Lijit is a popular and well-respected search application for bloggers. Many sites, including this one, use it because it not only drastically improves upon the default WordPress search, but also because it allows searchers to pull content from sites within the blogger’s network, including social network sites and other blogs.
However, a new service of Lijit has been causing some controversy. It’s new content networks service has already been accused of being similar to scraper and spam blogs.
So I decided to take a look and see for myself. However, what I found very worrisome and gave me a great deal of reason to caution bloggers to pause and think before they made the jump to join or create a network on Lijit.
The Big Idea
The idea behind the content networks service is one that should be familiar to bloggers and Webmasters. In these networks, a group of bloggers in a similar subject come together and pool their content into a single site (or as Lijit calls it, “publication”) and, in exchange, content providers get their sites linked in the blogroll of the hub site and have the articles linked back to their source.
In short, content networks are not “networks” so much as “aggregators”. These sites act as a hub for all of the content on the member blogs, in some cases republishing the full content from the RSS feeds.
The theory is that, if member sites link to this hub, visitors will explore the network site, find new content to follow and this will increase readership for all of the blogs involved. It is very similar, in that regard, to other networks and traffic-generating schemes that have been tried over the years, usually without success.
However, the question remains, is this service a spam blog and should bloggers consider signing up?
The Spam Question
Determining whether or not these content networks push the boundaries of spam blogs or scraper blogs is pretty difficult as the definition itself itself is hard to nail down. What we can do is look at how the sites operate, the good and the bad, and make a determination. For this purpose, we will be looking at the network blog for their new Security Blog Network.
The first thing that most will notice is that the network site is scraping the whole content of the RSS feeds, including any footers, such as Feed Flares, that are added. Though other network sites, such as the Cycling Bloggers Network, use truncated feeds it is clear that the service is both capable of and often does use the full content.
The good news is that, once you look past the full content reuse, it is clear that the site does follow many of the content reuse best practices. On the site in question, clicking the headline of any given story will take you to the original story and the “Comments” link also goes to the original page as well. I was unable to find a “permalink” that did not reference back to the original source. Furthermore, all of the links to the original content are “dofollow” links, ensuring that the search engines will pick up the original sites.
On the flip side, images are hotlinked from the original source and the entire site can, and is, easily indexed by the search engines. Currently, the robots.txt file does not ban any search engines from any on the site (though only tag pages seem to be indexed right now as the permalinks point to the original content).
Though it is clear that these network sites could do more to minimize the negative impact they could have on the bloggers that join them, it is also clear that they are not trying to outright rip off the content of hapless Webmasters who sign up.
The end result is that, while I don’t think Lijit is doing something that is outright spammy, I also can’t advise anyone to consider joining one of these networks. Between duplicate content issues, network imbalance and oversaturation of content, it seems likely that many will find more drawbacks than benefits.
I recognize that many will disagree with me when I say that Lijit’s content networks aren’t outright spam. As the Mashable article pointed out, the appearance, presence of unwanted RSS content (such as Feed Flares) and bold advertising blocks seem to further that notion.
Indeed, if I found that one of these sites were scraping my content I would likely assume it was a spam blog and react accordingly. These sites look like spam blogs, scrape content like a spam blogs and will likely rank better than most spam blogs due to the large number of legitimate sites linking to them.
To some, they might not be spam, they are something worse.
However, it is important to remember that these networks are purely opt-in. Sites have to register and agree to let their content be used in this manner. If a blogger doesn’t want their material to appear on one of these sites, all they have to do is not register.
If bloggers want to allow their content to be used by a site that shares many features with a spam blog and provides what would seem to be little hope of an equitable return, this becoming more true the larger the original blog grows, then it is not my place to say no.
Though I would feel better if Lijit would add extra protections to ensure that search engines are not confused, such as mandating partial feeds or blocking the search engines from indexing the site, the end decision is the blogger’s.
Personally, I find that these sites border a little too closely to spam blog behavior for me to seriously consider joining. Unlike other content networks, such as BlogBurst, which add editorial value and a human element to the reuse, Lijit’s service is more about straight scraping and republishing.
However, the service, at this time, doesn’t sour me enough on the Lijit name and product to drop their search tool. I don’t think that Lijit is “evil” or “bad”, but that their new service, while well-intended, has some potentially ugly side effects.