, the jury is still out on whether it’s good for writers and publishers — especially as it relates to SEO and marketing. This topic has been covered at length (both long and short) by the Wizard of Moz, Rand Fishkin, and he makes some important points. The most important things to consider when thinking about cross-posting to Medium are:
Don’t underestimate the value of building brand affinity through content on your own website
You lose the possibility of retargeting ads, capturing emails, or building custom calls-to-action on syndication platforms
You can’t get any SEO value from the links to Medium posts
… Or can you?
For a while, I was under the impression that you can’t use rel="canonical" tags on Medium. It turns out that you can, albeit through a somewhat indirect mechanism. (Don’t know what a rel="canonical" tag is? Check out Yoast’s great post.)
I recently came across this post by Saul Carlin of Medium, in which he describes the process of automatically syndicating content from your blog via IFTTT and RSS. At the very bottom of the post are two sentences that mention how to configure the canonical URL for your syndicated posts.
I had never heard of a way to set a canonical URL on Medium posts, so this naturally piqued my interest. After testing out the process (Blog → RSS → IFTTT → Medium), I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The post you’re reading right now was originally posted on my blog and syndicated to Medium via IFTTT. If you’ll look at the source code of this post on Medium, you’ll see a canonical link tag pointing to my personal domain.
I did have some hangups getting Medium to accept my content into its system. If you really want to automate this process, you have to be careful to use only HTML or Markdown that is acceptable according to Medium’s API spec. However, the other way around this is to just have IFTTT send your post to the drafts folder in your Medium account. After the post gets sent to your drafts folder, you can edit it in any way you like and format it specifically for Medium’s platform. Just make sure that your canonical URL can be properly read from your RSS feed (usually from the <link> tag). While you can edit the text and images of your post, you can’t edit the canonical URL once it’s read in by IFTTT.
Cross-Posting Syndication and SEO Can Work Together
So what’s the takeaway from this? If you’re building a brand and are considering cross-posting your content on Medium, make sure you do your research and consider all the pros and cons of this strategy. On the other hand, if you’re a lone blogger who wants to take advantage of Medium’s great audience and discovery engine but don’t want to sacrifice the SEO benefits of posting on your own domain — fear no longer!
While a rel=”canonical” tag likely doesn’t pass all the link equity from the syndicated page, it will help you retain a large chunk of the value of your content on its original domain. For people whose primary goal is to grow their potential audience (potentially at a small SEO cost), the canonical link solution is exactly what you need.
Alex Miller is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.
His research focuses on e-commerce, digital experimentation, and algorithmic decision making.
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