How Copying Content for Your Website Can Hurt You

Detecting copied contentNot all content is king

Articles, blog posts, pictures and videos online are all in the public domain, right? What would be wrong with copying a great blog post you’ve found and posting it on your website?

The answer is, copying content is not going to help you and could end up really hurting you.

Here’s what Google says about scraping or copying content:

There are some penalties (emphasis added) that are related to the idea of having the same content as another site—for example, if you’re scraping content from other sites and republishing it, or if you republish content without adding any additional value. These tactics are clearly outlined (and discouraged) in our Webmaster Guidelines.”

Building up your site with content you’ve scraped from other sites could end up getting your site removed from Google’s search results. So while you may not get sued by the original author, getting your site dropped from Google is a high price to pay for “borrowing” content from other sites.

Many small business websites have articles and blogs with interesting and helpful information that is designed to increase traffic, establish the business as an expert in their field, and encourage the reader to hire them. But when you take a closer look, you’ll find that the content they have isn’t their own.

Since the search engines can tell exactly when and where any piece of content first showed up online, they are able to pretty accurately determine which source, out of multiple possibilities, is the original. The original source will ultimately be the only one that will successfully rank for that content and benefit from the authority and trust that search engines give. So subsequent websites that publish that same content essentially get no mileage out of it.

How to instantly tell if content is plagiarized from other sites

You can use the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) to tell you in an instant if content is original or not. Simply copy a snippet of text from the web page, article or blog and paste it into the search text field in quotation marks. Using quotes will confine the search to an exact match, word for word. In the graphic at the top of this post, I used the following search query:  “Overloaded or damaged extension cords. This is an all-too common cause of fires” and found 29 websites with that same article.

If you find multiple results from different websites for the exact phrase you searched for, you’ll know that the content is not original. This is a fast and free way to check content, but it won’t catch all instances of copied content. Some websites will essentially copy someone else’s content and just change a word here or there, and change the geographic location being targeted. This kind of light tweaking will not be exposed by an exact phrase search. But the search engines can find this kind of copied content even if it’s not exactly word-for-word.

In addition to using exact search, there are multiple free tools and paid tools that can help determine the originality of content online. Educators have been using these kinds of tools for years now to help them detect when their students are copying content online and submitting it as their own original work. These are a couple that I have used:

Plagiarism Detector Pro plagiarism detection software (not free), popular in academia
Grammarly.com  (free)checks grammar and plagiarism

What about excerpts and quotes?

It’s perfectly acceptable to use excerpts and quotes from other sites when you’re writing content for your website. Just be sure to attribute the material to the original source and link to it. When researching a topic to blog about, you’ll find many resources online that can help you build your post. Just make sure that the finished product is in your own words and that anything you’re referencing as a source is clearly given credit.

What if I own multiple domains and use my own content on all of them?

If you have more than one website for your business, you need to make sure that each one is targeting a distinctly different topic (like Plumbing, Electrical and HVAC), and don’t copy your own text from one site and use it on the others. You’ll find that your original site, where the content first appeared, will be the only one getting any benefit from it. The other sites will be buried in the search results.

Generally, it’s best to focus your online presence to one website where you can build up trust, rank and authority rather than having multiple sites that dilute your presence online. Some businesses, however, have distinctly different services, and it may make sense to have individual sites. And this shouldn’t cause a duplicate content problem because the subject matter on the sites would be so different.

Speaking of duplicate content…

When Google refers to duplicate content, they’re not referring to copied, scraped, plagiarized content. They’re referring to the (mostly inadvertent) situation that arises when a website is built in such a way that there might be multiple pages on the site that serve up identical content. This kind of technical mistake won’t usually result in a penalty from the search engines and it is easy to correct.

About Marion Jacobson

Editor, writer, web developer, SEO maven, teacher. It's all about the content with me. As Manager of Traffic Services for Dex Media, I'm responsible for SEO, SEM, Social Media and Content and how they work together to drive traffic to our B2B and B2C web properties: DexMedia.com, SuperMedia.com, DexOne.com, Superpages.com and DexKnows.com.

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