When you begin to create a web presence for your work from home business, it can be tempting to look for short cuts to get things up and running. We all know that the best websites are fantastic sources of information, telling us things we don’t know from news to how-to guides and articles.
The quickest way to create a rich website that is full of great content is to bring together some of the content that is already available online. But did you know that duplicate content on your website can seriously harm your reputation? Even copying just a few pages from a competing website can result in damage to your reputation, your search engine performance and – ultimately – your success.
The simple answer is to make sure that everything on your website is entirely unique. But, even if you spend the time and money creating an original online home for your business, you can still be affected by duplicate content. After all, there are hundreds of other people that might think it is a good idea to ‘borrow’ some of the work that you have done.
Read on to find out more about duplicate content, what constitutes online plagiarism, and the impact of this on your business. You will also learn more about what you should be doing to protect your website against the constant threat of content theft.
Why must your website content be unique?
As you browse the Internet, you will see that some websites include a statement on every page that tells you who owns the copyright. The reality is, though, that the copyright symbol and statement of ownership mean nothing.
As soon as somebody creates something, it is their intellectual property. There are no exceptions, and no further action is required.
Taking this information passing it off as your own is a criminal act. If that is not enough of a deterrent, duplicate content will also affect your search engine ranking. Search engine crawlers trawl the Internet, analysing the quality of web sites and their individual pages. These crawlers all have one goal – to find the pages that are the source of great information.
If a crawler thinks that your website is a source of valuable information that visitors will find useful, you will be placed higher in the search engine results. That means that you will attract more visitors and, in turn, more customers.
But the most important word here is source. If you are not the source of information but just a person that repeats it, search engine crawlers will either ignore your website altogether or actively downgrade your rank.
Search engines even grow concerned if you duplicate your own content. If pages on your website repeat the same information, you will appear to be making your site look bigger and more useful than it really is.
For more information on Google’s attitudes to duplicate content, visit http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66359
Protect Your Website Against Content Theft
There is little doubt that you need to invest the time that it takes to create a website full of valuable, original content. That is why so many businesses write blog posts, articles and web pages on a variety of subjects related to their business.
But if you are going to invest your resources in top quality content, what can you do to stop it from being stolen? After all, the Internet is a public place and putting valuable business assets online such as articles and blog posts is like leaving a window open to your home, or handing someone the code to your safe.
Unfortunately, there are very few ways to protect your content against theft. Some webmasters and business owners take drastic measures, such as switching off the ability for customers to right click on images, making it harder to save a copy. Although this is a moderately effective deterrent, it can interfere with the experience that your legitimate customers get.
Another common technique is to add hidden lines in content. These lines provide a date, time and credit for your content, but can’t be easily seen by people who would plan to use the content for themselves.
Of course, this does not really help to protect your content, but instead makes it easier for you to identify websites that are using it without your permission. What’s more, this is not easy for novice website owners to implement.
Thankfully, there is an easier way to make sure that your content is not copied.
Using CopyScape To Check If Your Website Has Been Copied
There is one free online tool that makes it easy to check for plagiarised (copied) versions of your content online. Copyscape allows you to enter the address of your website and automatically check for similar content on other domains. In just a few seconds, you can see if somebody has been copying your work.
In addition, CopyScape offers an affordable paid plan that constantly monitors your website and checks for copies around the web. This is a great way to get on with focusing on your website, safe in the knowledge that you will be notified if somebody else copies it.
Of course, another effective solution is to search Google every now and then for some key phrases from your website. Most people that steal content make no attempt to edit it, but leave it intact. That makes it incredibly easy to find!
Images Are Intellectual Property Too!
Finally, don’t forget that images are also an important kind of intellectual property. With the advent of Google Image Search and other similar tools, it is easy for people to stumble on photos that you have taken and copy and paste them to their own websites having never seen your page.
At one time or another, most of us have used tools like Google Images to find some inspiration for website images, but using these photos without permission equates to theft of intellectual property.
If you are looking for royalty free images that you can use on your website, two great resources are Compfight and MorgueFile. Both of these sites are easily searchable to find the images that you need in high resolution.
If you find that somebody else is using your images without your permission, they are still subject to the laws of intellectual property.
What To Do If Your Website Has Been Copied
If you find that somebody else is using your work, without your permission, to improve their website, your first reaction will probably be anger.
I have been the victim of plagiarism before now, and felt prepared to pick up the phone and start shouting at the webmaster in question! The truth is, though, that this is rarely a productive solution.
But as you take time to think and plan a response, you have several options available to you. Make sure that you consider them all fully.
1. Do Nothing
Depending on the content and how duplication will affect you, you might decide to do nothing at all.
For example, if an image has been borrowed that is fairly generic, there may be little reason to be annoyed.
It is also important to note that, providing you are the original source of information and search engine crawlers found your website first, you have nothing to lose. Your search engine rank will remain unchanged, while the other site is seen as a duplicate and ranked down accordingly.
But if you do nothing, you give permission to people that steal content. It might be okay this time, but what happens when they steal more?
2. Contact The Offending Website To Ask For Credit
Often, it is enough to simply get in touch with the offending webmaster. Write a polite email that explains that you have found their website and have noticed that the content is duplicated.
Usually, you should ask for the content to be removed. Putting search engines aside, if a potential customer happens to find this duplicate content before they see yours, it is only natural that they would assume you are the duplicate, not the source.
But, particularly with regard to blog posts and articles, it can be a great idea to allow the content to be used, providing that you receive credit and a link back to your website. Simply put, you have very little to lose and if the offending webmaster just happens to find success, it could be helpful to have a link sending traffic back to your business.
3. Use A DMCA Notice To Stop Duplicate Content
If the situation cannot be resolved in a friendly, cooperative way, webmasters can now use recent legal changes to have the content removed.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a specific set of regulations that applies to copyright and ownership of content on the web. This is the same law that is used to prevent music and film piracy, so you can be confident that it is taken very seriously!
The first step in pursuing a claim for removal of content under the DMCA is issuing a takedown notice. You can create your own using the templates available at mcanerin.com/en/articles/copyright-03.asp
Of course, particularly unprofessional and unhelpful webmasters may just ignore your notice, or not be accessible via email. If so, you should take steps to contact the web hosting provider that runs the offending website – they are also obliged to remove stolen content on their servers. You can find out which hosting provider the website uses by visiting whoishostingthis.com.
The Law Is On The Side of Content Creators
One blogger and e-book writer issued his own DMCA Takedown Notice after he found that his book was being illegally distributed around the web. In his post on the subject, he reports that the content was removed by the host in less than six minutes!
Duplicate content can harm your website and your reputation and, if you are unable to reach an amicable conclusion, it is good to know that the law is on your side. So start creating that rich original content now, safe in the knowledge that it is protected against theft!