Imagine this: you’re surfing the web one day and you come upon a website with copy that looks surprisingly like yours.
The headlines, slogans, content is nearly identical, the layout is a duplicate, and the images are so similar that pretty soon you’re grinding your teeth in anger. Who dared to steal your work in such a disgraceful, copycat way?
Well, instead of just fuming, let’s talk about the action steps that you can take to identify and stop content theft from happening in it’s tracks. As expert online copywriters, we know exactly what you can do—and we’re sharing it here!
Content Theft: What In The World Do You Do?
We’ve had many people pose as us, since a successful writing agency seems to be the perfect candidate for struggling writing agencies to mimic. (In this case, flattery is not the best compliment.) Some have copied our service pages word for word. The good news is, these posers didn’t last.
While content theft is a tragic and infuriating scenario, it’s one that affects many writers and marketers every year. From large-scale operations that duplicate entire websites to lazy bloggers who are happy to just copy and paste your text into their content fields, there are dozens of ways for people to steal your content. Luckily, there are also dozens of ways for you to go after them when they do.
Let’s talk business.
Stolen Content: The Writer’s Worst Fear
While it may seem insufferably audacious for anyone to steal content and use it as their own, it happens literally all of the time. According to a 2013 statement by Google’s Matt Cutts, anywhere from 25-30% of the web is made up of duplicate content. This is a shocking number, I know, but I have something else that’s even more shocking for you: Google doesn’t penalize duplicate content.
Because there are many different types of duplicate content (including legitimate, syndicated duplicate content that’s been published or shared on a variety of platforms) Google refrains from punishing duplicate content unless it is obviously spam. While this approach is meant to prevent webmasters who have duplicate content published on multiple URLs from incurring penalties, it also makes it difficult for Google to smack down people who blatantly steal your content.
Even though Google doesn’t out rightly penalize people who steal your content, stolen content hurts in a myriad of ways. Most notably, stolen content makes it harder than it already is for your site to rank well in the SERPs and gain the traffic boosts high-quality content typically affords you. When a person steals your content, it’s possible that the blog post you spent hours writing, proofreading, researching, and editing will be doomed to the fifth page of a search result while a stolen copy ranks as #1. Because Google doesn’t always understand who is the original owner of a content, this outcome is not only possible but probable.
Luckily, all hope is not lost. While it may be difficult, there are many effective ways to go after people who steal your content.
Locating and Addressing Stolen Content: 5 Proactive Steps to Stop Content Theft
To discover and address stolen content online, follow these steps:
1. Use a plagiarism checker to find stolen content
Plagiarism checkers are some of the most effective tools for locating stolen online content.
While these may be simple tools (they work by scanning input content for duplicate words or phrases on the web), they’re reliable and are by far some of the easiest and most reliable sources to begin addressing stolen content.
Here are two good plagiarism checkers.
Copyscape: Copyscape is a simple, easy-to-use platform that scans the web for duplicate content. One of the most frequently used tools for copywriters and editors, Copyscape offers both a free and paid service. The paid service is more extensive and it’s what we at Express Writers use to check all of our content for plagiarism and theft.
To use Copyscape, simply purchase credits (a steal at $0.05 each) and then input your content to find out if it shows up anywhere else on the web. Check out what happens when I put in a snippet of a recent blog post titled “25 Reasons Every Business Needs a Go-To SEO Copywriter:”
If you hit Compare Text, you can see exactly how much of the content is “duplicate” and where it’s found–and how much duplicacy is there (they give you a final percentage).
Copyscape is effective, simple, and cheap enough that even small businesses can use it to find out if their content has been stolen or not.
2. Grammarly: Grammarly is an online grammar and spelling checker that’s become popular in the online marketing community. What many people don’t know, however, is that Grammarly also has a powerful plagiarism detector that checks over 8 billion webpages. Check out what happens when I input the same blog snippet for “25 Reasons:”
Ideal for finding exactly the URL that’s stealing your content, Grammarly is a powerful tool that can help you track down stolen content quickly and easily.
2. Implement electronic alerts to monitor your content
Electronic alerts like those offered by Google Alerts are a fantastic way to get a heads-up whenever someone attempts to steal your content. Free, simple, and easy to use, Google Alerts allows you to input your content into the search query and get an alert if Google detects duplicate copies online.
Keep in mind that Google issues an alert for every single word you input into the search query, so not all of the alerts you get will be actual duplicate content. While it can be frustrating to sift through the results, this is an effective way to receive notifications about any duplicate content before it gets out of control.
