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The Public Domain Goldmine - A Content Solution


An article discussing four common sources of content, recent and future changes to the search engines' ranking algorithms, and how the public domain is an intelligent source of unique and authoritative content.

The search engines are much smarter in 2010, and know how to recognize valuable content. Likewise, many webmasters have ‘wised-up’ and are being forced to lift their game and publish truly useful and worthwhile content that will create long term traffic solutions for their websites. Gone are the days when webmasters were able to trick the search engines into giving them high rankings by using techniques such as Blogging and Pinging, page generation software, or Cloaking / Smart pages to drive traffic. Yes, some of these techniques may still work for limited periods of time, but they are short-lived.


Hence, in recent years, we have seen a boom in so called ‘private label’ article and content membership sites, a growth spurt in article directories, and in many webmasters turning to freelancing websites and hiring ghost-writers to write unique content for them.

But one has to question how viable and long-term some of these content solutions will be moving forward. The search engines are getting smarter each year. They are discounting duplicate content, and most SEO experts agree that Google is factoring in LSI or Latent Semantic Indexing into their ranking algorithms. In a nutshell, LSI is used to determine the likelihood of common words and phrases appearing together for a particular topic.

For example, content on ‘dogs’ would likely contain related keywords such as ‘puppies’, ‘breeds’, ‘pets’, ‘canine’ and so on. By analyzing the verbiage used in content, Google can not only determine the theme of a website, but more importantly can try to ascertain the authority of, or expertise within the content.

As is widely known, Google have an ongoing project to digitize the world's books in order to make them easier for people to find and buy. They have forged agreements with major universities to access and digitize their libraries. One theory is that Google is using artificial intelligence to analyze all of this content and feed it back into their LSI algorithm to help it to determine what is authoritative expert content versus what is simply keyword focused and less authoritative content.

Now that I have covered a brief overview of what is happening with search engine intelligence, let’s take a look at the content solutions that many webmasters are using to populate their pages, and let’s examine these solutions in light of the search engine changes which have and are occurring to determine the pros and cons of each solution.


A) Content Solution 1 – Third Party Articles

This is easiest content to source. Here a webmaster simply goes to any one of the many article directories such as ezinearticles.com, goarticles.com, or articlecity.com, performs a keyword search on their chosen topic, and voila – chances are that there are some articles there on the topic you are looking for which you can simply grab and add to your own pages providing you retain the resource box at the bottom of the article, which includes a link back to the original author’s website.

The problem with this solution is that, although it is the quickest, the chances are that others have already gotten in before you and have also made use of that article on their websites. The search engines will pick up the fact that the content on your pages is not original nor unique, and they will downgrade the rankings for your pages as a consequence, hence making it tougher for you to get visitors to your pages through organic search results in Google and Yahoo / MSN Bing.


B) Content Solution 2 – Private Label Content

There are a plethora of so called ‘private label’ membership and article sites out there, with new ones popping up every month. This is also a quick and relatively cheap solution for content.

The problem is that you really need to modify your content to make it unique, otherwise you will face the same duplicate content penalty as you would by using third party articles. Making your articles unique can take a bit of time, but it is still quicker than researching and writing your content from scratch.

You face one other potential problem though, and that is a problem of quality. Much private label content has been outsourced to ghost-writers who are paid on a per article or number of words basis. The industry is highly competitive, hence there are price pressures for these freelancers to keep their prices low in order for them to be awarded the job. On low, competitive rates, these writers cannot afford to spend oodles of time researching the subject matter. And they may be writing on a subject that they have little or no knowledge about!

The speed with which they need to research, write and deliver their content impacts on quality, and although a certain article may read Ok (although many don't), an expert on that topic may well chuckle at the amateur conclusions drawn and recognize that it has not been written by someone with an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.

“What do I care?” you might think – most of my visitors probably aren't experts and it’s probably still good enough for the search engines. My answer is, in 2010 to some degree with some search engines, maybe, yes. But what about later in 2011, or 2012... once Yahoo / MSN Bing have perfected their LSI algorithm? How long-term do you want your content strategy, and your flow of traffic, to last?


C) Content Solution 3 – Outsource/Hire A Ghost-Writer

Here you have more control than with private label articles. You can try to find a freelance writer with pre-existing knowledge of the subject matter that you want your articles or ebook written on. You can also put some effort into finding a writer who is really good at their job.

There are still some pitfalls and disadvantages though:


  1. You need to trust, or otherwise verify with a duplicate content checker, that they have indeed authored the content that they are giving you and not just copied it from the public domain, or from private label content, or a third party source, and made a few modifications;

  2. You need to trust that they won’t redistribute the content they wrote for you to another client, even with some modifications;

  3. Managing your ghost-writer can take time;

  4. Finding a good freelance writer can take some time, and you may have to go through a few rotten apples before you can locate one that you are happy to work with on an ongoing basis;

  5. This is the most expensive option of the three content solutions looked at so far!



Ok, so what about Option D… sourcing content from the public domain?


D) Content Solution 4 – The Public Domain Goldmine


Public Domain Magazine SecretsThe public domain refers to creative works that are not, or are no longer, subject to United States copyright law. Such works are not limited to books, but can include any creative work such as movies, plays, music, sketches, courses, reports, posters, photographs, drawings, and most importantly for web-content purposes... magazine articles that are in the public domain.


Under United States copyright law, all works published prior to 1923 fall into the public domain, and a large percentage of works published up until 1963 also fall into the public domain, this where the initial copyright has not been renewed. Further, many US government publications are also in the public domain by default.


What advantages does the public domain content solution hold?


  1. Public domain information is freely available for you to use and republish. You can freely modify it. You can put your name to it as the author, whether you have modified it or not;

  2. Most public domain books and magazine articles have been written by experts on the subject matter they have written about. This ensures authoritative and high quality content, which will likely meet the ‘expert verbiage’ test of the search engines’ LSI algorithms both now and into the future;

  3. Limitless Blog ContentBy searching on eBay for an old book or magazine on your chosen topic, and having it scanned into a digital format, your chances or running into a duplicate content issue with somebody else who has digitized and republished the exact same book or public domain magazine article is very slim to say the least. You can almost be assured of unique content;

  4. You can either take that digitized content and republish it as entire book or ebook, thereby creating your own expert product minus all the research and writing, or you can split the book up into articles for content pages for your site. If you're dealing with public domain magazine articles, each article can be a new page on your website, or you can publish the article to third party websites like Squiddo, HubPages or Scribd. Or you can use public domain magazine articles for what Tony Laidig has coined Limitless Blog Content!



What disadvantages does the public domain content solution hold?


Whilst public domain content is itself free, you still have to go and find books or magazines on your chosen subject matter.


  1. Once you have found them, and unless they are published before 1923, you will have to perform some copyright research to ensure that they are indeed in the public domain;

  2. The best public domain works you will find will be the ones published from the 1940’s through to 1963. This because the language is largely contemporary. Pre-1923 books were written in an archaic form of English, and will require editing and re-writing for today’s readers. So you are faced with either performing the copyright research on a more modern book or public domain magazine articles, or re-wording the verbiage of a pre-1923 work;

  3. Once your copyright research has given you the all clear, you then need to scan the book in order to convert it into a digital format.


Public Domain ExpertThese three steps can be quite time consuming, and are an impediment to finding and using public domain content. However, there are software tools to fast-track this process. One such tool is Tony Laidig's Public Domain Expert Toolbar which greatly facilitates public domain research, not only for finding public domain books and magazines (as well as films, music, artwork, etc..), but also for researching the legal aspects of re-using public domain content. It comes with forty search strategies across twenty five different databases to give you fast access to materials on any given subject matter by linking you to a plethora of different on-topic public domain content and research websites.

The public domain is my primary choice of content for my content sites. With the exception of public domain magazine articles, I often do edit the content that I use, but this is much quicker than researching and writing my articles from scratch. Public Domain content is almost always professional, authoritative, in depth and written by an expert on his/her subject matter, and therefore satisfies Google’s LSI criteria. If you are sourcing your public domain content from a hardcopy format (ie. scanning a public domain book or magazine article), then it is also almost always unique content on the Internet.





So in summary, this article has addressed four common sources of content for articles on web pages or for ebooks, namely:


  1. Using third party articles;
  2. Using private label content;
  3. Hiring a ghost-writer;
  4. Or republishing Public Domain content.


I have briefly covered the quality changes afoot with the search engines, and highlighted the fact that to rank well in the long term, your content pages need to be unique, your articles need to be authoritative and provide value to your readers, they need to satisfy the search engines’ internal latent semantic guidelines, and therefore your content needs to contain the verbiage that only an expert writing on a given subject can really have.

I have melded these requirements and concluded that tapping into the goldmine of content available in the public domain is an intelligent, low cost and viable source of unique and authoritative content for a large range of topics (obviously, you are not going to find anything on contemporary subjects such as Plasma TV’s!).

Finally, I have linked to a number of resources that will facilitate and fast-track the process of finding public domain content for any given niche, and for looking up copyright information.

Here’s to your success in also making use of the goldmine of works that exist in the public domain as a solution to your content needs. smile



Rebekah Schelling




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