A client recently sent over a blog post for our review and editing. After taking a look at the article, it became clear that the majority of the content was lifted from another source.
Although the client cited where they found the content, almost 90 percent of the blog post was blatantly copied from this source.
I told them we needed to start over with their post.
There are a few reasons why copying content is a bad idea:
- Duplicate content is bad for SEO. If there are multiple sites with the exact same content, Google doesn’t know which one should rank higher.
- Stealing content can be copyright infringement — even if you provide attribution for the source.
- It offers little value. Copying content does not help you build an authoritative blog. If you want to become a thought leader and stand out in your niche, copying content is not the way to get there.
How to Avoid Stealing Content on the Web
So, how do you cope with all of this?
Here are a few ways to create unique content that doesn’t rip people off or create problems with your search engine rankings:
1. Write before you research.
In school, we were taught to research, then write. Although that can work well for a research paper, it’s not always a great approach for blogging.
When you read other people’s work, it’s tempting to copy their ideas or plagiarize the article. Oftentimes, people plagiarize without even realizing it. After reading something, our brain latches on to those ideas and we subconsciously reproduce them without acknowledging the source.
To avoid this, write a rough draft or an outline before you add in some research. That way, the article will be based on your ideas and not someone else’s.
2. Add your unique perspective.
It is rare that you will come up with a blog post idea that has never been written about before.
And, that’s okay.
The trick is to write about topics with your unique perspective. After all, the world is a much better place when we add our own ideas to a conversation.
A lot of my blog post ideas come after reading another article. However, if I’m going to write on the same topic, I talk about why I agree or disagree with the original piece or I offer a unique angle to the discussion.
3. Know how to use and cite content.
There is a provision in copyright law called fair use that allows you to quote from another source and comment on it.
“Fair use is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. For example, if you wish to criticize a novelist, you should have the freedom to quote a portion of the novelist’s work without asking permission. Absent this freedom, copyright owners could stifle any negative comments about their work.”
See what I did there? I quoted a small portion of content from another website and provided proper attribution. That is an example fair use.
The key difference between this and the example from my client is that a majority of the work being used in their blog post was from another source. That is what could get you in trouble.
There are four factors that are used to determine if something falls under fair use exception of copyright law. It’s important to understand how that works so your content stays in the clear.
4. Curate, remix and repurpose.
If all of this has you scared or intimidated to create content — it shouldn’t.
You don’t always have to come up with something that hasn’t been said before. There are plenty of ethical and legal ways you can use other people’s content. Just make sure you give proper credit.
Here are some ideas:
- Curate information. Readers love lists. Why not give your audience a roundup of your favorite articles, videos, books or podcasts on a particular topic? Curating content is a great way other people’s content without stealing it. Just make sure to link to the content you’re referencing and give the original author credit.
- Compile data. You might not have the ability to conduct your own research study, but you can take the data and remix it for your use. For example, Erik Qualman is famous for his Socialnomics videos, which use statistics from sources throughout the web. You can do the same thing. Create an ebook, video or blog post with data that’s useful to your audience.
- Embed graphics. Infographics were built for sharing and most of them come with the ability to embed it on your own site. If you see an excellent infographic that your audience will love, feel free to use it if the original publisher allows that.
- Re-publish articles. Sometimes, you can republish someone’s article if you get permission from the author to do so. For example, Ragan.com asked permission to republish one of my blog posts on their site. Republishing work from other bloggers might not always make sense for you to do, but it’s another option to consider.
- Solicit guest posts. Inviting guest authors to write for your blog is another way to use someone else’s content in a responsible way. It also introduces new perspectives and authors to your audience.
The bottom line? Don’t be a content copy cat.
Following these guidelines will help you be a smart, ethical blogger.
Do you struggle with creating content without copying from other places? What tips or tricks do you recommend for avoiding plagiarism and copied content?