Saying the right thing in the just right way not only convinces customers to choose your product, it also goes a long way toward SEO efforts. So your SEO company puts a lot of time and thought into how things are said, right? Not necessarily.
Effective Web Solutions frequently comes across companies who have stolen content on their website—and the website was created by an SEO company. The same often goes for independent web developers. We get new clients who want us to create a new, updated website for them. The intention is to use the content from their current site for the new web build. However, when we check, the content is stolen and therefore needs to be rewritten. Often the individual or company has no idea their last developer used content from someone else’s site.
Let’s start with the basics: Can web content be taken without permission? The answer is no. Plagiarism is defined by using or passing off another person’s words or ideas as your own. Your content is yours the moment you write it down. Websites do not need to be registered for copyright protection in order to file for copyright infringement and even sue for damages. If you are the original creator of your content, or you have paid a writer or SEO company to write original content for you, then it cannot legally be used anywhere without your permission.
Does it Matter if Someone Steals Your Content?
When Google rolled out its Panda algorithm it was supposed to help reduce stolen content. Many companies were using scraping tools to gather web content to use for their own site. Blogs, articles, product descriptions—all of these types of content are subject to scrapers that regularly check for new content from one website to use on another, without the knowledge or permission of the site’s owner. At times, entire websites have been reproduced from the photos, to the design, to every word on every page, with only the company name being changed out.
Google’s Panda update began penalizing websites with duplicate content. It also checked for sites that have been scraped. All of this is good for those of us writing original content, yes? More or less, that is true. However, there are plenty of cases where Google has penalized the wrong company—the one who originally wrote the content—rather than the thief. Once that penalty is bringing down a website’s ranking, it becomes difficult to be visible online. If Google selects the wrong company to penalize, then your competitor who used all your content could rank well above you.
In fact, there are some tricks that the usurper of your content can use to make it look like his or her content was there first. Then, when Google sees the duplication, they will penalize your site as the one who stole the content.
Do You Know if Your Content Has Been Stolen?
Checking to see if your content has been stolen is easy. Go to Copyscape.com and put in your URL. It will search for any other sites where your material shows up. You can click on the website(s) where duplication has been found, and that will tell you who has used your content.
Is Your SEO Company Using Stolen Content?
If you use Copyscape.com and find that your content is not the only place out there that it appears, and you didn’t write it yourself, then the next question is this: Did my SEO company or web developer use someone else’s content on my website? Once you have the URL of the other site(s) with the same content, then you can use the Way Back Machine to see which site came first. If you find that the person you are paying to manage your website has used content from another site, you should demand the content be immediately rewritten. You may also consider moving to a more reputable SEO company.
Stolen Content could be subject to:
- Google penalties which will lower your ranking or take you off of Google searches altogether
- Potential removal of pages, leaving you with blank pages until original content can be created
- Legal action taken against you
Reputable SEO companies should never use stolen content, but it definitely happens. When it does it can hurt your rankings for months, even after the problem has been corrected. Your domain could continue to stay low in ranking even when all new content has replaced the duplicate material. Not to mention, it is just bad form to use another company’s information.
What Can You Do To Protect Your Content?
Once you are certain your content is original, what steps can you take to prevent other people from using it? There is really nothing that can be done to keep someone from hitting “Copy” and then “Paste,” but you can take action when it does.
- Use the copyright symbol in the footer of all your web pages. That is a clear statement that the images, sounds, videos, design and words on your website are not to be used without permission. Even without this symbol the information belongs to you alone, however the clean indicator on the site makes it irrefutable that you do not allow reproduction without knowledge and consent.
- You can register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. It is not necessary for your material to be registered in order for it to be protected. It gets your copyright on the public record and makes it easy to prove the content is yours in the case that it is ever called into question. The benefits are that it allows everything on your website to be protected for 90 years and also allows you to recoup attorney and legal fees if you successfully sue a thief for damages. This option is a good one if you sell articles or blogs, and make money on the actual content on your website. Otherwise, just using the copyright symbol is often sufficient.
- Register your new web pages with Google Webmaster Tools as soon as you publish them. This tells Google to index the page right away. Once that is done, it is on the record with Google when the content was created and by whom. Anyone coming in after that should appear to Google as having duplicate content.
- Send a cease and desist letter to the company who has used your content. Let them know which pages are in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and tell them to remove your content from the site, immediately. If their website acknowledges a webmaster who manages the site, send the letter to both the webmaster and the owner of the site.
- If you do not have luck getting the company to take your content down, contact the hosting company. Many companies that host websites take copyright infringement much more seriously than an individual company might. They often take immediate action. To find out who is hosting a company’s website go to WhoIsHostingThis.com.
- Report the DMCA violation to Google. If, after reviewing your complaint, the content found in a Google search is deemed to be stolen they can disable search access to the other site and even terminate them as a subscriber.
Stolen content leaves a company or individual open to legal action as well as a loss in business while their site drops in rankings or pages are removed. The risk to your business is not worth it. SEO companies generally have writers on staff who create original, engaging content. If you use a web developer who does not write content, consider writing your own. Writing not your thing? There are plenty of content companies out there who will do that work for you. No matter who gets paid to write your content, it is always worth it to ensure that you never use stolen content.
It is also a good idea to check Copyscape on a regular basis and make sure that no one is using your content. Despite the legalities and the efforts in which Google has gone to protect content, content gets stolen all the time!
For more information about web content contact us.