Four Ways to Fight Content Thieves By Gini Dietrich

Last year, I received an alert on a blog post I’d written here that was picked up by PR Daily.

The blog that had linked to my post was for an ad agency’s blog…and it was a complete scrape of my content.

When I visited more pages on the blog, I discovered their “content strategy” was to scrape content from PR Daily. Every day.

There were posts by me, Shonali Burke, Brian Solis, some exclusive Ragan content, and other PR leaders. Not one of those posts was attributed correctly, nor were any of them syndicated in a way that Google would not see them as duplicate content.

So I called my friend at PR Daily and had her scroll through the posts with me. She was livid (rightfully so)!

We took two approaches: I commented on every post that was mine with things such as, “You can’t scrape a blogger’s content and not attribute correctly” or “Boy, this blog post sure looks familiar.” And she called the agency’s owner.

You know what he said? He said, “Oh. We have an intern running the blog. Sorry.”

But within 30 minutes, the entire blog was taken down. It’s never been republished.

This was for a very large ad agency that should know better. And the CEO blamed the intern.

Four Ways to Fight Content Thieves

Unfortunately, we live in a world where content is scraped. In the best situations, the person just didn’t know adding your byline without your permission isn’t okay. In the worst, pure laziness prevails and all of the content is stolen.

It happens to every content producer, no matter how many readers you have or how many people share your content.

You sort of expect the robots to do it—the crappy little websites that are still trying to do search engine optimization the old way. When it’s shocking is when people who should know better do it.

Your content will be stolen and you have to decide what you’re going to do about it.

You have four options:

  1. Do nothing;
  2. Make them aware you know, but don’t require they remove it (by commenting on every post or sending them an email or calling them);
  3. Kill it all; or
  4. Take advantage of them.

Do Nothing

The do nothing approach is the easiest by far.

Unless it looks like you’ve personally endorsed the site that has published your content, it doesn’t hurt to just let it be.

If you’re practicing good content creation with valuable and educational information and people are sharing it on the social networks, the search engines will understand your site is the authority on the topic.

It takes a lot of time to fight off the content thieves, and if you’ve installed the tools that automatically add “this originally appeared on XX site” at the end of scraped content, you won’t be hurt in search rankings.

Tools such as Yoast (a WordPress plugin), FeedBlitz (an RSS feed and email subscription service), and Genesis (a WordPress theme) automatically create that sentence for you so it appears any time someone scrapes your content.

That said, if your site isn’t yet considered an authority in your industry by Google, it’s worth taking some action against the content thieves.

Make Them Aware You Know

The “make them aware you know” approach is the most time-effective option.

Most sites have places where you can comment on your stolen comment.

You can comment with a simple, “Hmmmm… looks familiar.” Or, “I’m so happy you liked my content enough to steal it. For those of you reading this, I wrote this for my blog, YOUR URL. This is not original content to SITE NAME.”

If there is no a link back to your site, ask them to provide one. If they don’t, you can move to the “kill it all” approach.

Kill it All

This approach is a bit more laborious. Sometimes it’s as easy as contacting the content thieves and asking them to take the blog post or article down.

You can do that either by commenting on the content or by using their “contact us” page.

If neither of those exists, you have to get crafty. This is where it gets challenging.

You want to file what’s called a Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, complaint with their host (they now also offer a badge that you can post on your site to protect your content).

To figure out who the offender’s we host is, go to Who Is and look up their website by typing in the URL of the site where your stolen content resides. That will tell you who the contact is for the site and where the site is registered (GoDaddy, Bluehost, Hostgater, Network Solutions, and so on).

Most of the domain registrars have complaint forms on their sites, so start there. If that doesn’t work, file it directly with Google.

The kill-it-all approach works, but you have to be extremely diligent in pursuing anyone who steals your content. You also have to rely on the search engines to take care of it, which renders it a less effective approach.

Take Advantage of Them

Which is why you could move to the hardest approach—but also the most fun, if you’re so inclined: the “take advantage of them” approach.

There are three things you can do to really make content thieves look silly:

  • Internal linking; 
  • Get creative with your RSS footer; or
  • Install Yoast (if your site is on WordPress).

Internal linking. This is where you add links to another piece of content already published on your site in the new content you’re creating. Perhaps you are writing a blog post about how to generate sales leads and you have a webinar that goes into more detail about the topic. Link to the webinar in your new content. Now that you’ve linked to something else on your site, when someone scrapes your content you automatically receive an email saying that someone has mentioned your site in a blog post or article. Click on that link to be taken directly to the page where you are mentioned. From there, you can determine if the content has been scraped and what to do about it.

RSS footer. When you use FeedBlitz or other software for your RSS feeds, it allows you to get creative with what appears in your footer. Ours simply says, “This first appeared on Spin Sucks,” but you could be so bold as to say, “This content was stolen from Spin Sucks” or “If you want to see a real content marketer, visit Spin Sucks, where this first appeared.” I’ve even seen people use ads in the footer, “This first appeared on Spin Sucks and they have an awesome webinar you can download right now for free. So go check it out.”

Install Yoast. Probably the easiest and most effective way to take advantage is to use a plugin that alerts you when your content is stolen, and automatically inserts the “this first appeared” sentence. Most content thieves steal through your RSS feed, so you need to install a plugin that attaches to that. You can do this through the Yoast plugin—it’s already set up this way by default, so you don’t have to change anything—or through the RSS Footer or the Anti-Feed Scraper Message plugins.

Today’s Exercise

Today’s exercise won’t take a full 30 minutes, but you do want to be certain you have a way to fight the content thieves.

  1. Make sure you have Yoast, RSS Footer, or the Anti-Feed Scraper Message plugin on your blog or website. This will add that line at the bottom of every post so Google knows the original content belongs to you. If you’re not on WordPress, Drupal and other well-designed sites have options.
  2. Create your footer message using one of the options above…or something more creative that fits your brand.
  3. Set up a Talkwalker alert for your blog or company. I have an alert for Spin Sucks so I get an email when someone mentions this blog in their own content, and when the content thieves are busy. That’s how I found out about the ad agency.
  4. Make it a habit to include one link to something else on your website or blog in everything you write. This will deliver you a pingback, which tells you someone has linked to your content. In the situation of content thieves, though, it will show you the content you produced and linked to is what was stolen.

Now you can just sit back and wait. It may not happen often, but it will happen.

And, when it does, you will be prepared.

The Scavenger Hunt

If you are participating in the Spin Sucks scavenger hunt, today you will visit Jeremy Miller’s blog.

The secret word is in his blog post, “Bet the Company to Build the Brand.”

Just write down the secret word in Jeremy’s box on your scavenger hunt card (if you don’t have a card, download it here).

We have through March 3, so keep playing along (and you can work backwards, if you’re just starting out).

And don’t forget…if you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, we’ll send you a fun package full of goodies to use in your office, including a Spin Sucks computer sticker, a Spin Sucks Sharpie, and more. I’ll even personalize and sign a nameplate for you to put in the front of your book.

Just email the receipt to [email protected]. Please include your mailing address so we know where to send the package.

photo credit: Shutterstock

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich