I recently stumbled upon a local agency’s blog while conducting some online research. The blog appeared to offer some interesting reads on digital marketing topics, much like we hope to do here on our smart panda blog. About halfway through reading the first post, however, I was hit with déjà vu. Hadn’t I seen this content before?
When it happened again on another post, I decided to follow my hunch and copied and pasted a large chunk of copy into the Google search bar. Lo and behold, I was taken to a post I had previously read on a well-known and highly respected marketing software site. The agency had ripped their post verbatim, with no links or attribution, acting as if the content was their own. It was blatant, textbook plagiarism. And unfortunately, it’s happening all over the Internet. While great content is hard to come by, it’s also easy to steal.
why is content so coveted?
You’ve probably heard the phrase “content is king.” Content—be it video, articles, blogs or other social media— is what users are searching for, and it plays a couple different important roles.
First, high-quality content helps to establish you/your business as an authority. It engages your users and establishes trust. If you have great content, users will keep coming back for it. And they will likely choose your product or service over a business that has less to show for themselves.
Secondly, content is possibly the most important factor in search engine optimization. The more content your site has related to a user’s search, the better your search engine ranking. If you have more quality content than your competitors for a given keyword or phrase, Google will send you more of the traffic. In fact, gone are the days when you could improve your rank by just shoving as many keywords onto a page or into meta tags as possible. Google now seeks to reward three particular aspects of content:
- Quality: Well written copy or well-produced videos that show professionalism and assert authority.
- Relevance: Content that is related to the user’s search.
- Uniqueness: Original content. This does not mean addressing a topic no one else has ever written about online (basically impossible). It means information should be approached in the context of your business. It should reflect the expertise you can provide to your customers. And it means the writing should be new—not pinched.
Unfortunately, people tend to forget this third leg of the stool. Also unfortunate, the web makes copyright infringement incredibly easy—if you can copy and you can paste, you can infringe.
However, the web also makes it easy to know when you’ve been robbed. You can, as I did, simply paste multiple lines of copy into your search bar (use quotes around the text if you’re looking for an exact match) to see where else that language occurs online. Or, you can use a free tool like copyscape.com, which searches the web for sites that have blatantly ripped yours off. Just enter your domain and you’ll see a results list of sites with matching content. If those sites do nothing to credit you with the content, they have essentially broken the law.
why do people think it’s ok to steal content?
Content plagiarism has become far too common—copywriters everywhere bemoan the poaching and pilfering of their work. Strangely, the violators often don’t realize they’ve done anything wrong, perhaps because the web makes it so easy to do. The slope also gets more slippery when you realize that social media has enabled everyone to become “curators” of content. Whether you are retweeting, reblogging, or pinning to your Pinterest board, it’s easy to participate in social media without actually having to say anything original. And that’s fine! Until you start copying content whole cloth and acting as if you’re the wordsmith behind it.
what can we do about it?
While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it also sucks. If you’ve spotted your carefully crafted content somewhere it doesn’t belong, there are many actions you can take, including:
- Send a “cease and desist” letter. It’s a typical first step, and at the very least will let the culprit know you are on to them. Keep in mind, the chief executives may be unaware that their site contains pilfered content.
- Notify the their Chamber of Commerce, if they belong to one.
- Write a one-star review on their Google place page
- If it’s time to escalate, you can send a “take down” letter to their site’s host, requesting that the site be taken down immediately under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Just find the host using a lookup service and fax the letter in. Some hosting companies make this even easier with an online form.
- Report them to Google. If they get blacklisted, their domain will basically disappear from planet earth.
- Worst case scenario, you can sue for damages. Federal copyright laws will apply.
As far as we’re concerned, it’s time to draw the line and remind people that there is both a business case to be made for original content, as well as an ethical one. At Smart Panda Labs, we take both seriously, helping our clients craft high-quality content that establishes them as an authority, improves SERP ranking, drives traffic—and also doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.