Content Theft: What to Do When It Happens

  |  April 9, 2012   |  Comments

Why you should think twice before sending out a cease-and-desist note.

My column last month was titled: "10 Tips for Pinterest Search Engine Optimization."

I intentionally titled it that because I had a suspicion that people were beginning to think about how Pinterest affected search results.

While I haven't seen the traffic numbers on this column that came from search, I can tell you that it possibly is my most retweeted column. Additionally, it gets retweeted consistently over time. Search traffic is great for driving long-term traffic to your site.

But interestingly, this column quickly got "republished" several places.

As I was logged in to my Google account, I saw this result:


The article from is all 10 tips I wrote in my column. The author does link back to my column, but in a fairly inconspicuous way. He links back to two of his own services using keyword-rich anchor text. The anchor text back to my column is just the word "article."

This annoyed me for a couple reasons. Not the least of which was the fact that his article outranked my column - where he took all my tips!

However, I quickly found that when I signed out of Google, his article was much lower in the results. But when I did a search for the exact title "10 tips for Pinterest search engine optimization" I saw there was a whole bunch of people that took the column. Some of them are very kind in referencing the main source. Others are less so.

The question is: What do you do about this?

I suspect there are some organizations that would send out cease and desist letters. That is the wrong move.

If you become known as a person who freaks out every time people reuse your content, you likely will get what you ask for. People will stop referencing you. You will become an island, isolated and not linked to.

We are in an era where referencing your material, no matter how prolifically, is the path to success. It is the gateway to new exposure and new links.

The information age is all about making information free and available. That is the way the current is flowing. Trying to go against the current, swimming upstream, where you erect paywalls and run around threatening to sue people who take your content is a strategy from a bygone era.

Today we have to figure out how to make money by letting people do whatever it is they want to do with our content. This goes for movies, music, and articles.

Here are three steps for dealing with people who steal your content:

  1. Thank them profusely for using your content. Make them feel great about doing it. Do this publicly in the comments of the article, if possible. The cultural bias is all about making content free and accessible. You want to be on the correct side of that public discussion. Everyone that reads your comment will see you as a person that "gets it."
  2. Give them several links to other resources where their readers could find more information. If they are stealing content from a book or video that you are selling, set up an affiliate link for them. Tell them that you would love for them to make money on helping promote your content. These people aren't doing this for their health. They are scraping content in hopes of making money themselves. If they haven't linked to your content directly in their content, ask them to do that. Let them know that's the only thing you ask for. It's very rare for someone to not do this.
  3. Ask for people to steal your stuff. I'd encourage you to set up a page that you link to at the bottom of every article that reads something like: "My content is free for the taking." Think about using one of the six Creative Commons licenses.

This is where content is heading. Your content is only valuable if people access it.

Additionally, this is great link building. Everyone that takes your content is yet another opportunity to get a link. So, new people are being exposed to your stuff, and you are getting new links to your content that will help your search engine optimization.

How could you not want people to steal your content?

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Sage Lewis

Sage Lewis is the president of SageRock Digital Marketing. SageRock has been a leader in Web marketing since 1999, offering search engine optimization, paid search marketing, social media marketing, and analytics.

Sage speaks nationally with SES and other prominent Web marketing organizations. He is one of the most sought after speakers and coaches in the field of Web marketing. From coast to coast, Sage has trained, coached, and consulted with some of the largest brands and conferences in the country.

Sage is also "The Web Marketing Video Guy" with nearly 500 Web marketing videos published. Sage writes as an expert for ClickZ in the "Search Engine Marketing" section. He lives in Akron, Ohio with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.

His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.

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