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In sixth grade I was more smart than popular, and in an effort to balance those things out I let anyone and everyone copy off my test papers. Alas, I never won any popularity wars but a bunch of other kids did a lot better on English exams than they might have otherwise.
Fast forward to today and I’m a lot less generous with my content and a lot less forgiving of those who pilfer it.
If you run a business and have invested any amount of effort into creating content only to see it spring up on other people’s websites, you know what I mean when I say that having my own words Googled back at me is incredibly frustrating and irritating.
The internet is a big place and keeping your content un-plagiarized is like playing the world’s most massive whack-a-mole game.
But that doesn’t mean you’re relegated to being a sixth grade doormat and letting anyone and everyone use your hard work for their benefit.
Use these tips to find – and squash – the copycats.
Borrowing Vs. Stealing: Crossing The Line From Flattery To Outright Theft
Before you can combat the copycats you have to know how to spot one.
Just because your words appear on another’s website doesn’t mean someone has actually stolen your content. Sometimes people borrow snippets, excerpts and yes, even the whole darn thing. But the difference between that and stealing is that the good guys will clearly and openly attribute the work to you, including a link back to the source content.
Copycats just copy.
Borrowers really are flattering you – they think your work is good enough to recreate in their own space, as a reflection of their own discerning taste, and they’re willing to give you credit. I can live with flattery like that.
That doesn’t mean you have to, though. You may not want to see your words used elsewhere and that is certainly your prerogative, but you will want to approach the borrowers differently. If those people have truly shown respect for your work, they will understand if you politely explain your preference that they not use your content and simply link to your page instead.
Copycats do not give you credit. They do not use your name or your bio information or reference your business at all. Smart ones will link back to the source content in a half-witted attempt at legitimacy but you will probably have to look pretty hard for that link.
In short, borrowers do exactly that – with gratitude and recognition for your contribution. Copycats just want to get away with using your stuff.
Finding The Bad Guys
Your first line of defense against plagiarism is to be aware.
If your site or blog is well read or if you’ve built good relationships with your readers, you may find that you have an early warning system built in.
I was alerted to stolen content a few times by people who had read something I wrote then stumbled across another mysteriously similar post somewhere else.
Not too long ago I was alerted by a Twitter friend to the fact that someone had copied one of my most popular posts – nearly word for word, and that’s all 3,000 of them – and posted it on his own site with no attribution to or mention of me.
Another colleague noticed something similar about another post I had written, on another site that was suddenly outranking mine in search.
But even if you don’t have very alert friends, you can still tackle the problem yourself.
You can use a site like Copyscape to monitor and find copies of your content. You can do a limited amount of searching for free and then there’s the paid version if you want more searches and more functionality.
Or you can do it the old-fashioned way and Google your content. Grab a unique sentence (one that sounds like “you” and not something generic like “write epic content”… eye roll…) and put it into a search bar in quotes.
See what happens.
The only thing that should happen is that your site shows up.
If any other site shows up, there’s a decent chance you found your very own Bad Guy.
What To Do Now That You’ve Nabbed Yourself A Bad Guy
After my Twitter friend alerted me to the oddly familiar post on someone else’s site, I visited that site and confirmed that someone had, in fact, stolen my content for his own ends.
My Bad Guy took an 8th grade approach to covering his tracks, namely by changing things like “I called my client” to “I phoned my client”.
To compound the agony, I did a keyword search for the words that my post consistently showed up for. And do you know what?
Bad Guy’s post showed up in search results and mine didn’t.
So I did what every scorned woman does. I set out for revenge justice.
If you find a Bad Guy stealing your content, your first recource should be to request that the content be removed. That is, if you can find contact info. Many times these guys don’t run sites for a business, just as a conduit for ads.
But if you can find contact info, whether in the form of a Twitter handle, email address or contact form – go ahead and use it.
Make yourself clear: that the content is yours and that it should be removed immediately. No need for explanations, qualifiers or compromises. Personally, I would not even accept an attribution at that point.
When I called out my Bad Guy on Twitter, he did a brief mea culpa and added a “P.S.” in some obscure place on the page linking back to my site.
Too little too late, if you ask me.
If you come across your content on a site that looks super legitimate and you’re feeling generous and giving the person the benefit of the doubt, you can play Good Cop and explain why plagiarism is bad and be specific about the proper way to give attribution.
A legitimate business may be freaked out enough that you noticed and will do something about it.
Either way, the result should be removal of the content, or attribution to your satisfaction.
Get Google On The Case
Google does not like duplicate content. Google does, in fact, only show one of any given page at a time. You could, theoretically, publish as many of the same exact page (or even nearly the same page) as many times as you want. And only one will ever show up in search results.
This isn’t a bad thing if it’s your content showing up, but how about when your content shows up on someone else’s site, giving them the authority boost, bringing them the ad revenue, possibly even converting their customers? And your content is nowhere to be found?
That’s when it’s time to take the problem right to Google. You can let Google know that you’ve uncovered some BS and ask them to remove the offending content from their search index.
This can be a bit confusing if you’ve never done it because the options are not entirely clear, but first you want to let Google know that your issue pertains to web search and then you want to choose the menu option that says, “I have a legal issue that is not mentioned above.”
At that point you can choose “copyright violation” and go ahead and follow the rest of the instructions.
If you have claim to that copyright by way of the original publication date, and the offending content is clearly a copy, Google will take action and BAM that offending page will be laser-zapped out of the search results like magic.
Bing has a similar takedown request form so if you notice the same nonsense happening there you can really smite some Bad Guys.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean the content is removed from the offending site, but it is gone from the search results, which means nobody is going to find it instead of yours. Since most of these sites aren’t really business sites anyway, that’s a good enough result for me. Out of sight out of mind.
And if this happens enough to the same site, you can bet your booties that Google is going to de-index that entire site completely. Win for the Good Guys.
There’s nothing you can do about people stealing.
But you CAN do something about your stuff showing up online under other people’s names and for other people’s profit.
It stinks that you know it’s going to happen to you (and it will). But look at it this way and cheer up: someone out there thinks you’re so awesome that they copied your impressive words to help them propel their tiny business forward.
Then once you’re done feeling cheered up, go ahead and smite.