With BuzzSumo, you can also set up content monitoring. I love this tool and have a daily email notification set up to come to my inbox anytime someone mentions “express writers” on the web. (On the plus side of brand monitoring, this has helped me find bloggers and businesses who were talking about me that I didn’t even know about–now I can go thank them!)
3. Know your rights
While you can’t totally prevent content theft from happening, even with the help of plagiarism checkers and electronic alerts, you can respond aggressively when you discover stolen content.
One of the best ways to do this is to know your rights as they pertain to private content and one of the best sources for this is the Google DMCA. The DMCA – or Digital Millennium Copyright Act – helps content publishers understand what they can do if their content gets stolen from them.
The DMCA, backed by the power of Google, offers helpful tools and information for people suffering stolen content and can actually scan your site to check for copies of your content anywhere else on the web. The DMCA offers both a free and a paid enrollment option and both are effective at helping you combat content theft.
This is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal when you go after content thieves. What’s worked for us is simply stating what the DMCA can do, if you file one. Check it out on our policy page:
4. Add a banner
Both Copyscape and the DMCA offer “Do Not Copy” banners you can easily add to your site. Most of these banners are free and can be exactly what you need to help would-be thieves understand that your site is protected and that you’re on the lookout for stolen content.
5. Trademark or copyright your work
The symbols above are trademark and copyright symbols: they can be expensive and time-taking to get, but worthwhile for your critical copy bits, the ones that define your business or sell your products.
While all content you write is automatically copyrighted, some content creators choose to take it a step further by copyrighting all of their work officially. While this approach involves a hefty level of paperwork, for those bits of copy you regard as precious, pick and choose what you want to protect the most. This process may be worth it for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that, if content theft ever strikes your company, that your content is protected legally.
Trademarking is equally important. For example, we’ve trademarked our slogans, and our company name Express Writers. This way, anyone who goes after recreating our company name and tries to steal on that large of a scale, they can’t—we can go after them legally and sue any second since we own the trademark to our company name. If you came up with a really cool, original slogan for your business, or have a catchy business name, stop and trademark now if you haven’t yet.
3 Writing Tips to Defend Against Stolen Content
While there’s no way to 100% guarantee that your content will never be stolen, there are some measures you can take to decrease the likelihood that thieves will get their dirty paws on your writing.
1. Include internal links.
Including internal linking in your writing helps increase craw-lability and make it easier for search engines to index your content, which can help ensure that your content (Rather than a thief’s stolen copy) is the what ranks in Google. Plus, if you take the time to ensure that your internal links point back to your own content, you make your content undesirable to steal, since all of the material within it just points back to your website.
2. Use first-person voice.
An anonymous, lofty blog post is a lot easier for a thief to steal than a personal, first-person, anecdotal story. Because of this, writing in first person is one of the easiest and most productive ways to ensure that your content stays your own. Because nobody can hijack your voice effectively, making your writing more personal is a great way to maintain ownership and discourage content theft across the board.
3. Design custom images.
Designing custom images and then referencing them throughout your content is an effective way to deter would-be thieves. While you don’t need to add a watermark to the images you create, plugging your logo into a picture or infographic and then referencing the image throughout the content (as in “see below image,” or “in our infographic, located below”) is a wonderful way to make your content harder to steal and deter would-be thieves.
Find Stolen Content? Here’s What to Do
Stolen content is a big deal and it’s not something to ignore. If you find stolen content online, here’s what you can do to minimize the damage and get the stolen content removed as quickly as possible:
- Contact the webmaster. Sometimes, dealing with content theft is as simple as contacting the webmaster and requesting they remove the content. Use a site like com to find out who owns a specific domain and then write the owner and ask them to take down the duplicate content immediately.
- File a complaint. If contacting the webmaster doesn’t work, file a complaint with Google on the basis of DMCA infringement. There’s a simple online form to do this, and Google may help you address the stolen content.
- Let the hosting company know what’s going on. If all else fails, inform the hosting company of the duplicate content. Many hosting companies consider plagiarism a violation of their customer agreement and will take action to help you address plagiarized content.
Protecting Your Content by Knowing Your Rights
Stolen content is a maddening situation and, unfortunately, it happens to many content creators across the web. Luckily, there are several proactive steps you can take to protect yourself against stolen content and address the issue if it happens to you. From using plagiarism checkers to routinely scan the web for duplicate content to copyrighting all of your material, there are many ways to discourage stolen content and respond swiftly and sternly to any thief who places their lazy paws on your online writing.
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