As with any marketing material or tool, your website is part of your brand, your unique identity that sets you apart (hopefully) from your competitors. The website contains your expression of your products and services or, to put it another way, the website contains your words. And those words are important, valuable, worth protecting.
As Internet marketing evolves, one of the paths it has taken is the use of informational content to show that you are an expert in your field; offering articles, blog posts and reports and white papers that are exclusive to your website and organization. This content has a direct impact on search engine optimization, your site’s page rankings, and by extension, on sales and income.
Google (and other search engine sites) is constantly updating its search algorithms to produce more and more accurate search results in response to users’ search terms. One of the latest updates – named Panda – goes further than ever in interpreting search phrases as having a phrasal meaning rather than simply searching for the collection of words used.
There was a time when search engines were less sophisticated and all a website owner needed to do was stuff a paragraph or two with the relevant keywords and hey presto, their site was on the first page of search results. However, acknowledging that what users are searching for is content that appeals to human readers and not ‘search bots’, keyword stuffing (and using duplicate content from elsewhere) is no longer a shortcut to SEO success. And not only does the content have to consist of natural language, it also has to be fresh.
So, in the eternal battle for website traffic, there is a constant need to add content to a website and this leads some people to research, recycle, and sometimes just copy content from other sites. If your content is copied and reused elsewhere, there are two broad consequences: first your intellectual property has been stolen, and second, Google may not distinguish between the copy and the original and both sites are likely to be penalised in the rankings. Apart from anything else, the theft undermines the hard work and/or investment you’ve put into your website.
Luckily, there are online tools that help you check for this kind of plagiarism and protect your website content. One of the better known is Copyscape. Firstly, Copyscape offers a free service whereby you enter your websites address and it searches for duplicate content (usually defined as when six or more consecutive words are reproduced). There are also two paid services: Copyscape Premium which supports searches for specific texts, and Copysentry which monitors the web on your behalf looking for duplicated content.
Having discovered the ‘theft’ the questions becomes, what to do? Well, first take a screenshot or two so that you have some evidence of the occurrence. Then there are a number of steps, each escalating the situation further to enable you to protect your website content. The hope is that the culprit will respond to the first simple step and remove the offending content. However, if they do not AND you decide that this is important enough, then escalation is the only recourse.
The first step is a cease and desist letter, templates for which are plentiful and available both from web and other legal sources. Send it certified post and request a return receipt.
Next you might write to the copying site’s internet service provider asking them to ‘take down’ the content in question (the ISP might even provide a standard form letter for this purpose).
Finally, there is legal action: engaging an attorney to sue for damages resulting from a breach of copyright.